The Color Wheel

The Color wheel is an essential guide for colorists and in this post we look at why its such an invaluable salon tool.

The Color wheel, sometimes called the color star or circle, is an important tool used to manipulate color. As the subtractive color model is being used here, the primary colors are cyan, magenta and yellow. However, as pure cyan and magenta are difficult to achieve, the nearest colors, blue and red, are used. Most artists adopt this color palette, with red, yellow and blue as the primary colors.

By combining these primary colors, the secondary colors become green (blue + yellow), orange (red + yellow) and violet (red + blue). These can be arranged in a six-segment circle to form the color wheel.

When exactly the same intensity of color is combined from opposite colors in the color wheel, they cancel each other out. Different strengths of color intensity will have a more subtle effect. For example, adding violet to a predominantly yellow tone creates a mix of color that absorbs the yellow wavelength of the light spectrum. This is particularly useful to the hairdresser and is often referred to as compensatory or complementary color.

The Color Wheel in Modern Hairdressing
The color wheel has evolved with modern hairdressing practice in order to fit in with the color systems and terminology in use today. To this end, different names are used for some of the colors. These are more in keeping with the actual result of adding, for example, a blue tone to the hair. The result in this case would be a toned-down matt finish, not bright blue hair!

  • Yellow = Gold
  • Orange = Copper
  • Red/Purple = Violet
  • Blue/Olive/Green = Matt
  • Grey/Blue-Violet = Cendre
  • Grey/Violet = Ash

Within the modified color wheel (Schwarzkopf Professional Color Wheel), colors indicated on the left (green, blue, violet) are referred to as cold/cool, matt colors, while the warm colors on the right (yellow, orange, red) are called fashion colors. The latter are brighter, glossier and more popular in today’s fashions.

So far, neutral colors have not been discussed. These include all the tones that are considered natural hair colors. Natural hair color is a mix of chromatic color (pure colors found within the color wheel) and achromatic color (black, white and the resulting grey tones). Within the color wheel model neutral colors theoretically exist at the centre of the wheel.