• "Tone" and "shade" seem to refer to the darkness or brightness of a thing. So do they mean the same thing? Where is it proper to use each of them?
  • When describing a person's skin, what is the difference between light-toned (as opposed to dark-toned and medium-toned) and fair-complected?

3 Answers 3


In the field of design, every color has what are called tints and shades. A tint of a basic color is a lighter version of that color, and a shade is a darker version. Tone is a general term to describe the lightness or darkness (tint or shade) of a basic color.

The painting was a study done in dark tones, burnt umber and brick red, with shades of orange and olive. Here and there tints of those colors were used as accents.


Tone and shade are two words with two different meanings. You cannot always replace tone with shade.

  1. Tone refers to musical or vocal sounds, while shade only refers to colors.

    The piano tone appears monochrome or lacking in warmth.

  2. Tone also means:

    • The normal level of firmness or slight contraction in a resting muscle
    • The general effect of color or of light and shade in a picture
    • A slight degree of difference in the intensity of a color
  3. Shade can mean:

    • Darkness and coolness caused by shelter from direct sunlight
    • A position of relative inferiority or obscurity
    • A color, especially with regard to how light or dark it is or as distinguished from one nearly like it
    • A slight degree of difference between colors

    This area will be in shade for much part of the day.

    Her elegant pink and black ensemble would put most outfits in the shade.

    Maria's eyes darkened in shade.

    Complected means having a specified complexion, where complexion means the natural color, texture, and appearance of a person's skin, especially of the face (e.g. an attractive girl with a pale complexion); differently from the other terms you listed, complected doesn't make only reference to the skin color.

  • Thanks! What do you mean by "complected doesn't make only reference to the skin color"? The "other terms" I "listed" are "shade" and "tone", and I think they don't "make only reference to the skin color", so are they not different from "complected"/"complexion" in this regard?
    – Tim
    Jan 29, 2011 at 13:57
  • Complexion makes reference to three distinct aspects of a skin: color, texture, and appearance. Tone would just make reference to the skin color. Saying that a person's skin is dark-toned doesn't say anything about the texture of his/her skin (e.g, if it's smooth).
    – apaderno
    Jan 29, 2011 at 14:13
  • This answer is entirely wrong. See here. You could at least have googled the terms before answering. Feb 27, 2018 at 13:39
  • @GustvandeWal Apart the fact it covers just a single meaning of tone and shade, you don't need to google, when you read a dictionary. But if you insist with links, tone and shade should help you.
    – apaderno
    Feb 27, 2018 at 14:21
  • When referring to colours, tone and shade are pretty close in meaning to me. If I were to make a difference, I'd say that shade is more about the detailed nuance of the colour, while tone can describe broader differences. If you say “various shades of blue”, you could use “tones” here (it feels less natural to me, but it works). If you say “in tones of green and red”, you couldn't substitute “shades” in that example.
  • One’s skin is light-toned, but the person is fair-complected (or fair-complexioned)

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