Some words that come to mind:

  • Multi-color
  • Natural color
  • True color
  • Colored

Is any of these correct? Any better word?


As some commenters requested, I am adding context.

I am not going to use the word in any specific sentence. I am a programmer and I am trying to categorize colors used in a program into greyscale colors, and then _ (answer here) colors.

  • @suməlic no much context. antonym of sweet is bitter. antonym of diligent is idle/lazy. just like that. – technophyle Sep 1 '16 at 1:41
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    The antonym of "gray scale" would somehow convey the concept of being either solid black or solid white. – Hot Licks Sep 1 '16 at 1:58
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    I wouldn't agree that sweet and bitter are antonyms. Those two tastes are distinct (as are salty, sour, savory), but they aren't necessarily opposites. In this way, something that is 1-bit monochrome, solid colored, or rainbow might all be distinct from grayscale, but I wouldn't call them antonyms. – vpn Sep 1 '16 at 2:02
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    If you're talking about distinguishing between a black and white (grayscale) image and a color image, I would just use "color". – Andy Schweig Sep 1 '16 at 2:09
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    Take a look at the antonyms Merriam-Webster gives for "monochrome": merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/monochrome – sumelic Sep 1 '16 at 2:37

13 Answers 13


full color

Oxford's definition : "The full range of colors"

Merriam-Webster's definition: "Not black and white"

Technically speaking a greyscale image can be considered a colored image, because white, black and grey are all colors too. Therefore, rather than opting for just the word color, I feel that using full color instead emphasizes that a palette of colors beyond greyscale is used/available.

  • In case you haven't seen it: the question has been updated with a bit more information. Apparently, the poster is looking for a word to categorize all the colors in the palette that are not white, black, or shades of grey. This isn't quite the same thing as "the full range of colors," but I don't know if you want or need to make any edits to your answer. – sumelic Sep 1 '16 at 3:06
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    Note that IIRC, historically, "full color" was meant to differentiate graphic formats / adapters which allowed each pixel to have an independent color (with freely adjustable R, G, B components), as in JPG or most PNG files, as opposed to other situations which forced the use of a limited colour palette (as in GIF files which are limited to 256 colors). – jcaron Sep 1 '16 at 11:35
  • "Full color" always meant a full spectrum of colors. (I'm pretty sure the terms came from film photography, though I never actually checked.) Certainly, the term applies to image formats, but also to a dizzying array of other things. – The Nate Sep 13 '16 at 19:28

You can use the word chromatic (second definition):

chromatic (Oxford Dictionaries)

Relating to or produced by color.

Some other dictionaries also include "multichromatic" as an alternative, meaning:

multichromatic (Wiktionary)

involving more than one colour.

I'm pretty sure the average literate American would understand what this word means, although it appears to be favored more in British English, as I couldn't find a definition for multichromatic in a dictionary that spelled "color" in the American spelling.

  • @suməlic multichromatic doesn't seem to appear in Oxford (which I just realized I've been misquoting thanks to NVZ), which I found interesting, because I've always assumed it was a real American English word. – phyrfox Sep 1 '16 at 5:59
  • Oh, I see! That's right, that comment was only about "multichromatic." Hmm. My spell-checker doesn't like it. I guess it's a rare word in either variety of English, but I don't think it's illegitimate in American English just because dictionaries don't list it. – sumelic Sep 1 '16 at 6:01
  • @suməlic Google's built-in spell-checker doesn't like it, either. But I think it's about as close as an antonym to greyscale as one is going to get. – phyrfox Sep 1 '16 at 6:05
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    Polychromatic is far more common. – mikeagg Sep 1 '16 at 16:02
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    I suspect the more common terms in American English would be polychrome and monochrome. – Thriggle Sep 1 '16 at 16:02

Greyscale colours are achromatic colours - so we can call the complementary set chromatic colours.

I think the terms 'greyscale colours' and 'chromatic colours' are reasonable - and moreover are preferable to 'chromatic' and 'achromatic', because these latter two only differ by one letter and are thus prone to confusion & typo errors.

The meaning of the term 'chromatic colours', however, is not self-evident. So I would suggest that using the terms greyscale colours and non-greyscale colours is actually the best option, even if it lacks a bit of elegance.


For your example usage, don't say "greyscale colors", just say "greyscale". Then color becomes the opposite of greyscale in context: "I am trying to categorize colors used in a program into greyscale and then color".

  • If a noun is required along with "greyscale", I think the standard in general english to use "shades", although colour theory would suggest "tones" is more appropriate. q.v. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tints_and_shades – origimbo Sep 1 '16 at 15:36
  • Greyscale is being nominalized in the above sentence, so there is a noun. – EL_DON Sep 1 '16 at 18:42

The neutral colors black, white, and the infinite shades of grey are called that because they absorb all wavelengths equally.

In HSV they have no saturation so their hue is immaterial. In RGB all three are the same value.

So apparently you want the non-neutral colors. Those are all the colors it takes the three kinds of cones in your eye to see. With only one kind of rod you can see only one kind of color, the neutral kind, the monochromatic ones.


Clearly, there's not going to be one correct answer to this question. My suggestion is to use "greyscale shades" vs. "colors". If I were already locked into "greyscale colors", I'd go with "actual colors".


Fairly clearly black-and-white is not what you want; “colour” is.

The real answer is that there is no antonym of greyscale, just as there is no antonym of chalk or cheese or grass or green. Greyscale does not form half of any pair, let alone of a pair of opposites.

If this is a purely linguistic question that’s all there is to it.

If this is not a linguistic question but one of technical vocabulary, which we might as well call jargon, the useful answer is as suməlic said: It depends a lot on what you mean precisely and what the context is.

If, for instance, you were trying to categorize colours used in a program into greyscale or (answer here) colours, the closest you could get to an acronym would describe the maximum range of colours used in that particular program, which should be “full colour” but sounds as though it isn’t.

If that was the case, we might expect the program’s own requirements or limitations or design parameters to define the answer before the question was asked.

Nevertheless I use the word “range” to make it clear that I am talking not about the full “spectrum” of all possible colour, nor about a lesser “gamut”, being the reduced spectrum used by any given device, whether it be a printer, scanner, screen or what have you. For a program to use anything other than the full spectrum or the gamut of a particular device would be an arbitrary choice but perhaps one justifiable for technical reasons.

A cursory glance at comments and answers even here, reveals a broad spectrum of opinion about the whole idea much of which, while perfectly sensible, is not technical terminology but logical extrapolation from ordinary English.

Printers acknowledge broadly three and a half colour levels: Mono, which is only just what it says on the tin; Greyscale or simply grey, which comes in various denominations; Colour, which need not be full colour; Full colour, which in an ideal world would be and in much software is the entire spectrum but in the real mechanical world is restricted to the physical gamut of any given device.

In the context of categorizing colours into greyscale and otherwise there is no antonym because greyscale does not form half of any pair, let alone of a pair of opposites. All the various denominations of greyscale sit between mono and full colour. That technically, greyscale is a subset of all colour does not linguistically make colour an antonym of greyscale, nor anything like it

Mono is only just what it says on the tin because it refers to one ink, but please, how when one ink is applied to any paper, could the result be a single colour? Neither solid black nor solid white is by any means similar to “black and white”, however convenient the term “mono” might seem.

Greyscale, or simply grey, comes in various denominations. What is common or even technically possible today has never been relevant to any theory either of colour or of grammar.

In any language the technicalities are wholly irrelevant; nevertheless, some early monitors displayed only 4-bit colour, equating to 16 shades of grey; some used 8 bits for 256 shades; 16 bits representing 65,536 shades gives largely pointless distinction in greyscale, very restrictive for “full” colour today but once a great leap forward.

Largely because today’s “true” colour has 24 bits, giving 8 to each red, green or blue channel, “monochromatic” has evolved to encompass the 256 levels available in any single, 8-bit channel. Normal usage makes that channel grey, not red or green or blue but it still needs to be recognized that “monochromatic” actually means not “one colour”, but “one colour” of ink.

Some systems change matters as much linguistically as technically by using 30 or 36 or even 48 bits to show billions of colours and even those are sometimes modified to use 40 or 48 or even 64 bits.

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    Thanks for the support, Robbie. The first paragraph of your post is an answer (saying that an antonym doesn't exist; although it does not have enough detail or support to be a good answer) but the rest is better suited to a comment. Now that I've upvoted your post, you should be able to leave comments directly beneath the question; I think you should do that and edit your answer to take out the parts where you ask for clarification. – sumelic Sep 1 '16 at 2:43
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    I think you're being a bit closed-minded here: greyscale is a subset of all colors. What's the opposite of things inside a subset? Yes, the things that lay outside this subset: (full) color. – Will Sep 1 '16 at 2:44
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    Yes, you have got a point. What about "opposite word"? – technophyle Sep 1 '16 at 2:55
  • The problem with opposites of words like greyscale is that it depends on what part of the word you consider more important- what’s the opposite of “big boy”? Big girl? Small boy? Small girl? So is it a full-color scale? A grey point?? – Jim Sep 1 '16 at 3:14
  • @Jim I thought greyscale was one word, Jim. Are you saying the opposite of masterpiece can be "slave piece"?? – technophyle Sep 1 '16 at 3:18

From what I have learnt about colors, Black, White, and Grey (combination of Black and White) are colors which aren't directly a part of the visible spectrum and thus I'd coin the term "spectral scale" for a range of colors not containing these three.

Spectral colors are the colors that make up rainbows i.e VIBGYOR.

Also, spectral-scale sounds appropriate and satisfying. But, that's just an opinion.

Refer :- Spectral Colors

  • I find it interesting that you refer to the rainbow starting with violet. I've always seen ROYGBIV, never VIBGYOR. – vpn Sep 1 '16 at 12:16
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    But there are penty of colours that don't appear in the spectrum - the obvious one being pink – Chris H Sep 1 '16 at 14:16
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    The question "is pink a colour?" is like asking "Is a tomato a vegetable?", in that the answer can be yes or no depending on context. – origimbo Sep 1 '16 at 15:40
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    @origimbo No, pink is always a color. It simply is not a spectral color because it cannot be produced by a single wavelength. Pink is a desaturated magenta, which being one of the purples in turn is a blend of red and blue spectral colors. See our related question on What is ‘pink’ and what is ‘magenta’? for FMTEYEWTK about such matters. – tchrist Sep 1 '16 at 22:47
  • @tchrist Well, it could also be a flower in the genus dianthus, or the stage name of a pop singer, but otherwise this is the argument I was hoping to forestall by referring to tomatoes. – origimbo Sep 1 '16 at 23:10

For your application rgbColors or some form (RGB_Colors, rgbScale) would probably be best suited. HSL/HSV could be used, but I feel that the former is most fitting.

  • It could work, but some colors are RGBA ones ;) – technophyle Sep 1 '16 at 3:20
  • In the RGB world all the greyscale colors are in the RGB spectrum as well. – Jim Sep 1 '16 at 4:14
  • @technophyle I would say the transparency represented by the alpha channel is not part of the color value. It says how much the color is depending on the background. But on the other hand, you could have more color channels like IR and UV. – Volker Siegel Sep 1 '16 at 12:21
  • @Jim All neutral colors have R=G=B in the RGB model, and S=0 with H immaterial in the HSV model. – tchrist Sep 1 '16 at 22:49

A grayscale color is a fully desaturated color, i.e. a color with zero saturation. The opposite of that, in a technical context, might be a fully saturated color, with maximal saturation. But between these opposites there is a whole range of colors which have neither zero nor full saturation.

Judging from your context, you probably don't want the opposite but the complement (in the set-theoretic meaning). You could describe them as “colors with nonzero saturation”, but that's way harder to understand than “non-grayscale colors”, and less elegant as well, so I wouldn't suggest actually using that.

The terms you suggest, like “natural color” or “true color”, tend to describe a picture which is composed of color from a certain set, with the assumption that a close representation of the colored original is attempted. So while these words may be good to describe the colors used in a picture, I would not use them for a single color. After all, what would a “multi-colored color” be, since each color is by definition exactly that: one color. On the other hand, a “colored color” sounds like a repetition without semantic meaning, similar to wet water. If you call these things “colors”, including the desaturated ones, then they are all “colored”. (You could choose a different convention, and call some of these things “colors” and others “gray scales” or whatever. But then you would have the even harder task of finding a common term to describe the union of both of these. This would quickly become confusing.)

If I had to pick a single non-compound word to describe a single non-grayscale color as such, I'd go for “chromatic”, as already suggested in other answers.


The word pair that comes to mind for me is shade : hue

Where shade refers to greyscale and hue refers to colors

See What’s the Difference between a Hue, Tint, Shade and Tone ?

  • In other contexts, the opposite of "greyscale" might be "saturated", "color", "full color"... – TecBrat Sep 1 '16 at 18:56

For your purposes, maybe polychrome would do.


relating to, made with, or decorated in several colors


This is just to point out that chromatic, which has been suggested by several answerers, is used in this context in published literature.

From Digital Color Imaging Handbook:

Hue. Attribute of a visual sensation according to which an area appears to be similar to one of the perceived colors: red, yellow, green, and blue, or to a combination of two of them.

Achromatic color. Perceived color devoid of hue.

Chromatic color. Perceived color possessing a hue.

Equivalent usage is attested here, here, here, here, here, ...

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