Color Theory for Hairdressing: A Quick Guide

Understanding color unlocks a world of potential!

 

When you understand color it’s like you've learnt to speak a different language; this article looks specifically at color theory for hairdressing, from how colors work and interact together to the impact color has on natural and previously colored hair. As Pablo Picasso once said:

 

"Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist"

 

Feeling inspired? Dive into the basics and perfect your color theory:

 

Primary

Primary Colors are the original colors (Red, Yellow, Blue) – the only ones you cannot make by mixing others, so every shade starts with them. Without them there would be no other colors at all! These 3 colors create the first part of the Color Circle.

 

 

Primary

Secondary

The next layer in the Color Circle contains Secondary Colors. These are the 3 colors created by mixing any 2 Primary Colors in a ratio of 1:1.

 

Primary and Secondary Colors together combine to form the basic Color Circle – each Secondary Color sits between the 2 Primary Colors that have been mixed to make it.

 

Secondary

Tertiary

The third level brings in Tertiary Colors. These are made by mixing Primary Colors with their neighbouring Secondary Color to create a palette of six additional shades. These are sometimes called Intermediary Colors.

 

Tertiary

Complementary Colors

Every color comes with a Complementary, or Opposite Color – for example Orange is the Complementary Color for Blue as they sit opposite each other in the Color Circle.

 

If you mix two Complementary Colors together (1:1) they cancel each other out. So, mix Blue with equal parts Orange and the two strong shades just make a very bland grey-brown... But if you put those same two shades side by side, as opposed to mixing them, they give you a powerful contrast making both colors really pop.

 

Complementary Colors

Chromatic and Achromatic Colors

The Color Circle also features Chromatic Colors. These are pure, bright colors – free from Black, White and Grey. Black, White and Grey are known as Achromatic Colors. They work like Primary Colors in that you need to mix Black and White to make Grey, which is more like a Secondary Achromatic Color.

 

Using more White or more Black will, naturally, lighten or darken the Grey. Their main function is to add depth and versatility when mixed with Chromatic Colors...

 

Chromatic and Achromatic Colours

Adding Black to Color

To give depth to any combination of Primary Colors you simply add Black. In theory, the amount of Black you add will determine how dark the results are. But that can change when color comes into contact with the hair – where depth can look more like a dark grey-brown shade than pure Black, depending on the natural shade.

 

Regardless of how it’s applied, Black will always knock back the brightness of Chromatic Colors, making them flatter and duller. None of us are born with Primary Colored hair, so adding Achromatic Color (the monochromes) to pure bright color is how we achieve a more natural, muted tone.

 

Finally, remember it’s not just about the color – tone plays an incredibly important role too. The greatest colorists are those that fully understand the subtlest variants in tone, which can only be achieved by becoming an expert in how to mix Primary and Achromatic Colors.

 

Adding Black to Color

Where Can I Learn More?

Explore education resources on colour theory for hairdressing with detailed information about the hair’s structure and color pigments, alongside a wealth of hair education from our experts over on the ASK Education eAcademy:

Looking to try out your colour skills? Download our House of Color chart to find the right color product for any service!

 

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