Definition of sepia in English:



mass noun
  • 1A reddish-brown colour associated particularly with monochrome photographs of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    as modifier ‘old sepia photographs’
    • ‘Old sepia photographs of the new arrivals, dressed proudly in suits, ties and bowler hats soon gave way to faded images of a population transformed into farmers, builders and engineers.’
    • ‘The colour is a kind of brownish sepia and reminds one of old, well-loved photographs.’
    • ‘With skin tone colors of apricot, tan, sepia, mahogany, salmon, raw sienna, and burnt sienna, white was used primarily to alter shades and create a layered tint.’
    • ‘The sepia tone was beautifully reproduced and each photograph was pin sharp.’
    • ‘I've heard a rumour that, if you process a film to have a slight brownish or sepia tint, it's almost like a built-in filter so it does something neat to the contrast when you print it.’
    • ‘The cinematography is faultless, combining pale green and sepia tints to allow the grittiness of a bounty hunter's profession to pervade, involving the audience in the action.’
    • ‘Australia's so bright, Ireland is so green, and wet, and America has this sort of sepia brown colour that has a lot to do with the portraits you show of the Native Americans.’
    • ‘The sepia tinted tableau is reminiscent of the opening, as a single file of prisoners traipse, gaunt and dirty, into the showers like animals to the slaughter.’
    • ‘As the days grow shorter and cooler, plants take on new personas, ripening into warm gold, russet, and sepia tones.’
    • ‘The sepia coloured calendar, which is selling well, is available from the Canal Street pub at £3.99.’
    • ‘She was no different, an icon of gold, camouflaged against the beige and sepia surroundings of Alexandria.’
    • ‘It's a lush but creepy film, shot not in black-and-white but muted sepia tones that lend it an eerily timeless quality normally associated with old, brittle, yellow snapshots curled at the corners.’
    • ‘They seem slightly underexposed, and a sepia tone gives them the look of faded vintage photographs.’
    • ‘His drawings were primarily in and executed in rich sepia hues.’
    • ‘In the larger of these, the backgrounds are sepia, white, black, deep yellow, peachy sienna.’
    • ‘Without using paint, brushes, pencil, charcoal or any other conventional tools, she makes images in shades of grey, black, yellow and sepia.’
    • ‘Each shows the head and shoulders of young woman in tones of pinky sepia on the left, partnered by a fragment of landscape on the right.’
    • ‘In contrast to the smaller book, however, the large book (with its helpful plastic cover) lushly renders each project in colour and in gorgeous black, sepia and white.’
    • ‘Each of these mysterious projections varies slightly in color: one has a greenish tint, another looks silvery, another is almost sepia.’
    • ‘This stark palette fades to sepia, then finally emerges into full color.’
    hazel, chocolate-coloured, coffee-coloured, cocoa-coloured, nut brown
    1. 1.1A brown pigment prepared from a black fluid secreted by cuttlefish, used in monochrome drawing and in watercolours.
      • ‘In the history of ink, which is rapidly coming to an end, the ancient world turns from the use of India ink to adopt sepia.’
      • ‘This little collection comprises ten porcelain and eight copper examples, all very carefully painted in polychrome enamels, sepia, and encre de Chine.’
      • ‘I bought several bottles of sepia ink in a Paris ink shop today, as I've used almost a bottle of brown ink on this tour.’
    2. 1.2count noun A drawing done with sepia pigment.
  • 2A blackish fluid secreted by a cuttlefish as a defensive screen.

    ‘At the end of the 18th century it gained in popularity as a drawing medium because a reliable method of chemical extraction was discovered which produced a concentrated ink from the natural sepia.’
    ‘Avoid getting the sepia on your floatation suits, nothing marks like cuttle ink.’


Late Middle English (denoting a cuttlefish): via Latin from Greek sēpia ‘cuttlefish’. The current senses date from the early 19th century.