Hair color theory is a topic we can never cover too much, with all the experimenting going on by our readers . . . I figure one more trip down the road couldn't hurt. Besides, repetition is the basis of all great education. A great way to continue understanding hair color theory is to understand the difference between Levels and Tones. Levels and Tones are the 2 most important characteristics of color, every single hair color has these 2 attributes - remember that. To confuse things at the beginning some rare companies refer to "Tones" as "Shades"... the more current choice is Tones - so forget 'Shades'. Now, the 2 characteristics of color we will discuss are Levels and Tones and this post is one that should stick with you to make a lot of what you do and choose make sense.
Nothing better than going back to basics
For those who are not clear on what the Level System is - the definition is simple - it refers to the lightness or depth (darkness) of a hair color, be it natural or artificial. Words such as light, medium, dark, palest, darkest, and very light, tell you about a color's level. Level is, very simply , how light or how dark a hair color is. The exact definition is simple -- it is the numerical system of judging color in numbers - one level being a measure of light or dark in the hair. The system assigns a number for measuring dark to light without regard to tonal value.
To be perfectly frank, in this country where we have a system for everything . . . there is no universal measurement of a Level - - one companies Level chart will vary from another's. I wish the companies could just get it together to agree on a Universal Chart within the USA, they would have nothing to lose from the prospect, I think it would make it easier for clients, stylists, everyone to have a system in place. Maybe - - someday.
They of course would have to be fairly similar . . . because there is only so many ways you can cram in 10 levels of color in 1 chart. In Europe they are putting the finishing touches on a universal system for much of the hair color and cosmetic chemistry industry, it makes me sooooo jealous. Having the system they have in place makes for much safer, easier and correct hair care. Some day we will follow suit, just sad to think it won't be in my lifetime.
Some product lines have 10 Levels, some 11, but now-a-days most have 12. What happened was.... having Level 1 thru 10 with Level 1 being Black and 10 being Lightest Blond was the almighty Level System. . . they then came up with the High lift Blond category approx. 20 years ago and needed a place to put it in the present "Level System". Well, that's when the new category of High lift blond's and Level 12's appeared. For some reason that rattled a lot of people, it has slowly calmed down and it is a widely & well excepted now.
I think a good thing to remember is that a 'light brown' may look darker in one system and lighter in another. So don't always think Level 6 is what you think it is, when you change "lines" . EVERY single line has it own variations, although I will give them all credit for trying to abide by one standard here in the USA. Regardless . . . again - - the lowest is a level 1 which is Black and the highest is Level 10 which is lightest Blond. There is only so many ways you can cram those other 8 levels in there, isn't there ! The biggest trick you get is in the lines I swear by . . . Wella's European lines Koleston perfect and Color Touch. First of all these 2 lines are made to use in conjunction with each other... + They are a solid one level darker than any of the American lines .... BECAUSE - - - in the Koleston Perfect line they have eliminated "black" and use "darkest Brown" as their Level 1. So in order for the 2 lines to go together Color Touch follows suit. Please remember that, I point it out to everyone that gets a Color consult . . . there are many advantages to a consult....if you haven't tried one.
Each line ( to confuse things even more) will have different names for each level... one may call Level 6 "Dark Blond" . . . while another may call it "Light Brown" . . . even though its the same color. All of this adds to the problem of trying to understand the Level System finally and completely for you. Levels are precise degrees of lightness or depth, standardized across the manufacturer's tonal groups. All colors of the same level with have the same degree of lightness or depth, whether natural (neutral), ash, gold, red, beige, brown-ash, or any other tone. I think this is a part of the Level System some of you struggle with, and that is mainly because all hair color swatch charts - - concentrate on the "Browns" - - so you can't see it as plainly as you can with the brunette palette. So many of you ask what . . ." what Level would I be if I am talking Reds ? . . . it works the exact same way. Remember - - - - its the lightness and darkness of a color - - - be it Red, Brown, Purple, Brown-Red-Violet, or whatever. Therefore, all colors ( even green, even pink!) can have "Levels".
To Illustrate this, visualize a tall building, black at the basement and white at the penthouse, evenly graduating from dark to light, each story a grade lighter than the one beneath it. That's the International Level System, with numbers identifying those grades of dark to light. If you wash this image with a Tone, such as ASH, then you have a Tonal Series.
Imagine a black & white photograph in your mind . . . .you are only seeing "levels of color" not TONES. You must just gear your mind to think in "light & dark" . . . its difficult ... but it can be done, I have faith in you!
Tone refers to the hue of a hair color, be it natural or artificial. The main tones, or hues of hair coloring are neutral, ash, gold, & red - but these have spread so far and wide now that my favorite line Wella's Koleston Perfect has 23 TONAL CATEGORIES !! I love it! Before they were doing this I was making them up on my own, so now I don't have to do so much mixing. When I do consults I try to really cut down on the amount of colors I recommend, because I think some of you may think I'm nutty. But when I formulate for my own clients I don't think there is ever been a case when I use one color. Its just not in my make-up, I have been a painter and artist since high school, I went to Art college . . . so to me mixing colors is an art and a science. I shoot for colors that are like a child's hair color, so using just 7B never cuts it for me... I will use a little 7B + a little 7BRV ( Brown-Red-Violet) for depth and some 7N to cover those few grays she has.....that is how I formulate hair color. Using one color is almost against my religion . . although I will say it has become easier to not have to use so many colors with all they are adding to their palette.
Manufacturers usually indicate the tones of their colors with letters: "A" for ASH, "N" for Neutral, and so on, so if you can just get handy at figuring out those, it will make your life easier. they originally tried to make numbers stick to represent the tones. . for instance, .1 means ASH . . . then a Level 6 ASH...would be "6.1". Wella of course, does both. . . so they have numbers and letters if you look at their chart which you can see in the GROUP http://groupspaces.com/KillerstrandsHairClinic/
if you would like.
Any color - hair color or not -- can be described, theoretically, in terms of level and tone. If a blanket is blue ( tone) then how light or dark is it ( level)? Is it very dark blue, like navy . . .Is it nearly black like ink? Is it somewhat deep, but not dark - -medium -- like royal blue? Or is it pale as the pale blue sky . . . these are distinctions in level.
The term tone, is used to describe the warmth or coolness of a color. Reds, oranges, yellows are all warm tones, as are auburn, copper, gold, bronze, or honey. the cool tones are blue, green and violet. Descriptive hair color names in the cool range include ASH, DRAB, SMOKY, or PLATINUM.
If you are having trouble distinguishing between Level and Tone . . give it some time . .it will come to you . . . like all education, its worth learning...stick with it.