Eye Color List (Note: an updated version of this 2K-word article appears in my 15K-word book How to Describe Eyes and Faces. See below.)
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Don't miss the companion article How to Describe Eyes where I show photos of different colored eyes, discuss clichés and how to improve upon them, describe the appearance of eyes, and explain some physical actions involving the eyes. If you've ever wondered what bedroom eyes are, you need to check that article.
Here at Obsidianbookshelf.com, I've listed the color terms alphabetically within the main categories of Black, Blue, Brown, Gray, Green, Hazel, and Violet. Within each basic color term I've listed alphabetical words for that color: Black – anthracite. Just so you know, I've identified the clichés (those terms used so often that they've become worn out).
I'll also tell you about word usage: some terms can sound too literal, some inadequate, and some too grandiose. All this is just my opinion: you are the final judge of what you want to do.
A note about food comparisons: black eyes, brown eyes, and green eyes sometimes get described in terms of food, and that can lead to inadvertent silliness. You definitely don't want to describe your hero's eyes as broccoli- , celery- , or kiwifruit-green.
However, an appealing description of brown eyes could be the amber hue of fine cognac. But the color of beer has a trashy connotation. As a rule of thumb: if the food has sexy or sophisticated connotations (chocolate, champagne, cognac, whiskey), it would probably work fine to describe someone's eyes.
Also, sometimes words pick up additional shades of meaning over time that are irrational but exist, and you won't find these connotations listed in the dictionary. Where needed for clarification, I've given the dictionary definition in italics from The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1982, 1985, 1991, ISBN 0395329434). Then I add whatever additional connotations occur to me and why.
- Amber or Golden eyes – see Brown - amber.
- Black – anthracite. See Black - coal
- Black – coal black (cliché). This word will sound too literal if you write "His eyes were coal", or "coal eyes". Always add the basic color "black" to make its adjective status clear: "His eyes were coal black" or "coal black eyes" or "black as coal." Coal black eyes look soft and muted (not hard and shiny), with perhaps a slight gleam.
- Black – ebony. Dictionary Definition: 1. Any of several chiefly tropical tress ... having hard, dark-colored heartwood. 2. The wood of the ebony used in cabinetwork and for piano keys. Ebony is a soft, absorbent matte black. Ebony eyes look soft and subdued (not hard and shiny), beautiful, and black.
- Black – jet (cliché). Dictionary Definition: 1. A dense black coal that takes a high polish and is used for jewelry. 2. A deep black. Jet is a hard mineral that shines and is carved into jewelry. Jet eyes are a luxurious, bold, shiny black.
- Black – (mid) night black (cliché). Not only is it a cliché to describe eyes as "night black" or "midnight black", it is inadequate. What does such a comparison even mean in regards to moonlight or starlight?
- Black – obsidian (cliché). Hard, black, shiny, and flinty like the mineral obsidian. For some reason, comparing someone's eyes to obsidian is not appealing, unlike the similar comparison of jet. It might be the flinty aspect of obsidian. Obsidian eyes have become a cliché, especially for people of color who are villains.
- Black – pitch black (cliché). Dictionary Definition: Any of various thick, dark, sticky substances obtained from the distillation residue of coal tar. Pitch is essentially tar: soft, shiny, and extremely black. It's too bad it's a cliché because it's one of the few comparisons that convey shininess and softness. If you want to use it, you'd have to add some specific details of your own to make it unique.
- Black - sloe-eyed. Dictionary Definition: sloe - 1. the blackthorn, 2. the tart, blue-black plumlike fruit of the sloe. Sloe-eyed - having soft, slanted dark eyes. Sloe-eyed is verging on becoming cliché, especially for innocent, beautiful people of color.
- Black – smoky. Smoky black eyes are soft and muted, sultry, and dark. "Smoky" is a sexy word with connotations of the fires of passion.
- Black – soot. See smoky eyes. Soot is ashes. This is a tricky comparison because it can seem dirty and unappealing. To say someone has sooty-black eyes implies soft and muted dark eyes that absorb the light, but there are probably better ways to make the comparison.
- Black – velvety. This comparison emphasizes the softness and muted quality of the dark eyes and not so much their black color.
- Blue – aquamarine (transparent blue-green). Aquamarine blue eyes are clear, piercing blue-green and are very striking. There is usually almost equal ratio of yellow to blue (with blue slightly predominating) in the iris. Aquamarine blue eyes tend to resemble the clear tropical seas of the Pacific.
- Arctic blue - see ice-blue
- Blue – baby blue, (cliché). Dictionary Definition: A very light to very pale greenish or purplish blue. As you can see, there is a huge color range between greenish and purplish which makes this comparison worthless. I tend to picture baby-blue eyes to be a light, faded true-blue (that is, only blue with no overtones from other colors on the spectrum).
- Blue – china blue, (cliché). I couldn't find a dictionary definition for this, but I believe it refers to china as in fine porcelain and not the country China. I picture china-blue eyes to be a pale, clear blue, perhaps with a hint of gray. The word "china" carries a refined, aristocratic connotation.
- Blue – cornflower blue, (cliché). Dictionary Definition: A garden plant ... having blue, purple, pink or white flowers. I picture cornflower-blue eyes to be a cool and muted medium-blue. The word cornflower has an innocent, unsophisticated quality.
- Blue – crystal blue. Crystal-blue eyes are an extremely pale-blue with a lot of white rays in the iris, and they are clear and luminous.
- Blue - denim blue. This is an unusual comparison that suggests the pale, faded blue color of washed blue-jeans. It has an appealingly homespun quality, but also a subdued and unsophisticated quality. You might describe an older cowboy or farm-woman as having eyes the color of faded denim.
Blue – electric blue. Electric-blue eyes are a pale to medium bright-blue. They are a true-blue (no overtones from other colors in the spectrum) and are extremely bright, energetic, and striking.
1. Electric blue eye - see Image Information below
- Blue – forget-me-not blue, (cliché). Forget-me-nots are dainty blue flowers. I picture forget-me-not blue eyes to be similar to cornflower-blue eyes but a slightly paler blue. The connotation of forget-me-not blue-eyes is a gentle, old-fashioned prettiness.
- Blue – gunmetal blue. This is a striking comparison that you might use for a man or a hard-edged woman. Gunmetal-blue eyes are cold, hard-looking, and shining. They contain a lot of white in the iris that makes them appear blue-gray like metal. Guns are usually made of steel and when they're polished and oiled, they pick up blue highlights. Gunmetal blue has a dangerous, ruthless connotation.
- Blue – ice blue, (cliché). See crystal-blue. These are extremely pale blue eyes that are colder and not as delicate as crystal-blue eyes. They contain a cold, pure light.
- Blue – indigo. Dictionary Definition: 1. Any of various plants ... some of which yield a blue dyestuff. ... 2. A dark blue to grayish purplish blue. Okay, forget that part about "grayish" at least where eyes are concerned. Indigo eyes are an extremely dark navy-blue that verge on black. It is a rare and exotic color. Indigo eyes would probably tend to absorb light rather than reflect it since they are are such a dark blue.
- Blue - laser-beam blue. See electric-blue
- Blue – sapphire, (cliché). This is a deep, clear, luminous, shining medium-blue. It's very beautiful color, and of course sapphire has a rich, precious-jewel connotation. Unfortunately, it's just about the worst cliché imaginable for blue eyes.
- Blue – sky blue, (cliché). Of course the sky can be many shades of blue or other colors. What's usually meant here with sky-blue eyes is a clear, light blue like the summer sky seen in the desert at noon. Sky-blue eyes are not as bright as electric-blue eyes, but are close. Unfortunately, the expression "sky-blue" eyes is probably the second-worst cliché after sapphire-blue eyes.
- Blue – steel blue. See gunmetal blue.
Brown – amber. Dictionary Definition: A brownish yellow. True amber eyes are very rare in humans, and look exotically wolf-like. I picture amber eyes to be a clear, luminous warm gold color. Other ways to describe the same thing include golden brown eyes, honey-brown eyes, and tawny brown eyes. All of these terms describe essentially the same color, but can have some slightly different connotations. Golden sounds rich and beautiful, honey sounds sweet and sexy, and tawny has a pleasing sound. It's up to you which descriptor you like.
2. Amber Eye - see Image Information below
- Brown - brandy. See Brown - cognac
- Brown – champagne. Dictionary Definition: 1. A sparkling white wine ... 2. Pale orange yellow to grayish yellow or yellowish gray. This is a very unusual comparison, but I like it. It has connotations of wealth, beauty, and decadence. Forget the grayish part of the dictionary definition. Champagne eyes are a very pale golden color with perhaps a warm, subtle orange tinge. They will sparkle and catch the light. You almost couldn't call champagne-colored eyes "brown" since they're so pale.
Brown – chestnut. Dictionary Definition: Of a grayish brown to moderate reddish brown. Again, forget the grayish part of the dictionary definition. Chestnut eyes are a warm medium-brown with a hint of reddish or orange tones.
3. Chestnut brown eye - see Image Information below
- Brown – chocolate (cliché). Dictionary Definition: Of a grayish to deep reddish brown to deep grayish brown. Okay, forget the grayish part when it comes to describing eyes. Chocolate brown eyes are a medium true-brown. Chocolate has a sexy, decadent connection. However, it's been used to describe eyes too much and has become a cliché.
It's also inadequate. Here at Obsidianbookshelf.com, I wonder if "chocolate brown eyes" refers to dark chocolate, which is almost black-brown, or milk-chocolate, which is medium brown.
4. Cognac - see Image Information below
- Brown – cognac. Dictionary Definition: A fine brandy. Brandy - an alcoholic liquor distilled from wine or fermented fruit juices. The dictionary definitions don't help much, and the image shows the cognac looking, well, orange. However, when writers describe brown eyes as looking like brandy, cognac, or whiskey, they tend to mean a medium, warm brown with a lot of golden rays in the iris and possibly some orange. The liquor comparisons are not emphasizing color so much as connotations of sexiness, sophistication, and decadence.
- Brown – doe-eyed (cliché). Someone with eyes like a doe, or doe-eyed, has big brown eyes that look vulnerable and sweet like those of a female deer. It's a cliché and so vague as to be inadequate.
- Brown – golden. See Brown - amber
- Brown – honey (cliché). Honey brown eyes are almost the same thing as amber brown eyes or golden brown eyes. It refers to a deep, medium-gold, warm color that occurs with light-brown eyes that have a lot of yellow / gold in the iris. Honey also has a sweet, rich, sexy connotation. See Brown - amber.
Brown – nut brown (cliché). Nut brown eyes are a deep, medium true-brown. They are the darkest brown an iris can be while still showing a clear contrast between it and the pupil (that is, they don't look so dark that you can't easily see the pupil).
5. Nut-Brown Eye - see Image Information below
- Brown – russet. Dictionary Definition: 1. A moderate to strong brown. 2. A coarse reddish-brown to brown homespun cloth. 3. A winter apple with a rough reddish-brown skin. I've got to admit here at Obsidianbookshelf.com that I don't know what a "strong brown" is. I think of russet color as an attractive medium reddish-brown.
- Brown – soft (cliché and inadequate). In bad fiction, you'll run across "soft brown eyes" all the time, and it's almost meaningless. What it refers to is the tendency of brown eyes to look warm and inviting and to absorb light rather than to reflect it back and appear to shine such as eyes of a paler color like blue.
- Brown – tawny (cliché). Dictionary Definition: 1. Light brown to brownish orange. Tawny brown eyes usually refers to a warm medium-brown with a lot of yellow-gold in the iris. See Brown - amber.
- Brown – topaz. Dictionary Definition: Any of various yellow gemstones. Topaz-brown eyes are a pale, clear, shining gold color that reflects back light and appears luminous. They are similar to champagne-colored eyes, but a slightly dark gold. Very beautiful.
Brown – velvety (cliché). See Brown - soft and Black - velvety
6. Steel Gray Eye - see Image Information below
- Brown – walnut. See Brown - nut.
- Brown – whiskey. See Brown - cognac.
- Gray – American spelling: gray. Australian, British, and Canadian spelling: grey.
- Gray – charcoal gray. This is a very dark gray, almost black. Here at Obsidianbookshelf.com, I've never actually seen this color of gray in human eyes because the white rays in a gray human iris tend to make gray eyes pale. But I'd be willing to suspend my disbelief for a description of a fictional character's eyes.
- Gray – cloud gray. Cloud-gray eyes are a soft-looking, muted, luminous, medium- to pale true-gray (by true, I mean an equal ratio of blue and white rays in the iris so that its color appears to be only gray with no hints of blue). For example, the eye in photo 6 looks blue-gray to me, not true gray. Cloud gray has additional connotations of dreaminess, melancholy, and moodiness.
- Gray – graphite. Graphite-gray eyes are a medium true-gray that are paler than charcoal-gray eyes but darker than cloud-gray eyes. Graphite is the carbon substance used for pencil leads.
- Gray – gunmetal. Gunmetal eyes are gray eyes with a hint of blue. See Photo 6 and Blue-Gunmetal.
- Gray – silver. Silver gray eyes are similar to cloud-gray eyes, but not a muted and soft-looking. Instead, they are bright and shining, holding and reflecting light. Here at Obsidianbookshelf.com, I've never actually seen this color of gray in human eyes either (cloud-gray is more realistic) but I'd be willing to suspend my disbelief for a description of a fictional character's eyes.
- Gray – slate. Slate-gray eyes are a medium gray with hints of blue that is darker than gunmetal gray. It has connotations of coolness, due to the stony aspect of slate.
- Gray – smoky (cliché). See cloud gray eyes. It is the same color, but has a sexy connotation. See also Black - smoky.
- Gray – steel (cliché). See Photo 6 and Gray - gunmetal.
- Gray – storm (cliché). For a better way to describe it, see Gray - cloud. Here at Obsidianbookshelf.com, I think that writers are trying for a "cloud" connotation that includes the passion and drama of a storm. But, aside from being an overused descriptor, it is inadequate and meaningless. Storms can color the clouds and sky black, gray, or even a sulfur-yellow.
Green – bottle green. This isn't the greatest color comparison in the world because it can make one thing of beer bottles or perhaps soda like 7-Up or Sprite. Bottle green refers to a deep vivid green that is luminous. This is an improbable eye-color for a human to have.
7. Green eye - see Image Information below
- Green – cat's eye green (cliché). This is a pale vivid green that is luminous and may contain a lot of pale yellow rays in the iris.
- Green – chartreuse. Dictionary Definition: A strong to brilliant greenish yellow to moderate or strong yellow green. This is a vivid light green that contains a lot of yellow in the iris. The green eye in Photo 7 is close to chartreuse (but true chartreuse probably wouldn't have the orange in the iris or the blue rim.
- Green – emerald (cliché). This is a very dark, clear green that is luminous. It is a darker green than bottle green. This is an improbable eye-color for a human to have.
- Green – forest green. This is a muted, soft medium green that may contain a few flecks of brown in the iris, but not the equal ration of brown-to-green that would produce hazel eyes. Forest green eyes are closer to brown than blue on the color spectrum and will tend to absorb light rather than reflect it and appear luminous.
- Green – grass green. This is a medium true green that contains an equal ratio of blue rays and yellow rays in the iris. This may also be an improbable eye-color for a human to have.
- Green – jade green (cliché). Here at Obsidianbookshelf.com, I've never liked jade-green as a comparison though it does sound pretty. This is because I know what the mineral jade looks like and it is generally a pale greenish-white that has a soapy looking luminosity. Only sometimes is it a smoky dark green with exotic black flecks, which is what I think writers are going for when they describe eyes as jade-green.
- Green – leaf green. - see Green - grass green.
- Green – sea green (cliché). This is a clear and luminous blue-green color that sometimes has a darker blue rim around the outer part of the iris. It's a very pretty eye-color but unfortunately it is a cliché. It can be sharpened with specific description: for example, eyes the blue-green of the Gulf of Mexico in summer.
Hazel. Dictionary Definition: A light to strong brown or yellowish brown. Hazel eyes are renowned for containing glints of many colors. Their predominant color seems to be a pale- to medium-golden brown, especially radiating out from around the pupil. However, they usually contain a lot of yellow and blue rays farther out in the iris that combine to look like green. So hazel eyes will have a brownish-green appearance. However, because of the blue rays in the iris, hazel eyes can sometimes appear more blue or gray, depending upon the colors worn by the individual. Hazel eyes can be very beautiful.
8. Hazel Eye - see Image Information below
- Violet – amethyst. This is a very pale, clear, true violet color with no hint of blue and is an improbable eye-color for a human to have.
- Violet – hyacinth. Dictionary Definition: A deep purplish blue to violet. This is a clear, deep, vivid blue-violet color that is luminous and very beautiful. Those rare humans who have violet colored eyes like actress Elizabeth Taylor have eyes of this color.
- Violet – ultramarine. Dictionary Definition: 1. A vivid or strong blue to purplish blue. 2. Having a deep-blue purplish color. This is a darker color than hyacinth and may be closer to dark blue than to true violet.
The Meanings of Eye Colors: People want to know what different eye-colors mean. Here at Obsidianbookshelf.com the following list is just for fun, and shouldn't be taken too seriously, but certain colors do have various associations.
Black. Black is an absolute and mysterious color that has connotations of night, secrecy, mysticism, goddess-worship (for example, Hecate and the various deities of the moon), intuition, sex, and magic. Black eyes may indicate a deeply intuitive, sensual, and secretive person who can tap into the powerful energies of the unconscious and who may have psychic tendencies.
Blue. Blue is an intense and energetic color that has connotations of the wide-open sky, sun energy, electricity, the power of conscious thought, and that which is direct and unhidden. According to the aspect of Hinduism involving the energy-centers known as chakras, the color blue corresponds to the sixth chakra, also known as the third-eye chakra, and is associated with visual psychic phenomena such as clairvoyance and seeing visions of future and past. Blue eyes may indicate a forceful, direct person who has an immense vitality and a gift for insight and observation.
Brown. Brown is a strong and rich color that has connotations of earth-energy, creativity, simplicity, strength, endurance, and fertility. Initiates into spiritual orders often wear brown robes to indicate their humility, simplicity, and stability. The color brown signifies their desire to ground themselves by renouncing all superfluous luxuries and dedicating themselves to becoming stewards of the earth. In living close to the land, they can free their souls to seek enlightenment. Brown eyes may indicate a strong and independent person who feels a deep connection to nature and the earth.
Gray. Gray is a fluid and subtle color that has connotations of water, weather, changeability, mysticism, and wisdom. Water energies are associated with the unconscious mind and the realm of dreams, and water itself can be deceptively mild in appearance while wielding an unstoppable strength. The smallest drops of water over time can wear away the strongest stone. Gray eyes may indicate a subtle and sensitive person who is attuned to the unseen and whose flexibility puts them several steps ahead of the crowd.
Green. Green is a vibrant and fresh color that has connotations of life-force, vegetation, rejuvenation, youthfulness, and health. In the chakra system, green is the color associated with the fourth chakra, also known as the heart chakra, and is associated with empathy, compassion and the power to heal. The fourth chakra is associated with the path of devotion that elevates spiritual love above religious ritual. Green eyes can indicate a youthful-seeming and compassionate person of boundless energy who has immense creativity as well as the gift of healing.
Hazel. Hazel is an exciting combination of the inner strength and independence of brown, the compassion and healing qualities of green, the fluidity and sensitivity of gray, and the intense vitality of blue. Hazel eyes indicate a person who can draw upon all of these qualities.
Violet. Violet is an exquisite and sophisticated color that has connotations of spirituality, nobility, psychic energy, and purity. The mineral amethyst has long been associated with the sacred in the history of the Catholic Church, and bishops and archbishops would wear amethyst rings as a symbol of their spiritual authority. Violet corresponds to the seventh chakra in Hinduism, also known as the crown chakra, and is associated with enlightenment and the transcending of the physical plane of existence. Violet eyes can indicate a refined and noble person who is both a natural leader and seeker of spiritual truth.
Image Information: The following images were found on Wikipedia and shared by their copyright holders under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation, except where noted.
- Blue eye by 8thstar, found on Wikipedia at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Blueye.JPG
- Amber eye by Aarynne, found on Wikipedia at this link: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amber_Eyes.jpg and released into the public domain.
- Brown eye by Gons, found on Wikipedia at this link: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:OjoMarron.jpg
- Glass of cognac by Szalony Kucharz, found on Wikipedia at this link http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Martell_in_brandy_snifter.jpg and released into the public domain.
- Nut brown eye by Arctice, found on Wikipedia at this link: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Indianeye.png.
- Gray eye by Nick4gwen found on Wikipedia at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Mybluishgrayeye.JPG. Released by its author Nick4gwen into the public domain.
- Green eye by Yug found on Wikipedia at this link: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Laureline_eyes.jpg.
- Hazel eye by Yrosenba, found on Wikipedia at this link: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Greenheterochromaticeye.jpg and released into the public domain.