I am helping edit some text that an artist wrote about his work. He is discussing the limited color palette, and he used the term 'spot colors'.

I clarified with the artist that he does not mean a specially mixed ink for offset print, but rather a color used sparingly for a few details in the piece. I wouldn't call them 'accent' colors because they are not bold or prominent... is there a better term or description?

Have you heard this (mis)use of the term 'spot color' before?

  • 1
    Can you provide an example of what you are talking about for clarity? Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 11:18
  • If you mean something similar to a photographic effect like these shown here: then it's called "selective desaturation", or sometimes "selective saturation", or "selective color". Yes I've heard people misuse the term "spot color" for that effect before. Please edit your question, and show an example if this is not what you mean. Thanks
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 12:23
  • Sometimes in design it may be called a "bastard color" -- a color which is intentionally not harmonious with other colors in an effort to call attention to that area/object.
    – Scott
    Commented May 15, 2019 at 17:18

1 Answer 1


I know the color theory names in Spanish, I'm sorry if the translation does not correspond to the terminology in English.

Dominant Color: is the color with the highest predominance in perception, without the need to occupy a larger space. It's the color with which we remember the object after seeing it.

Subordinate Color: is the secondary color in quantity. It may occupy a larger space than the dominant color but perceptually it's not so relevant.

Accent: it's the color touch, the point that draws attention. Perceptively the second in importance after the dominant color.

Underlying Colors: the colors behind the dominant and the subordinate, the third order colors, those that fill the work without highlighting the others. Difficult to remember by their name, from the perceptive point of view remain in a very distant plane.

Color Details: colors of reduced proportions, without becoming accents, complete a detailed chromatic components description of the object. Unlike the underlying colors, and despite appearing in small proportions, they are usually easy to remember by the color name.

A good exercise to define color components of an object is to divide it in areas. Using the Photoshop Filter Mosaic makes it easy to find the chromatic components:


Following this example:

The red picture (dominant color) with orange lines (subordinate) and some light blue spots (accent) with dark areas (underlying) and details in yellow, pink and lilac (color details).

Without knowing the work that the question refers to, and following the explanation, I would define those spot colors as Color Details.

One of the Spanish translations of Spot Color is Color Point, a good definition of Color Details.


Photo 1 and Photo 2 from unsplash.com

  • Thank you for this. I ended up using the term 'detail' at your suggestion.
    – cmrRose
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 21:39

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