As artists, nail professionals can benefit greatly from understanding color theory and working with the color wheel to create dynamic, harmonious and flattering nail art. For everything from choosing polish colors that complement skin tone to knowing which colors camouflage nail imperfections, every nail artist should learn about the nail color wheel.

The Color Wheel

The color wheel is an abstract illustration of hues organized in a circle, showing the relationships between primary, secondary and tertiary colors. These relationships reveal which colors are complementary, which contrast and which are opposites that can neutralize each other. The most basic information the color wheel offers is the identity of primary colors (red, blue and yellow) and secondary colors (green, orange and violet), along with tertiary colors, which are any combination of a primary and a secondary color.

Color wheels can be found at most craft or art stores, and there are also several color wheel apps for mobile devices. However, a physical color wheel isn’t susceptible to screen color variations. Plus, it can give your client a glimpse of you using a “tool” of your artistic trade.

Reading the Wheel

Remembering all the nuances of the color wheel can be tricky, but there are a few key things you can easily recall when crafting your next masterpiece.

Analogous colors, such as yellow and green, are next to each other on the circle and are commonly paired. Monochromatic colors are different shades of the same color, or different color values. Colors directly across from each other are opposites, and they are often complementary. These colors, such as red and green, can neutralize each other or provide a perfect contrast. Consider the main colors your favorite sports teams use — you’ll quickly see that team colors typically follow the principles of the color wheel.

Color Theory

Color theory is a method of analyzing the color wheel into hue, value and opacity. Hue is another word for color, value is the level of gray or tone of a color, and opacity is the degree to which a color is see-through. All of these elements are important for nails.

When you choose a pink hue to complement a warm skin tone, for example, you’re using color theory to create a desired effect, which in this case is a soft, somewhat monochromatic look. When you think and speak like an artist, the value of your services become clearer to your clientele. To deepen your understanding of color, classes are a great source of information.

Color Correction for Nails

If you ask a hair stylist what the opposite of yellow is, they’ll tell you right away that it’s purple, based on their knowledge of the color wheel. Hair professionals use this knowledge to perfect hair dying procedures.

How does this relate you as a nail professional? When a client visits the salon with stained yellow nails and requests a French manicure or a semi-sheer color, you can use a polish or gel polish with a touch of violet or purple, which will neutralize and camouflage the yellowing. This employs the same color correction technique as does purple-tinted shampoo for blondes.

Skin Tones and Color

A better grasp of color value and opacity can help you choose colors that complement skin tone, giving you an artistic edge. A good rule of thumb is that fiery colors like red, yellow and orange tend to be warm, while oceanic colors like blue, green and violet are often cool. You can usually determine if the skin is warm or cool by examining the color of the veins in the wrist. Green veins indicate that the skin has a yellow cast or warm tone, while blue veins indicate a cool tone.

Polishing nails beautifully makes you an artist, but the confidence and knowledge you exhibit establish your expertise with the client. The nail color wheel is a great tool for honing your color expertise and helping you select hues that suit every client for every service.