Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home3/hairdcom/public_html/components/com_sh404sef/shInit.php on line 37
The Colour Wheel Explained | Hair Colour

The Colour Wheel Explained


The colour wheel (Fig. 2.3) clearly gives the sequence of colours, and is a useful tool to use when determining which colours are complementary and which colours should be used to neutralise others. Keep the wheel beside you as you read the next section.


Complementary colours, as painters call them, can be any two colours that sit opposite each other in the colour wheel. The term 'complementary' is used

28 Hairdressing design


Fig. 2.4 Complementary colours.

because these two colours present a pleasing combination to the eye. If you look at a green square for any length of time and then glance away your eye seeks its complementary colour and you will see a red square as an afterimage. Your eye is seeking to create a balance. We can see that the three primary colours are present in our two complementary colours:


Hence a mixture of red and green is a mixture of all three primary colours, and as we have already mentioned, the three primary colours mix to create a neutral grey. It is this neutralising that the eye is seeking when it throws up a red after-image to the green square. This rule of neutralising will apply for any pair of complementary colours. Figure 2.4 shows all the complementary colours.

Neutralising colours

The rules governing complementary colours apply equally in hairdressing only they are known as neutralising colours. This is because a treatment often leaves an unwanted colour on the hair that has to be neutralised by adding another. The colour to be added will always be the one opposite the unwanted colour on the colour wheel, and the hairdresser must find a product that contains that colour even though it will often have a quite different name.

For instance, if a client whose hair colour is dark brown has had highlights, the bleach will have stripped most of the black, brown and some of the red pigments from the hair leaving an unsatisfactory orangey/yellow shade. In order to neutralise this shade, the hairdresser finds the colour opposite it on the colour wheel, which is blue/violet. The hairdressing product which contains blue/violet is an 'ash' shade, so an ash toner applied to the hair will neutralise the colour giving the white/grey colour the client required.

It is important that the correct shade is used. -In the above example, a toner with too much blue would create bright green highlights! That is why you must consult the colour wheel to find the exact shade directly opposite your unwanted colour.

Another example is if a client has requested a warm red tint on her mid-brown hair and the resulting colour has become too red. On the colour wheel we will see that a green should be applied, which from our hairdressing knowledge we know can be found in an 'ash brown' shade. This has a cooler

Colour 29

greenish cast which will neutralise some of the red and result in a warm brown.

Identifying warm and cool colours

A common way of describing colours is to say whether they are warm or cool, and an easy way to determine whether a colour is warm or cool is to think of where it occurs in nature:

Warm colours are basically the colours you would associate with fire and the sun: yellow, red and oranges. Between the yellow and orange lies gold where our hairdressing gold browns and gold blondes slot in, and between orange and red we will find our warm auburn shades, coppers and chestnuts.

Cool colours, on the other hand, are colours you associate with the cold: blues, blue greens and violets. The violets and blues will give the ash tones to the hair and the greens will give the matt tones.

Warm and cool colours work as opposites just as neutralising colours do, so that on the colour wheel each warm colour has a cool colour as its opposite. For instance, a warm red is neutralised by a cool green, whereas a cool blue is neutralised by a warm yellow/gold colour (Fig. 2.5).

If a cool colour is mixed with a warm colour, then the proportion of the


Fig. 2.5 Colour wheel used to determine neutralising and warm and cool colours.

30 Hairdressing design

pigment will determine the temperature of the shade, e.g. 75 per cent red with 25 per cent blue will give a warm mauve, but 75 per cent blue with 25 per cent red will give a cool violet.

Remember the effect of the hair!

When mixing pigments, the hairdresser must always remember, in addition to the general rules, that the colour of the hair itself can make a difference to the result. It is easy when the hair is stripped of colour and becomes white like a sheet of white paper; then a red dye of a particular intensity will come out just as it was mixed. However, the same dye on dark hair will give a very different result because the red combines with the hair colour. The base colour of the hair has to be taken into consideration as an additional colour that will play an important part in determining the resulting shade.

A good basic understanding of the colour wheel, mixing colours, warm and cool colours and neutralising colours coupled with a good basic knowledge of the hairdressing shade chart, will provide an excellent foundation for a competent, confident and creative stylist.

Shade charts

Different manufacturers offer shade charts with varying shades and names, but basically they are all the same. The base colours (or natural hair colourings) are numbered 1 to 10 from dark to light, 1 being black and 10 being the lightest blonde. These base colours are broken down into the four colour categories that are the pigments present in natural hair colouring: black, brown, red and yellow.

These base colours are usually listed down one side of the chart and across the top is a range of warm and cool shades that form an array of varying shades across the grid as they are mixed with the base colours.

It is interesting also to note the selling power of colour names. More often than not it is the name that sells the colour to the client rather than the colour itself. If the word summons up a desirable image it becomes extremely appealing; for instance, sunset has much more appeal to it than warm reddish brown.