Hairdresser Training Videos
Hairdresser Training Videos

The Colour Wheel

Sarah Oglesby - August 4, 2016 Hair Colouring, Hairdressing Education

The Colour Wheel

Nothing gets a hair colourist’s artistic juices flowing more than a colour wheel. The best colourist in the world would not attempt a client consultation, never mind a colour formulation, without consulting the theory of colour science and colour mixing. And neither should you!

The colour wheel is the one “can’t live without” tool that I’d recommends every colourist adds to their kit. Read on for details on how to understand the theory behind your colour wheel as well as practical tips on how to use it to delight your clients – or, if you’re an educator, for ideas on how to teach this complex topic effectively.

The colour wheel

Step 1 – The Science of Light

If you’re just starting your hair colour journey, then your first stop is to dig deep into your long term memory and re-familiarise yourself with your primary school classes on the science of light.

If you were concentrating back then, you may remember that light travels in straight lines. When light hits an object, it is reflected off that object and into your eyes.

We see the object’s colour from its colour wavelengths. Light is made up of wavelengths and each wavelength is a colour. When light – or white light – hits an object, all colour wavelengths are absorbed except the colour of the object. This colour is then reflected off the object. And that’s what we see.

Science of Light

Step 2 – Primary Colours

So much for light itself. But what about colour?

There are three primary colours: red, yellow and blue. Mixing these colours together in different proportions makes all the colours of the light spectrum. It is estimated that the human eye can distinguish between a whopping 10 million colours in the visible colour spectrum.

Primary Colours

Step 3 – The Colour Wheel and Hair Colour Theory

So, how does that relate to the colour wheel and the theory behind hair colour?

Well, the colour wheel is a simple tool that gives you an organised way to digest colour theory and put it into practice when formulating colour for your clients.

When choosing a colour wheel to add to your tool kit, it’s best to look for an Artist Colour Wheel that includes

  • Primary Colours
  • Secondary Colours
  • Tertiary Colours
  • Complementary Colours
  • Warm Colours
  • Cool colours

The Colour Wheel and Colour Theory

At MHD, we recommend that you also add the numbering or lettering system of the tones from your colour house to your colour wheel. This will make like easier when you’re formulating hair colour. For example, write /4 or .4 on your red, /34 or .34 on your orange. /6 or .6 on your violet and so on using a permanent marker pen.

numbering or lettering system

Once you have your colour wheel personalised and you’ve refreshed your colour science theory, you’re ready to put your must-have tool into action.

Step 4 – Using a Colour Wheel to Neutralise Unwanted Tones

A client walks into your salon after a colour mishap at another salon: her blonde hair is now canary yellow. Using your hair analysing skills and colour wheel, you identify that the client is a depth and tone of a 10/3. Their target shade is a 10/0.

Combining your colour wheel with your knowledge of the theory of complimentary colours (opposite colours neutralise each other – see the diagram below), you quickly identify that violet will kill that nasty canary yellow!

You whip up a toner of 10/6 (violet with your colour house) and apply it to your client’s hair, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Happy days, your client is now the blonde she’d hoped to be in the first place.

complementary colours

Remember, the theory of complimentary colours will help you fix a variety of colour mishaps:

complementary colours will help you fix a variety of colour mishaps

Step 5 – Using a Colour Wheel to Formulate with Colour Harmony

And it isn’t just fixing others’ mistakes that your colour wheel will help with. Colour harmony is formulating colours that work harmoniously to the eye. In other words, colours that work well together and will enhance your haircut as well as your client’s eye colour or skin tone.

The theory of complimentary colours can also be used to create colour harmony. Imagine that your client wants to enhance their blue eyes. You consult your colour wheel and see the blue’s complimentary colour is orange – and suggest that you formulate a striking copper colour to enhance those brilliant blue eyes.


Tracy Hayes puts this colour harmony theory into action in her online hair colour tutorial Triangle Colour Section. Check it out! HOW TO DO AN OVERLAPPING TONES HAIR COLOUR TECHNIQUE By Christiano Lanza

You can also create a stunning final result using colours that sit side-by-side on the colour wheel. For example, Christiano Lanza executes this colour harmony using violet and blue in his hair colouring video Overlapping Tones.

Step 6 – Make the Colour Wheel Your Friend in All You Do

Incorporating the colour wheel into each and every client consultation and colour formulation is not only inspiring – for you and your clients. It’s also an incredibly satisfying element of your job as a hair colourist.

Luckily for you, MHD is packed with useful content when it comes to hair colouring and becoming an expert with your colour wheel. To get your hands on more information about utilising a colour wheel,  check out our colour theory lectures:

Colour Theory Part 1

Colour Theory Part 2: Why we colour hair

Colour Theory Part 3: Product Use

Not an MHD member yet? Whether you’re a stylist, a barber, a salon owner or hairdressing educator, our world-class education gives you a competitive advantage – supercharging your career, boosting salon profitability or improving results for every student.

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