Patrick McIvor Guest Blog: Theories Of Color

It wasn’t in beauty school that I fell in love with color, it was in beauty school that I fell in love with hair. It wasn’t until I met 2 L’Oreal color educators teaching a color class at a Glemby Salon I was managing that my life started to change, and my love of color was born. What really got me was everything I thought I knew about coloring hair (I was licensed for about 1 year at this point.) was not what they were teaching. In fact, my belief that green based colors were the best colors to use when trying to control unwanted red was profoundly changed when they explained that their colors, at the time, had no green bases available and blue was my new green!  It was at this point that I realized I only knew one theory or “school of thought” about what I could do with haircolor and I knew I needed to learn other “theories of haircolor” and color.

All the theories of color that I heard from hair companies shared the idea that white is the absence of all colors and black is the presence of all colors at very high saturation. The color companies education also agrees that there are 3 primary colors red, yellow and blue and these 3 colors are responsible for all the colors we see. Color companies also generally agree that color is created by the rods and the cones in the eye responding to the reflection of light waves that are not absorbed creating color. The funny thing is that this is only one theory of color. It is based on the color wheel that was developed in 1666 by Isaac Newton and is sometimes referred to as the Traditional Color Theory Model.  However, there are other color theories we use everyday around us, and many don’t recognize they contradict almost everything we know.  In Color Mixing there are 2 theories, the Additive Color Theory and the Subtractive Color Theory and if you have used a tv or device and have a printer you may already be a little familiar with these theories.

Additive Color Theory explains what controls color that is projected producing color with light: Think your tv, monitors for computers, smartphones and tablets. All of these have projected media that is produced by projecting light on a reflective surface.  Have you ever heard the term RGB?  Maybe you had an RGB monitor for your computer? (when they use to make them) That RGB stands for the 3 primary colors Red, Green and Blue they used to create all the colors on the screen.  In this theory of color, when Red and Green are mixed they make Yellow, Blue and Green make Cyan and Blue and Red make Magenta.  This one always twists my mind.  Blue + Green = Cyan, I get. Blue + Red = Magenta, I get! Red + Green = Yellow, What!? In this theory White is all 3 Primaries and Black is the absence of all 3 primaries, exactly opposite of what I had always known to be correct!

With the Subtractive Color Theory, the primary colors change to possibly another term you are familiar with, CMYK.  If you have ever purchased or ordered ink for a printer, you probably know CMYK, which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (Black) is used as a fourth color for faster drying times and truer blacks. This color theory is used when a single light source is being reflected by different colors, like printing a picture.  The primary colors have different names but are familiar to my first understanding of traditional color theory and the black made even more sense.

It's funny, at first the more I learned about color theory, the more I became confused as to why they were different. Wasn’t Color Theory supposed to be principle based and universal?  But as I realized, these different schools of thought could allow my mind to think differently and my world of haircolor has grown because of it. 

-Patrick McIvor

[Image: László Németh/Wikimedia Commons]