Skip to main content

Colour Wheel Explainer

For the love of all things neutral, let’s get you UNSTUCK already!

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ll be adding more questions and videos to help you use the Understanding Undertones™ neutral colour wheel so make sure you bookmark this page in your browser.

Didn’t find an answer to your question? Submit a question here.

What is the Understanding Undertones neutral colour wheel used for?

Use this tool to save you time, money and headaches when building, renovating, buying paint or choosing decor and finishes for your home.

Compare this wheel to anything neutral – furniture, fabrics, rugs, paint, countertops, tile, flooring – to narrow down which 1-2 undertones are a close match. Then compare to the paint colours in my system to confirm the exact undertone you are working with. 

Once you’ve identified the correct neutral undertone, you can use this information to:

  • Use the neutral colour wheel as a guide for choosing hard finishes for your kitchen or bathroom new build or renovation project, so the undertones are a good match.
  • Choose a complimentary paint colour in this undertone using my curated list of paint colours found in my books or large painted colour boards.
  • Take the neutral colour wheel with you when shopping for decor like fabrics, pillows, art, bedding, etc. so you can make sure the neutral undertone is a good fit.

Where are the definitions of the 9 neutral undertones?

Since the new colour wheel no longer spins, we’ve added the descriptions of each of the 9 most useful neutral undertones here for your reference, plus links to helpful blog posts.

Pink Beige: Often described as warm (the colour of a latte), pink beige is the most limiting neutral undertone.

Everything you need to know about pink beige

What everyone should know about beige

Orange Beige: The colour of sun-washed terracotta. Consider orange beige if yellow beige is looking too green.

Orange beige complex cream in my primary bathroom

What everyone should know about beige

Yellow Beige: This undertone shows an obvious yellow undertone, making it easy to identify. A good substitute for brighter chromatic yellows.

What everyone should know about beige

Gold Beige: A deeper and muddier yellow-undertone neutral, gold beige is always mid-tone or darker, and never paler.

What everyone should know about beige

Green Beige: One of the most versatile neutrals, green beige can help earth tones appear fresher.

My green beige kitchen

What everyone should know about beige

How to identify the undertones in fabric

Green Grey: The colour of concrete, green grey looks the most like neutral grey. Its green undertone is more apparent when compared to blue or violet grey.

How to identify the undertones in fabric

Blue Grey: The coolest neutral undertone, blue grey is relatively easy to identify, as it shows an obvious blue undertone.

Help! My light grey walls look baby blue

Violet Grey: Use violet grey when violet undertones exist in a colour scheme, can be paired with pink beige or taupe.

Adding colour to an all-grey room with a violet grey stone fireplace

Taupe: Warmer than grey and cooler than beige, taupe is a combination of beige and grey with a pink to violet undertone.

What everyone should know about taupe

Do the whites on the back go with the corresponding neutrals on the front?

The 4 gradations (meaning, from cool to warm) of white in the Killam Colour System are found on the back of the Understanding Undertones neutral colour wheel.

Please note, there isn’t a direct connection to how the whites are placed on the wheel in relation to how the neutrals listed on the front. For instance, that means you cannot assume that one of the whites on the back is the best trim colour for the neutral listed directly opposite of it on the front side.

Here are some general guidelines you can use for choosing a trim colour: 

  1. Coordinate with the existing white in your hard finishes (use the whites on the back of the wheel to identify the correct gradation of white in your existing finishes), or
  2. As a general rule, light, airy colours work best with true whites or off whites, while darker, earthier colours work best with off whites or cream.

To learn more about the best trim colour for your home download my White is Complicated ebook here.

What is meant by overall read?

Some finishes like tile, countertops or fabrics are made up of multiple colours in tiny little bits that make you lean in close in order to identify all of them.

BUT, that’s when you want to STAND BACK to assess what ONE colour the entirety of these could be described as. Maybe even squint your eyes a bit.

The OVERALL READ simply means if you stand back, what is the overall undertone you see – even if there are multiple undertones in the item.

Let’s take a closer look at this countertop, for instance. In this case, we can easily eliminate all of the beiges.

So, that means it’s likely a grey or taupe. But, the green grey looks to green when compared to the countertops. And, it’s definitely not a blue grey.

You can see the wheel reveals that the overall read of this surface is in the realm of violet grey to taupe.

To confirm EXACTLY which undertone is the BEST MATCH, use large painted colour boards from my system to compare.

What's different about this neutral colour wheel version?

Watch the video above for an explanation from Maria. Here’s a summary of what’s changed:

  • NO SPINNING PARTS: There seemed to be a lot of confusion about the center part of the wheel that rotated. A common misconception was that spinning it would give you a combination of neutral colours. That’s not what the wheel is ultimately supposed to do so we removed the center top layer that rotated.
  • NEW FLAT EDGES: With the Killam Colour System, the proper way to test your paint colour is by comparing your paint sample in the same orientation as the painted surface – instead of setting it flat as most of us might do. So, we flattened the edges to make the wheel easier to handle and more accurate in real world settings.
  • LARGER PAINT AREAS: And finally, we added more volume to the paint deposit area so you have a larger visual to identify and compare with.

Why did you change the overall shape of the wheel?

When identifying or testing paint colours, it’s important that you view your paint colour or sample in the same orientation as it will be painted – instead of setting it flat as most of us might do. So, we flattened the edges to make the wheel easier to handle in an upright position.

violet grey countertops

how to test and compare whites

I purchased a real-paint colour wheel earlier in 2022. Do I need to buy this new one?

No, you do not need to purchase a new one if you have the real-paint neutral colour wheel from earlier in 2022.

This new version includes a few minor changes to eliminate some of the confusion of past designs. We removed the top, spinning layer, made the real-paint deposit areas a bit large, and flattened the sides so it can be placed vertically more easily.

We think you’ll love using this new one even more, but feel free to hang on to the old one. Both wheels are accurate visual keys to the 9 most useful neutral undertones.

I have an older version of the colour wheel. Will it still work?

Since the launch of the new Understanding Undertones Neutral Colour wheel, we are fielding lots of questions about whether the other colour wheels are still useful. I have some good news if your purchased the wheel in 2022…

Click here to see if your wheel is still ok to use

Didn’t Order Your Wheel Yet?

Make Sure To Get Yours At One Of The Links Below!