A photograph of a parrot rendered with a monochrome palette of a limited number of shades.

Monochrome describes paintings, drawings, design, or photographs in one color or shades of one color. A monochromatic object or image has colors in shades of limited colors or hues. Images using only shades of grey (with or without black and/or white) are called grayscale or black-and-white. However, scientifically speaking, monochromatic light refers to visible light of a narrow band of wavelengths (see spectral color).


In physics, monochromatic refers to electromagnetic radiation of a single frequency. In the physical sense, no source of electromagnetic radiation is purely monochromatic, since that would require a wave of infinite duration as a consequence of the Fourier transform's localization property (cf. spectral coherence).


Monochrome anaglyph image stereogram rendered in red and cyan. (3D red cyan glasses are recommended to view this image correctly.)

Even very controlled sources such as lasers operate in a range of frequencies (known as the spectral linewidth). In practice, filtered light, diffraction grating separated light and laser light are all routinely referred to as monochromatic. Often light sources can be compared and one be labeled as “more monochromatic” (in a similar usage as monodispersity). And a device which isolates light sources of a narrow bandwidth are called monochromators, even though the bandwidth is often explicitly specified, and thus a collection of frequencies is understood.

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