One of the most confusing bits about seasonal color analysys is the distinction between warm and cool colors. Most people can easily tell if somebody is bright/clear or muted, and light and dark are quite obvious as well. But warm vs cool always feels more difficult, particularly since most people will be warm or cool but not on the extremes.
So what is the difference between warm and cool colors? And why does a warm seasonal palette have blues or a cool seasonal palette include yellows?
Warm And Cool Colors In The Color Wheel
Let’s take a look at the color wheel:
Traditionally, the list of cool colors include greens, blues and violets (to the left of the color wheel) whereas the list of warm colors include reds, yellows and oranges (to the right of the color wheel).
However, that is not exactly accurate. There are warm and cool purples, cooler and warmer reds. Most seasons will have at least one of each of those colors, no matter their warmth level.
How is this possible?
There is no universally agreeded warmest or coolest color, but most people will place the coolest color in the blue area, and the orange on its opposite side as the warmest color. Another frequent warm/cool color split is along the line that goes from purple to its opposite color, yellow.
However, within each color or hue WARM and COOL are relative concepts.
How Do We Tell If A Color Is Cool Or Warm?
A color is cool or warm based on how close to the warm or cool side of the spectrum we consider it to be.
- Vermillion Red Is a Very Warm Red
- Pure Red
- Scarlet Red Is a Cool Red
A cool season looking for a lipstick would avoid Vermillion red, and choose Scarlet red instead. Pure red is neutral temperature wise, so depending on the brightness and lightness level is would work for almost anybody.
When a color is muted, it is greyed out by adding the color opposite on the color wheel. This makes warm muted colors cooler than their pure hue warm versions. Muted cool colors are warmer than brighter versions for this same reason. The Soft Summer palette reads as warmer than the cool summer palette for this reason.
Is Black A Cool Or Warm Color?
Pure, absolute black is generally perceived as a cool color. This is why only Winters look actually good in black. However, there are many other colors that most people would call black, and some are warmer than others.
For example, a very deep red may read as black to the casual eye, but it will read as a warmer black (suitable for a Deep Autumn).
Is White A Cool or Warm Color?
Similarly to black, pure optic white reads as a cool color, a very high contrast cool color that can only be found on the Winter palette. However, there are many colors such as cream, eggshell or light vanilla that read almost as white when born by a warm season such as the Light Spring.
Many seasons don’t anything as dark or as light as black and white on their palettes, because their darkness/lightness levels are not so extreme. However, most seasons will have at least one black-ish color or a white-ish color as part of their neutrals. It may be ecru or it may be called charcoal black, but they are there.
Seasonal Color Analysis Warm vs Cool Colors
Most seasonal color analysis systems considers yellow as a warm color, and blue as a cool color. This is because warm skin usually reads as golden/yellow whereas cooler skin reads as blue. A golden, peachy blush is a Spring blush, whereas a cool skinned person will have a red or pink blush depending on their color level.
In the case of people of color, we need to keep in mind the red undertones on people with very dark skins. For example, Alek Wek looks stunning in cool, jewel like winter colors. Her skin undertones are not yellow, they are red. Golden or yellow based makeup would look strange on her. For this reason she is a cool season. Beyonce, on the other hand, has a golden glow that means she is a warm season. Not all dark skinned people will have blue undertones.
Which are much more golden/orange.
The same happens with blues:
The Autumn palette has less blues than the Summer and Winter ones, but even Warm Autumn has a version of this color. It’s just very warm.
Most seasons in 12 season color analysis systems will be neutral, so not entirely warm or cool. If you suit both warm and cool colors, your next step is deciding what is more important to you:
- Can’t wear light or dark colors at all (You may be a Deep or a Light Season)
- Can’t wear pure hues or soft, muted colors (You may be either a Soft or a Clear season)
The best way to compare warm vs cool colors in color analysis is comparing them with other colors you have already identified. If your season’s coloring requires colors to be very warm or very cool compare a potential new color to your palette and you will see right away.