The Color Circle Revisited: Understanding Colors

Color is essential to how we experience the world.


You’ll probably remember the Color Circle (or Color Wheel) from your earliest days as a hairdresser! It’s possibly the most important tool for any colorist, and understanding it is the first step in becoming a master of color...


The better you comprehend the colors on the wheel – and the relationship they have to one another – the easier it will be to predict the outcome of mixing them together, especially in the context of hair coloring.


Before diving into the details, we recommend you first read our article, Color Theory for Hairdressing: A Quick Guide to refresh basic knowledge in primary, secondary and tertiary colors and how they make up the Color Circle.


Dive into the World of Color


The Color Circle


The Color Circle covers the full spectrum of shades and enables you to see at a glance how colors are divided into warm and cool. Cooler colors (Green, Blue, Violet) appear on the left, while the warmer ones (Yellow, Orange, Red) are on the right. Additionally, colors on the left (Green, Blue, Violet) are referred to as Matt Colors, whilst the warm colors on the right (Yellow, Orange, Red) are called Fashion Colors, which are brighter, glossier and often more popular in hair trends.


In line with the color systems and terminology that’s widely used in hairdressing, in some cases we use different names for our colors:

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

These names pick out the nuances of color and help to communicate that they are not e.g., pure Blue or Yellow, but toned-down shades that look more like natural hair coloring.


Remember: color will always change slightly when applied to strands of natural hair, which is why it’s also important to fully understand how natural pigments in hair react during the coloring process, and how to add depth. The Color Grid below can help in understanding this!


Using the Color Grid


The Color Grid


With this grid you can train your eye! It helps you identify the same levels of depth in different colors, as well as how to tell the difference between pure and muted shades.


For instance, Chocolate or Medium Brown Chocolate is actually a darkened Orange – so Orange mixed with Black. The final Brown shade is a combination of depth and tone – without the depth added by Black, the final shade would be too Orange.


As an example, if you put a Medium Brown Chocolate on a very light base, such as 7-0, you would lose some depth so the final shade would be brighter and more Orange. As a result, when it comes to coloring natural hair, make sure to adjust your colors to account for this.


Where Can I Learn More?

We’ve touched on the basics, now take your color knowledge to the next level with detailed tips on color correction and learn how different hair types can affect the final colour result. Explore our color education, plus a variety of training opportunities:


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