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Do you ever feel like trying a more adventurous hair colour scheme? Worried about the colours clashing?
It can be difficult to choose a colour scheme that looks good and even more difficult to live with a bad colour combo while it washes out. In this article I’ll describe how you can use the colour wheel to formulate perfect hair colour combinations that never clash.
The idea behind Colour Harmony is to create combinations of colours that “go together”. Choosing colours from particular positions around the colour wheel allows you to create a range of combinations from high-impact, contrasting selections to more sedate, relaxing schemes.
In this article I’ll discuss the traditional colour harmonies. They’re just a small part of colour theory, but if you really want to geek out and understand colour, I recommend the book “Interaction of Color” by Josef Albers.
Complimentary colours are colours which are opposite each other on the colour wheel: red/green, yellow/violet, blue/orange. When put side by side they contrast sharply and for some people these combinations of colours can even create uncomfortable optical effects such as flickering.
Complimentary colours create neutral colours when mixed.
With hair colour, complimentary colours can be used to neutralise each other. For example, if you wish to remove pale yellow tones from bleached hair you can use a light violet dye (a toner), to give it a whiter, more neutral appearance. Similarly, if an ash blonde looks too green it can be corrected by using a warm, red-based brown or blonde colour. The complimentary colours red and green will create a neutral colour when mixed.
Analogous colours are those which are next to each other in the colour wheel, for example, blue/green/yellow or pink/purple/blue.
Analogous colours are a great choice when creating continuous colour gradients in your hair. For example you might dye your hair yellow at the roots blending to orange then red at the ends.
Triadic colours are sets of colours which are positioned in a triangle around the colour wheel, at roughly 180 degree intervals. These colours provide good contrast.
Tetratic colours are set in a square or rectangle on the colour wheel. By using two sets of complimentary colours you can create complex schemes with contrasting colours. I’ll discuss this in more detail later in the article.
I’ve gathered together the hair swatches I’ve made for previous articles to demonstrate how you can combine colours in positions around the colour wheel to achieve predictable results. I’m going to show you how you can tweak the traditional colour harmonies to create a more personal scheme.
Let’s start with something simple. The colours below can be roughly represented as triadic since they’re evenly spaced around the colour wheel.
Here’s this scheme mapped on the colour wheel:
If you were to rotate these points points you could create an equally balanced colour scheme with purple/green/orange.
Here is a similarly distributed set of colours but instead of using colours which are equally saturated as in the first example (1), I’ve used a pale pink this time in the form of Pravana’s Too Cute Coral.
You can see that this gives a completely different look to the colour scheme.
Colours which are furthest apart from each other on the colour wheel will contrast the most. Using two complimentary colours like red & green, yellow & violet, blue & orange will give very striking results but you’ll have to be very careful to keep hair colours from bleeding into each other causing a neutral (brown or greyish) colour.
Just as colours far apart on the wheel contrast, colours close to each other on the colour wheel provide less contrast. Using shades that are close to each other creates a harmonious scheme but because there is less contrast, some of the definition of each colour can be lost when placed next to a similar colour.
The dark purple-blue colour in this scheme provides good contrast against the orange because these are colours are fairly far apart on the colour wheel. However you’ll see that the pink in this scheme is less defined where it meets orange due to their proximity on the colour wheel.
You can see a further example of how spreading colours across the colour wheel creates a coordinated palette with this rainbow swatch (4). No one colour is particularly close to the other so each colour has enough contrast to stand out from neighbouring colours.
Staying mainly within the warm or cool spectrum of colours is another way to easily choose colours that look good together (5), (6). By choosing a selection of colours spread along the “cool” side of the colour wheel, you can create contrast by deepening some shades.
Compare the picture below (7) with the one above (6). These schemes are very similar. You’ll see in the photo above how using dark purple brings out the fluorescent yellow in the scheme, but by using paler colours a much softer look is created below.
If you want to create a set of colours that will always look good together you can stick within a particular third of the colour wheel, spreading the colours evenly in an analogous colour harmony. Start with a single colour and choose a nearby colour on either side of its position on the colour wheel, in this case I’ve used purple as my initial colour and complimented it with blue and pink.
This works for any segment of the colour wheel that you choose; green/yellow/blue, orange/yellow/pink, etc. and you can use these colours to create gradients.
As you devise more intricate colour schemes you’ll discover that the proportions of colour can affect the overall appeal of the scheme.
Here’s a tetradic (square) colour scheme using 4 colours: Lunatik Asphyxiation, Manic Panic Atomic Turquoise, Directions Mandarin and a yellow created by mixing Directions Fluorescent Glow with a small amount of Mandarin.
The photos below both use the same 4 colours but you’ll see how the proportions of each colour give the hair a completely different appearance in each example. In the first picture, turquoise and dark violet are dominant; orange and yellow are highlight colours (9). Reverse the proportions and it almost seems like a different set of colours were used (10). This scheme is much warmer with the blues and purples punctuating the strands of yellow and orange, which adds depth.
While the traditional colour harmonies are a good starting point, the best and most creative colour schemes will be achieved by deviating from prescribed colour schemes. Experiment with light and dark tones to bring out contrast to your hair style. Add richness with deep tones or softness with light tones. There are literally millions of possibilities.
I’ve used Adobe Kuler to draw out the palettes and colour wheel illustrations. It’s a free tool that you can use to create colour schemes and even sample colours from uploaded photos.