Neutral colors: What Are Neutral Colors? Tips for Using Neutrals in Your Décor – 2023

Neutral Colors. What defines a neutral color? | by Erin S | The Realm of Color

What defines a neutral color?

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4 min read


Jan 6, 2020

Neutral colors are most clearly defined as hues that appear to be without color, and that don’t typically appear on the color wheel. Neutral colors, therefore, do not compete with primary and secondary colors and instead compliment them.

Categories of Neutral Colors

The four most common neutrals are black, white, brown and grey, and are created by mixing two complementary colors. These neutrals don’t have hue undertones, causing them to be considered “pure”.

All other neutrals are considered near-neutrals. Near neutrals appear to be without color, or have neutral-like tendencies, but have a hue undertone. Near neutral examples are tans and darker colors.

Near Neutrals

Near neutrals are colors that have a low saturation. They are created by combining a pure (primary) color with a pure neutral: this tones them down from their original hue to such an extreme that they appear to be without color (ex. a color very similar to a light gray). However, since they are derived from a particular hue, they have undertones that keep the color from being a pure neutral (ex. tan, ivory, eggshell).

Near neutrals can be lighter or darker than their original hue, making them similar to shades, tones, and tints. However, for the former to be neutral it has to have a low enough intensity to not be considered a real color — unlike shades or tints such a navy blue or pale pink. Near neutrals can also be referred too as chromatic grays. ¹

Importance and Uses

Since many neutrals appear to be without color, they are easy on the eye. In interior design, this makes them popular as a background: the neutral complements the other colors in an arrangement and allows the eye to easily flow between each focal point. Many colors in interior design are considered neutral, such as olive green. This is because they complement and highlight other colors particularly well in a room. Oliver green, however, has a very clear green undertone. Not all colors with neutral-like tendencies are actual neutral colors, though they may function in much of the same way. ²

Neutral colors, when paired with a brighter hue, make the hue appear more vibrant. The human eye is naturally attracted to such colors with a higher intensity. If an art piece has too many saturated colors, however, the eye is overwhelmed and people don’t know where to look. This can make an art piece come across as unpleasant, unnatural, or disconcerting. Neutrals can enhance the variation in a piece, creating subtle visual interest that both diminishes the vibrancy of the piece as a whole and highlights the focal points. ³

Neutrals have many other visual effects: when combined with shades, tones, and tints, they allow for shading, as darker or lighter neutrals help to create a realistic lighting effect. Another example is painting an item in the distance: the item is going to be less saturated than one up close. Using neutrals to create that difference allows an artist to create depth in a piece.


“Genius and virtue are to be more often found clothed in gray than in peacock bright.” — Van Wyck Brooks

All neutrals, due to being easy to look at, commonly symbolize relaxation, neutrality, and tranquility.

White, specifically, symbolizes purity, cleanliness, peace, new beginnings, simplicity, coziness, light, and potential for new ideas/inventions. Near neutral whites (off-whites) are often considered subtle, elegant, and classic. All whites generally have a positive connotation.

Gray symbolism varies, as this neutral has neutral hues ranging from black to white. Darker grays can appear mysterious, dramatic, steadfast, sophisticated, enduring, solid, constrained, and solemn. Lighter grays appear soothing, calming, and enlightening. Metallic grays — such as silver — appear sleek, elegant, and modern. All grays, in general, are associated with being timeless, designer, classic, corporate, methodical, balanced, and emotionless. They represent responsibility, fairness, loyalty, wisdom, selflessness, practicality, depression and loss.

Black is often considered the strongest of neutrals. It is associated with dominance, darkness, sophistication, authority, seriousness, affluence, quality, mystery, drama, fear, death, evil, and grief. All blacks generally have a negative connotation.

Brown is the most commonly seen neutral in nature. It’s considered simple, inexpensive, natural, stabilizing, approachable, authentic, warm, modest, strong, wholesome, healing and grounding. It reminds people of home and honesty.

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What Are Neutral Colors? Why Should You Be Using Them?

Most people have heard of neutral colors and may have a vague idea of what they are. Think about the colors that come to mind when you hear the words “neutral colors. ” You might be seeing light brown or light gray.

It’s that perfect background color that isn’t loud, but accentuates the rest of the colors in the foreground. Sometimes we pick neutral colors when we don’t know which colors to choose, but they can in fact be very powerful when used in decorating, design, painting etc.

You’re going to learn all about neutral colors and why they’re more important than conventional knowledge leads you to believe.

Digging Into Neutral Colors

The first thing you should know is the definition of a neutral color. When someone talks about a neutral color, the person is referring to a shade that lacks color. This is the official description of a color that’s neutral, but it doesn’t quite do it justice.

When you think of a neutral color, black may not come to mind because it is powerful and bold, so a better way to define neutral colors is to say the colors aren’t strong. In essence, you are trying to describe a color that doesn’t compete with other colors.

The reason why neutral colors are confusing has to do with the fact that they’re subjective.

It’s true that neutral colors are white, beige, brown, gray, and even shades of black, but variations of these colors are neutral as well. This is why, no matter how precise this definition is, you may still find it somewhat vague.

Why Are Neutral Colors So Useful?

Neutral colors do their background job so well that people sometimes don’t pay attention to the benefits of using them. The following are some perks linked to neutral colors that you may be overlooking:

Visually Restful

One might think, why would a color need to be visually restful? Your eyes did evolve to absorb the beautiful colors out there, but strong colors do more than you might imagine.

Consider that the color red can fire up all sorts of neurons in your brain, making you feel more energetic and maybe even a little fiery. However, it can be mentally and visually exhausting if you see too much red. Every strong color you can think of creates a reaction in your mind, but neutral colors aren’t like that.

What you’ve got here are colors that lack saturation. This means observing these colors won’t require much from you. The neutral color is there to blend into the background. You’ll feel at peace if the color in a space is mostly neutral.

Won’t Interfere With Decorations

A reason folks love neutrals is that they aren’t combative. These colors allow others to get their chance to shine. This is an important feature for interior designers, painters, and anyone else that deals with color placement.

The right neutral color creates more depth, especially compared to stronger colors. This makes an area look bigger or deeper, which is usually a good thing. If your goal is to create layers, a neutral color can help guide you in the right direction if you pay attention to the hue present in what you choose.

Fights the Busyness Effect

Textures and patterns sometimes come in strong colors.

When you first look at these patterns or textures, you might fall in love, but you’ll feel overwhelmed if these patterns or textures are in an area void of neutral colors. As a side note, some people generally become uncomfortable with patterns, so try to keep these at a minimum, or just stick with geometric lines rather than erratic patterns.

Remember that your mind can only handle so many powerful colors at a time. Giving your eyes some peace by providing them with neutral colors makes it easier to appreciate patterns and textures.

Works With All Decorating Styles

Everyone who works with colors in design, photography, painting, or other forms of artistry, usually have a preference when it comes to style. Some designers, for example, love minimalism while others love something a little more traditional.

No matter the kind of style you love, these neutral colors should work for you. A strong color can easily clash with a decorating style. You don’t want to look at your finished product and realize something sticks out like a sore thumb.

Silently Helps With Coolness or Warmness

Coolness and warmth have their place. Warmer spaces feel cozy because these colors remind people of things like fire or sunlight. For something warmer, you’ll have to choose a hue with red, yellow, or orange.

If you wanted something cooler to help an area feel peaceful, you want to choose light shades of purple, green, or blue.

A Timeless Option

When designing or creating something with colors, there are times when people use one color more than another. Trends regarding colors have existed for a long time. The problem with trends is they tend to lose their popularity after some time.

If you choose a trendy color, you’ll be stuck with a noticeably outdated design. You can solve this by simply going with a neutral shade. Here’s the opportunity to make your piece or design as timeless as possible.

Timeless is not only evergreen, but it also means you don’t have to worry about spending more time and money to update.

Resale Value Increases

Sure, trendy colors could make your piece pop. While a color is trending, you’ll definitely be able to ask for a higher price, but, as mentioned above, this perk goes away quickly.

Once the trend dies down, the design is no longer valuable. If you want to make sure you can always get your money’s worth, then highlighting neutral colors is your best bet.

It is important to say that trendy colors aren’t loved by everyone. A timeless choice is appealing to more people, and that’s a good thing.

Alternations Made Easy With Neutrals

Everyone gets that itch to change things around at some point. When this happens, it’s better to have that neutral foundation to work from. As you already know, neutral colors work well with the focus of your design or piece.

This perk makes it easy for you to make alterations if you ever want to. If you don’t choose a neutral foundation, you’ll have to start from scratch. So choose a neutral color to save yourself a lot of extra work.

Are There Any Drawbacks Linked to Neutral Colors?

You’ve learned why you should work with neutral colors more often than not, but are there any reasons you shouldn’t?

It’s better to know the pros and cons before using a particular set of colors. The following are some reasons why people avoid working with neutral colors:

They Are a Bit Boring

You’ve probably heard this at some point in your life. Saying that something is a bit boring can get folks to go another direction.

No one wants to appear boring, so it’s okay to step away from using a neutral color. The truth is that neutral colors can seem a bit boring, especially if no other colors are being used.

Neutral colors are universally accepted as safe colors, so they’re used virtually everywhere.

If you see something everywhere, then it starts to lose its uniqueness. This is what’s going on with neutral colors and why they appear boring to some. You can always add a hue that’s a little unconventional to solve this, but it’s up to you. You can choose ivory, turquoise, or even peach hues.

Complexity of Shades

So you can solve the monotony of a neutral color by adding an unconventional hue, but this can lead to another problem. The potential hues start to feel overwhelming and you may have a hard time narrowing them down.

Choosing the right shade can cause you to waste a lot of time. Consider the colors you’ll be using in your piece to help you narrow down your choices. You can also work with a color expert to find the perfect match of colors.

Blandness is Bad

You can easily make a mistake with neutral colors. If you don’t know how to use the rest of the colors to bring some life into the design, you’ll end up with something bland. Your piece must contain statement colors rather than colors that retreat into your background.

This doesn’t mean you should be afraid of layering colors hinted in your neutral background. You just need to keep those additional colors fresh rather than one shade. For example, if your background color has a little blue, go ahead and use stronger blues to make it all come together. The only thing you want to avoid is using the same shade of blue too often.

Pairing Neutral Colors With Other Colors

It’s important to learn about the types of neutral colors out there before making your choice, but finding colors that pair well with neutral colors is just as important. Like mentioned earlier, neutrals work well as background colors for accentuating bolder and more powerful colors in the foreground.

Gold-like shades may seem unconventional at first, but neutral colors really allow gold or other metallic colors to shine. The main reason for using neutral colors is to help other colors pop, which is definitely the case here.

The point is, don’t be afraid to experiment with neutral colors, and you’ll see why they can be exciting – even if people tell you they’re boring. No color is really boring. It comes down to your attitude and ability to have a little fun with your color choices.

Neutral color | LOOKCOLOR

Neutral tones are shades corresponding to the shadow that falls on white. That is, the average gray tone will be absolutely neutral. However, in nature, where you can see a lot of shadows, it is impossible to achieve “sterile” chiaroscuro conditions. There will always be different highlights (transfer of an adjacent or background hue to the subject) that change the gray tone. One of the most stable neutral tones formed in such conditions will be beige. This neutral color is also important because it is a human skin tone, it also has the name nude, which means naked, skin color.
Neutral tones are shades of the second plan that support the depth, volume, and liveliness of the overall range. They are a “place” of rest for the eye from colors filled with meaning, dynamics and other information.
Neutral tones also include white and black. Black is like the deepest shadow and white is like a highlight.

Neutral grey-beige is a ghost among flowers: it is not mentioned in literature, is not endowed with a distinct symbolism, does not participate in social, religious or political life of a person, but is everywhere present in the material world. You look at it, but do not focus on it. This is the color of volcanic sand, last year’s grass, the color of grain husks – something that has seen its heyday, and now has fallen into oblivion. But oblivion is bright – everything was not in vain, so beige has a positive effect on the psyche, putting into the head the idea of ​​\u200b\u200bworks that will not be in vain.

If we consider the neutral gray-beige color as light gray mixed with yellow, then the abstractness of gray is complemented by the subconscious of yellow: it will be everything and nothing at the same time. Decorating something in this color makes the eye switch to the form or content, which is why it is so valuable. The image of a man in a beige robe attracts with its essence, and not with its appearance.

Shades of neutral colors

As already mentioned, 4 groups of colors can be attributed to the neutral range: white shades, beige, gray and black. Each of them has its own palette.
The white palette extends to ivory, you can see it more extensively in a separate heading “white color”.
Beige range is also extensive. It has a light, medium and dark line, which is rather medium dark in relation to all other colors. Each level of lightness has its own subtone. You can see this in more detail in the article “Beige color in clothes and fashion, its shades.”
Gray tones has a wider light range: from white-gray to dark gray, covering the entire spectrum. It also has a wide range of undertones.
And the final set of shades will be black.

For a more illustrative example:

White, as a neutral color: marshmallow, milk, ivory …
light beige : papyrus, latte, light beige …
Average and dark : beige, gray-beige, dark beige …
light gray : Light Grey, Steel, Silver…
Medium Gray : Natural Grey, Medium Grey, Mouse…
Warm Gray with Green Shade : olive grey, taupe, taupe…
Cool gray with a green tinge : greenish grey, sea grey, spruce grey….
Gray with blue undertones : slate, lead, morengo….
Grey-purple tones : grey-purple, purplish-grey, anthracite….
Dark gray : graphite, wet asphalt, shoe polish….
Black : dark grey, jet black, bright black…

You can learn about a wider range of neutral shades in the article “Neutral shades. Color table”

Neutral interior color

1 Neutral color goes well with any color. This gives tremendous possibilities of use. If you are wondering if a gray sofa will suit your interior, you can safely say that it will. It’s worth thinking about its shape.

2 Light neutral color interior enhances the space. If you have a small area of ​​living space, then neutral wallpaper or painting will solve this problem, they will enhance the lighting.

3 These colors are good for offices. The employees of such an office will not increase their efficiency, but they will give them a sense of stability, help them focus on work. Each employee will be able to bring their own color to the workplace in the form of accessories and this will not cause dissonance in the overall style.

4 Use these colors in your living room. This will be a favorite place of rest, a place for communication and just a comfortable stay. Guests will not look at the decoration, but at you, so this is the best color for the living room.

5 Do not use neutral colors in large quantities in children’s rooms. Children have just begun to explore this world. A disinterested child will be more capricious because he has nowhere to spend his energy.

Neutral color in clothes

There are a lot of clothes in neutral colors in stores because they were in demand at all times. All neutrals are part of the basic wardrobe, where one large and high-quality item can be paired with many seasonal shades, create different styles and maintain the harmony of the whole look.

1 Neutral shades are distributed according to color types. Depending on the color type, everyone will have their own shade of neutral color. “Spring” will go classic beige, light gray, creamy white; “Winter” snow-white and blue-black; “Fly” – gray, gray-beige and black shades, “autumn” – rich beige, steel gray, black tones.

2 Lighter neutrals expand the subject, while darker ones narrow it. With the help of an optical illusion, you can adjust the figure, narrowing and expanding it if necessary, so if you have a small chest, then a blouse in light neutral colors will help you increase it, while a black skirt will reduce the volume of the hips.

3 The image of a neutral color is positively businesslike. This color is perfect for business meetings.
Be prepared for the fact that men prefer not to make casual acquaintances with girls in a strict scale, as they consider these shades to be serious and inaccessible for easy flirting. On the other hand, in this color it is good to have a heart-to-heart talk with a representative of the opposite sex.

Neutral with other colors

Neutral shades are combined with both pastel, pale and rich shades. They are a good filler for any color range, helping to organize a rest for the eye next to temperamental shades, or vice versa, to give them a gloss and sophisticated look. On the example of a natural light gray shade, see how diverse these compositions are.


Neutral shades in the interior: 5 main questions

Neutral shades allow the home to be a cozy refuge, a place for relaxation and rest, where you can escape from the hectic routine. But in order to create a calm and pleasant interior, it is worth knowing the answers to the main questions about these modest, but so necessary colors in the design.

Dzherelo: Pinterest

1. What is a neutral color?
A neutral color is a color devoid of saturation, intensity, which becomes an excellent background for other colors. Neutral colors usually mean achromatic colors (white, black and all shades of gray), as well as beige, cream and other soft shades. A neutral color is perceived in the interior as “quiet”, even if most of the decoration and furniture is made in this color.

Dzherelo: Pinterest

2. Is green neutral?
Technically, green is not neutral, but its shades can be a neutral background if used correctly in the interior. The best example of this is the shade of sage: here the saturation of green is significantly reduced and its grayness acts as the main characteristic of the color.

Dzherelo: Pinterest

3. What are the best neutral shades for living rooms?
Recently, white has become a particularly popular choice due to its versatility – both stylistic and coloristic: inside the white living room you can place furniture and decor of any color and style – the walls will not limit the breadth of choice.

Dzherelo: Pinterest

But not all white shades are the same: some may look very cold, and some, on the contrary, too warm and even dirty. If your room receives a lot of sunlight, choose a “bright” white with a cool undertone – you will be dazzled by the freshness of the interior. If there is little natural light in the room, it is better to give preference not to white, but to warm natural tones (grayish-beige, cream and the like) – the presence of pigment will make the room more comfortable and warm, less sterile, more voluminous.

Dzherelo: Pinterest

4. What neutral hues make a room look bigger?
The lighter the shade – the more light it reflects – this is what makes the room visually more spacious. Consider also the degree of gloss of the paint: using the finish “eggshell” and “satin”, you can make the room even more spacious.

Dzherelo: Pinterest

At the same time, in some small rooms, it will be more effective to emphasize their size and thereby make the room not ordinary, but cozy and enveloping. You can use dark, highly pigmented neutrals for this.

Dzherelo: Pinterest