Colour Theory for Hairdressing: A Quick Guide

Understanding colour unlocks a world of potential!

 

When you understand colour it’s like you've learnt to speak a different language; this article looks specifically at colour theory for hairdressing, from how colours work and interact together to the impact colour has on natural and previously coloured 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 colour theory:

 

Primary

Primary Colours are the original colours (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 colours at all! These 3 colours create the first part of the Colour Circle.

 

 

Primary

Secondary

The next layer in the Colour Circle contains Secondary Colours. These are the 3 colours created by mixing any 2 Primary Colours in a ratio of 1:1.

 

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

 

Secondary

Tertiary

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

 

Tertiary

Complementary Colours

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

 

If you mix two Complementary Colours 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 colours really pop.

 

Complementary Colours

Chromatic and Achromatic Colours

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

 

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 Colours...

 

Chromatic and Achromatic Colours

Adding Black to Colour

To give depth to any combination of Primary Colours you simply add Black. In theory, the amount of Black you add will determine how dark the results are. But that can change when colour 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 Colours, making them flatter and duller. None of us are born with Primary Coloured hair, so adding Achromatic Colour (the monochromes) to pure bright colour is how we achieve a more natural, muted tone.

 

Finally, remember it’s not just about the colour – tone plays an incredibly important role too. The greatest colourists 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 Colours.

 

Adding Black to Colour

Where Can I Learn More?

Explore education resources on colour theory for hairdressing with detailed information about the hair’s structure and colour 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 Colour chart to find the right colour product for any service!

 

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