Is Grey a Colour or a Shade? A Designers Guide to Colour

Is Grey a Colour or a Shade A Designers Guide to Colour - Sanders Design

Is grey a colour? Gray is one of the most popular colours in design, but it can also be hard to define. It’s everywhere, yet it always looks slightly different. Is it just a mix of black and white, or is there more to it?

Grey is any colour in a series of colours that range between black and white. However, in design, grey can also be a hue of other colours. Greys with tints of different colours, like blue or brown, are still considered grey. Depending on the shade of grey, it can be warm or cool.

Knowing how to use grey is key in today’s graphic and interior design. This article will describe what makes grey so useful and which tonalities you should be familiar with.

Why is grey so popular?

It won’t take you long to find some tonality of grey in numerous design pieces around you. You’ll likely see grey used in numerous contexts, including WordPress website design, tech, business, and fashion.

Gray is very popular because it’s a neutral colour that can be used in many situations. Grey makes a good base for colour palettes, helps create contrast, and substitutes black and white when you need a less saturated look.

Just look at objects around you. Interior design relies on greyish tones, and industrial design embraces grey for all kinds of objects.

That said, while grey is extremely versatile, its popularity stems from its ability to act as a great neutral colour. 

Grey is a neutral colour

Neutrals are colours that don’t catch the eye. They sit near the darkest or lightest parts of a colour palette. You can get one by taking a natural colour, making it very pale or dark and lowering its saturation.

Neutral colours are a crucial part of design because you can combine them with anything. They serve as a backdrop to make other colours pop up.

Another quality of neutral colours is that they generate feelings of ease and stability. They can communicate many kinds of moods, like refinement, formality, and calmness.

Knowing this, you can see why grey is one of the ultimate neutral colours, especially given the numerous variants of grey available. Popular variants include grey with tints of blue, pink, or brown.

Grey can be adjusted to fit most aesthetics. Tinted greys, or even simple black-ish or white-ish greys, make an excellent base for any colour palette. 

Grey is a neutral colour

It’s a good substitute for black or white

Most font colours aren’t 100% black or 100% white. Instead, they’re a shade of grey that looks like black or white at first glance.

The reason designers may use dark grey against a light background has to do with contrast. The contrast created by pure black is often considered too strong for comfortable reading, and it stands out from the rest of the design.

The same goes for things like icons and logos. Black might elicit feelings that aren’t what you’re looking for, like elegance or mystery. But if you still need a dark tone to create contrast, then grey has your back.

When designing backgrounds, grey can be a better choice than black or white in most cases, especially if you add tints of one of your other colours.

What is steel grey colour?

Steel grey is a colour that is extremely similar to silver, though it has a bluer hue. The RGB system is made up of nearly equal parts of red, green, and blue. Its most common HTML code is #71797E, and the Pantone code for steel grey is 18-4005 TCX. 

What is light grey colour?

Light grey is a grey that’s closer on the spectrum to white than it is to black. Most light greys start with a white base and then have a bit of black added, and they can often come across as colourless. It’s HTML code is #D3D3D3.

What Is ash grey Colour?

Ash grey is grey with a tint of green at very low saturation. As its name implies, it resembles the colour of ash. The term ash grey has existed in English for a long time and has been used to describe numerous plants and animals. Its HTML code is #B2BEB5.

Does grey colour absorb heat?

The colour grey absorbs heat. The amount of heat the colour absorbs depends on its tonality – the darker a grey is, the more heat it will absorb, and vice versa.

The thing about heat and colours is that colours don’t really absorb heat – instead, they absorb light. If you iron a white shirt and a black shirt, they’ll end up with the same temperature.

Darker colours absorb more light, and light colours reflect it. Black absorbs all the wavelengths in the visual spectrum and thus absorbs the most heat among all colours. Then that light becomes heat.

White is the opposite. Since it reflects all wavelengths, it absorbs no visible light and less heat.

Because grey can range from very light to very dark, how much heat it absorbs depends on its tonality. The darker the grey, the hotter it’ll be on clothes or furniture when exposed to the sun.

Does grey colour absorb heat

When should you use grey?

Because of how versatile it is, you can use grey in many different situations.

You should use grey in any situation that calls for it. The exact version of grey you choose will depend on what emotion you’re looking to evoke. Light tonalities evoke a sense of calm, especially when tinted with brown or blue. Slightly darker tonalities can signify refinement and formality.

Depending on the environment, you can also use grey to communicate conservatism. However, because of how grey has been used in industrial design, the colour also has a modern feel to it.

Because of this mix of formality and modernity, you’ll see a lot of grey in business environments. Ultimately, the main strength of grey is that it has very few psychological associations. If you need a backdrop colour that doesn’t catch the eye, grey will do a good job.


Grey is a versatile colour that can be used for almost any purpose, as long as you pick the right pairing. It can evoke feelings of formality, calmness, conservatism, modernity, or even no feelings at all.

It’s often used in interior design to create a neutral colour palette. In graphic design, you’ll frequently see it as a background or font colour that creates contrast without being too saturated.