How to Pick Colour Undertones

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One of the things I’ve noticed is that people get very confused with the overtone of a colour and the undertone.

So to try and make it a little easier, I’ve created some pictures to help you see the differences between very similar colours, but one has a warm undertone, the other a cool undertone (even though they may all have a warm overtone).

Warm Overtone Colours and their Undertones

Undertones

 

Can you see the differences? The warm colours have a touch of yellow in them (except the purple, which has a little more red, or should I say the cool has more blue).  Click over the page for the cool overtones.

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29 Comments

  • Thank you for this post, I have often had problems with this issue, especially with purples and browns. Hopefully I’ll now be more successful in picking the right colours.
    Barb

  • Is coral like orange…always warm or does it have a cool version… if it does have a cool version, could you show an example of a cool coral next to a warm coral. Also is mustard a cool yellow or are there warm and cool versions of mustard as well? Coral, mustard and teal are tricky ones for me to understand.

  • Some of my favorite colors are deffently the colors that has the opposite overtone as its undertone, like cool buttery yellows, warmed up grey (taupe), warm violets and so on. I dont know why but one theory is that my colorings are just between the two, neither warm or cool nor neutral (like cool undertone with warm overtone or vice versa. My skintone is pinkish and my hair was ashy before I start dye it, so many people my current hair as warm, but its because of the hair dye and yellow foundation oxidize on my skin). Also Ive always found pairing cool neutrals with soft colors (i.e. taupe or black with gold and grey or taupe with lemon yellow) most appealing on the eue rather than wearing black with cools, yellow with warm neutrals. 😀

    And not so long ago, i finally found out my “nude”, its a very pale powdery pink (very pale warm pink). I noticed it when i took selfies where my skin look either top reddish or muddy in warm nudes but washed out (unless teamed up with gold) in cool beige. :-S its a bit funny when it selfies that helped me with that and im actually camera shy! Cloth draping and jewelry never works on me.

    But there are some colors that i can never out whether they are cool or warm are those are a color with a grey or other neutral-ish tone (like that brown-green-grey I asked about recently) and figure out what browns are soft or bright. More you read and learn about colors, the more confusing it becomes when you are beyond “beginner”, heh. c:

    • I’ve never yet met anyone who is ‘neutral’ but I have met many people who have either just warm, or just cool colouring, so any extremes – like really warm or really cool colours don’t work for them.

      • have you met people who can wear both goId and silver then?
        Because I was thinking more about that colorings where you cross between color that are neither very warm like tan or very cool like icy grey or colors that are similare but different in warmth. In other blogs, someone called that type of coloring for “blended”. (There’re color experts that even use your iris shape to determine your colorings. I know you dont like the theory of seasonal analysis, but like a cross between soft autumn and summer. Many soft summer colors was too cool on me while some of the soft autumn were too ‘muddy’ but value was correct, Colors like icy yellow and cooler earthtone seems be the ones that never fails me). Whitened yellow doesnt seems “neutral” to me but not very cool either :-P)

        • People who are closer to the middle of warm/cool can wear either gold or silver jewellery, but if you put them in a metallic top, you’d find that one would be better than the other. Value is very different and unrelated to undertone. So you have to look at each of the colour properties exclusively. There are soft, just warm and light colours, or soft, just warm and deeper colours. They are not as warm as any of the autumn palettes, but not cool like the summer palettes. In the end it’s your skin that makes the biggest difference as to what suits you as if you looked washed out by a colour, it doesn’t matter what your eye colour is!

          • Yeah, for metallic clothing – I do prefer cooper or rosegold (because of my skin tone goes towards the peach-y end) near my face, because silver tends to make me look really pale unless teaming it up with something bright like fuschia (which I find is neither a bad or good color, its behave more like an neon on me, highlighting the clothes but doesnt wash me out).
            But my wardrobe consist of both warm and cool pieces so I tends to buy the metallics suited for pieces I want to wear them with. I dont think looking pale is the biggest wardrobe problem (looking orange is something I def- dont want to look. 😉 ) in the world especially when Im already too pale for most foundation, I got used to that “ghostly pale” look in my teens and hate tanning. LOL

      • There are so many people who are close to the warm/cool divide Maggie, but they always sit one side or the other. It’s just that most people have no idea how to choose colours that are not super warm or super cool, it’s something I’ve noticed over the years that the majority of people don’t really understand colour undertone well.

        • Imogen, I hope that you will talk about the types who sit in the middle in your colour ebook. Can it be, that someone is just warm in summer e.g. with lots of freckles which get more and more in summer and the person is just cool in winter because the freckles are much fewer?

          All the best,

          Tina

          • Freckles don’t make you warm Tina – I’m doing a blog post on that soon! Your colouring doesn’t change from season to season.

        • But could it not also be the case that intensity matters v much for some people?

          I am certainly cool, but also bright and a bright red with a bit of orange (obviously warm if not majorly, like pure orange), while not perfect, still looks a lot better on me than a delicate or muted cool colour, which just makes me look dull. Esp with red, it is often much easier to find bright orange-y reds than cooler reds, which just tend to be softer. Holds true for shocking pink too I think, in my case. Not saying these colours are perfect for me, but still, a colour being bright seems v important when it concerns my complexion. Another piece of evidence that would confirm this is that I have medium brown hair and light skin colour, which would make me medium contrast (I have medium blue/green eyes), yet black suits me much better than a medium grey would. I can only assume that it’s because black is almost always bright and most greys tend to be less bright in general. So my theory is that perhaps for some of us, a colour’s intensity is a real deal-breaker, not just the warmth or coolness of a colour.

  • Thank you for this Imogen. I am one of those who find this difficult and I keep reading it over and over. I can see it when you put cool and warm next to each other but when seeing one on it’s own I find it more difficult.

  • Thanks so much for this. As I have said on Facebook, my colouring has gone from very warm to very cool in recent years and none of my clothes are looking quite right on me anymore. This is a great help in understanding why and how to fix it. Also, thanks to you, I have added some more pinks to my wardrobe that I was never able to wear before that finally look really good with my skin.

    I still have to wait for the auburn to grow out of my hair, though, as I have been using henna since I was a teenager and started going grey. The orange tones just do not look good on me anymore – my first indication that my skin colour had changed.

    As it grows out and I wait to be able to change it to a more suitable colour, I will continue to read your posts and buy clothes that you suggest so that when the new me finally does emerge, I will have the right wardrobe for her. Thanks so much, Imogen. You’re saving my life here, you really are.

  • I love posts about colour, it’s such a fascinating and often frustrating subject! Lots of “colour” junkies out there. Have you considered doing a beginner/intermediate e-book on colour?
    Probably be opening a can of worms.
    The various colour blogs out there seem to indicate that a lot of people wind up seeing several different analysts, getting different results from each, or two the same one different, etc, which translates IRL as never being able to put your foot down in one category or another! Not quite convinced! Perhaps unable to be convinced ultimately as find the categories too restrictive, even if they are essentially correct.
    I’ve got a large dose of the mood-dresser in me. I figured this out after boiling my wardrobe down to the bare essentials, then recognising that one of the reasons I’d had a wardrobe full of orphans was that I’m partly a mood dresser. As such, I would rather look slightly out of sync sometimes colourwise, than restrict myself too much to a particular HVS. But it’s still good to have an idea of what looks better. Not necessarily easy to find in the shops, though.

    • Kate I’m in the process of writing a book (when I get a spare minute). The reason many people get varying results is:

      There are different systems, and not all have the same number or variety of options as another.
      Some consultants are better than others (like anything, you get great and terrible)
      Colouring changes with age – depends how far apart they have had consultations

      Many of the issues do stem from colour systems which don’t actually have a broad range of palettes that are nuanced, so they have to give “best they have” not what the person really is.

  • Thanks for another really interesting and helpful post about coloour.

    My question is about the relative importance of the different colour properties. While undertone is obviously a very important consideration, can another property (e.g. value) be more important for certain people when they select the colours that flatter them?

    For example, would someone with very light colouring in both their skin and hair (e.g. pale blond or white hair) be better focussing on that aspect rather than emphasising undertone in their wardrobe selections?

    Thanks, Jenny

    • Each property is as important as the other. So ideally you want to get your value, your undertone, and your intensity right! When you have all of them right you will find that the colours are the most flattering. A very light person needs light colours, rather than wearing lots of dark colours, but they still need to be choosing light warm or light cool (depending on their undertone) colours.

  • This is fascinating, thank you Imogen! I love it when you go into detail about colour.

    So a more advanced question, perhaps – what is it about tinting or shading a colour that makes it go cooler (in the case of the yellow and brown)? And given that we get “warm” blues and purples, when they are ostensibly the opposite to orange, am I right in assuming that the reason you can’t get a warm orange is that you simply can’t lighten it enough to take away the warmth, and when you darken it enough you get that same dark brown that you posted above?

  • Kindly guide me where I can find color fans for cool and warm undertones and also fabric swatches. Thank you in advance.

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