I was inspired to share some of my hair color mixing secrets with you while making a banana pudding pie! I know, it’s totally irrelevant but you never know how things might relate to each other in your daily life. I found myself using the same method of mixing hair color to mix the banana pudding and milk.

I added only a little of the liquid at a time for a smoother consistency. Soon after I realized that so many hairstylists don’t do this when mixing hair color and developer. There’s something satisfying about a smoothly mixed, perfect bowl of color.

Here are some tips to help you master hair color mixing and make your life so much easier at the salon!

5 Secrets to Mixing Hair Color

1. Use cream developer for faster mixing.

Clear or cream developer? It’s a matter of preference, but sometimes a matter of what’s available or what is offered by the brand you use. I learned with both because Paul Mitchell offers all levels in both types…where some brands mostly offer cream developer. At the time, I preferred cream developer because it was easier to mix. When I was a newbie…clear developer was frustrating because no one told me what I’m about to tell you in point #2! It was messy and my mixture was always chunky.

Two things about choosing cream developer vs. clear developer:

  • Clear developer will cover more hair. It’s going to spread more easily than cream developer. SO…if you have someone with a thick/full head of hair that wants a single application color…clear developer is going to take you farther and use less product than cream developer will.
  • Always use cream developer with lightening powder. I’ve NEVER mixed lightening powder with clear developer. That’s what I was taught at PMTS (Paul Mitchell The School). That doesn’t mean you can’t…I just don’t do it and I don’t suggest it. 


2. If you prefer clear developer…

Add a little at a time as you mix. This will prevent clumps from forming…and we all know those pesky clumps are impossible to whip out once you’ve added all of the developer.

For a perfectly smooth hair color mixture you should mix in about ¼ of the developer at a time. It takes a little longer, but it is so worth it!


3. Don’t be lazy- color brushes are not for mixing!

Mixing hair color with a brush is harder. Some of you probably think it’s easier because there are less things to wash when you’re done. Wrong. The color or powder lightener will clump in the brush…making it even more difficult to get a smooth consistency. You should be using mini whisks, or for you lazy lovelies out there…you can use plastic forks.

I LOVE using plastic utensils because I just toss them and get to work. If your budget is tight, then I suggest purchasing 3-5 mini whisks and rinsing them immediately after each use. Almost every mini whisk I’ve owned has rusted a little. That’s probably because I just laid them down on a towel to dry.

You don’t want rust in your hair color, so you have two options:

  • Dry them thoroughly immediately after washing. It’s hard to get all of the nooks and crannies, FYI.
  • Buy silicone whisks instead. They aren’t as sturdy, but they will last!



4. Use a color key.

There are three types of colorists:

  • Those that are tube squeezers.
  • Those that must have a color key!
  • Those that don’t use either(a huge pet peeve of mine).

To be honest…tube squeezers annoy the shit out of me! Even if you’re very careful…you will waste color this way. Not only that, but if you’re going by the measurements on the color tube rather than using a scale…your formula will not be accurate.

Using a color key is the only way to go! You won’t waste any color and if you don’t use a scale your mixture will be far more accurate. The color key ensures that you’re squeezing out every ounce of color!

Two basic types of color keys:
1. Simple

2. Bulky

*Be careful not to push the color key too far onto the end of the tube and/or to twist it evenly. If not…pressure could build up in the color tube forcing color to squirt out of the end.

That does two things:

1. Your formula will not be accurate, especially if you’re not using a scale.
2. You’ll have to use that tube immediately because it cannot be properly sealed. Oxygen can now enter the tube even when the cap is screwed on. It’s possible to seal it with duct tape, but that’s not going to hold next time you need to use that color.


5. Use a scale.

I’ve noticed that many hairstylists do not use a scale for measuring. Some people just don’t feel like it, and some don’t understand the importance of properly measuring your color formula components. I started regularly using a scale to measure my color when I noticed someone at my salon doing it. She was the ONLY one that religiously used a scale when she was mixing hair color. She was also the ONLY one that kept perfect records of her clients visits(some people make an effort to write everything down, but we all know that some stuff slips through the cracks when it’s busy).

She was the MOST professional stylist at Bubbles in my opinion and her clients looked very highly upon her. Olivia had style and class(as I’m sure she still does), and she inspired me to be better. She also inspired me to slow down and take time for the little things(like measuring and record keeping) because they are very important. She knew how important it was to be exact in your color formulations.

Here are a few reasons why I think she took it so seriously(and some things that I learned after my ABCH trainging):

  • If your hair color mixture is perfectly accurate every time then you will always know what the results will be. Of course, you need to fully understand the chemistry of hair color….but that’s another subject.
  • Clients like consistency. They can tell when you don’t write things down or when you “eyeball” it. They are paying good money for your services, so you should be giving them your best.
  • If you’re consistent and something goes wrong- you will know that there must be another reason why. Maybe your client used a “wash out” box color in-between visits and you’ll know. Maybe someone didn’t close the developer tightly, so it lost it’s effectiveness. Maybe your client is on a new medication and her hair color needs to be adjusted.

No matter what the reason…you’ll know that it wasn’t you! Confidence is the key to being a successful haircolorist and your clients will know if you’re lacking in that department!

41 Responses to 5 Secrets to Mixing Hair Color

  1. Holly Haverland says:

    I had all over bleach blonde and just colored my roots with the wella 4A and 20 vol developer. My natural color looks just like the 4A on the wella hair color sample chart.
    Long story short, my brown did not turn out as dark as my natural color and does look a bit brassy also. Which I hate. should I just go over it again with another 4A or get a darker color? Any help is greatly appreciated!
    Also did use a protein bond builder before I colored my roots. I was hoping this would help my hair absorb more color. Not sure that it worked.

    • Erika says:

      It’s hard to say exactly what happened or what you need to do without seeing your hair and knowing more about your haircolor history, but here are my thoughts…

      1. When you go from very blonde to dark hair, it must be “filled” first. You need to replace the pigment that has been stripped from your hair so that it can support the darker color. Usually this is done with a demi-permanent in the copper family(levels depending on the level your hair was when it was blonde). This can also be done all in one step by adding straight copper pigment to your darker haircolor formula, but I don’t recommend doing this if you’re not a seasoned haircolorist(it is more risky when you are going straight to an ash…it would be different if you were coloring your hair with a warmer darker color).

      2. The protein builder is meant to strengthen the bonds in your hair…it won’t help your hair hold color.

      3. Use a neutral brown(maybe even add a little 4G to your formula…this is what will help the color take and hold).

  2. Paige says:

    Thanks for sharing that information! I’m a natural 4 brown, but have had colorists bleach to a wonderful “brassy” blonde for almost 3 years. Recently, I bought Ion demi-perm dye (4N) and colored my hair back brown. I knew it would fade off fairly quickly, but not with so much red/orange undertone. I’m going to buy a permanent 4A now, but curious to know what you think is the best no-box, home hair dye? I’m contemplating Ion again, Wella Koleston, or Madison Reed brands. Are any of these really good, or would you please suggest another quality brand? For the time being, I can’t spend more than I already have at the salon. Thanks in advance!

  3. Shawnie says:

    I was wondering if I’m starting out with dark hair and I want Crimson hair how can I achieve that?

    • Erika says:

      I need to know a little more about your hair to give you the best advice. Please e-mail me via the contact page and I’ll gladly give you some pointers!

  4. Jo says:

    Is it ok to mix metallic black and violet

    • Erika says:

      If you’re using a temporary hair color(it sounds like it) then you can mix anything you want, it just depends on the result you want.

      You’re not going to see a lot of the violet if it’s very black(unless your hair is on the lighter side…but if it is then the darker color won’t last).

      Are you hoping for violet undertones?

  5. Wella toner chart uses an international level and tone system. It is used for Hair Toner that describes different shades of Wella toner.

  6. Chrissy says:

    I have a question I’m a natural blonde and I have long thick hair with that being said I went to sallys and got some hair color blue black the lady said to get one n only hair dye with a developer #20 .but the hair dye is a 2 application and I’m not sure how much of it to use or how much developer to use

  7. Krissy says:


    I have a Greyson purple color in my hair now & I mistakenly used pantene shampoo so it washed the color off my roots.. the color came out nice tho , almost an ombré effect ( my natural color is a strawberry blonde) but anyways I am wanting to touch it up but ran out of the color I used , ( ion color brilliance in chrome) so i purchased the color pewter and bought a violet color additive, but i normally need 3 tubes ( thick hair ) and they only had two so i got light charcoal… should i do my roots with the darker color ( charcoal) & then rest with the pewter with the violet additive, … will that work in achieving a purple grey tone? Or can i mix the pewter with a purple hair dye? ( ion radiant raspberry) … what do you think is the best way to get me to the color i want?

    • Erika says:

      I think that using the darker color on your regrowth will create a nice effect. Just make sure you feather it through a little to diffuse between the two colors.

      What is the actual color you are wanting to achieve? More grey or more purple? I know you said purple-grey, but in that case using just a violet additive might not be enough. You can mix them if they are both demi-permanent hair colors.

      Please reply if you have more questions!

  8. Beth says:

    I’m trying to do some touchups use in Calura Hair color and developer… The online directions say to do a 2 to 1 ratio for blondes. Does that mean two parts developer, or two parts color gree hair color and developer… The online directions say to do a 2 to 1 ratio for blondes. Does that mean to parts developer, or to parts color creme . I’m using 8N Color with 30 developer that I got on Amazon

  9. Amanda says:

    What about wella toner t18??

  10. Nichole says:

    @ann. I know you posted that a few months ago but I wanted to respond just Incase.. Paul Mitchell shines as far as I know is a demi permanent. You would not use 20v developer with it.. you need to get the processing solution that’s made for Demi permanent hair color. It’s usually only “5v or 10v” if you were comparing it to the numbers your used to seeing. Paul Mitchell makes a specific solution for his Demi’s. Also the ratio is 1:1.

    * I do not have a cosmetology license but I’m pretty confident in what I just told you.

  11. Peggy says:

    My ex hair stylist used Wella hair color. Never had a problem with red tones. My natural is a very dark brown but not black. My current stylist uses Redkin. I gave her the same formulation my ex stylist was using but getting red tones in the body of my hair. They are using a permanent color for my gray roots. After applying to my roots she applys it to the body of my hair. Why am I getting the red tones. Also since using Redkin, I don’t have the shine. I have had a new stylist for 5 months.

  12. Diane A says:

    I am trying to get a lighter brown. Are the numbers in hair coloring consistent through out all products? I have been using a golden blonde which my hair dresser told me covers grey the very best which it seems to. I wanted to add a brown to the color mix.
    Any suggestions? My hair is grey on the top with just a sprinkling of grey through the rest of my hair. It Looks highlighted and I get lots of compliments on my hair color
    I have been using the One and Only brand from Sally’s which I prefer over any other coloring I have used. Thanks for any help

  13. Bethany says:

    I color my own hair but only do the root, I find my gray comes back out after a week. Any ideas to give me to get the color to last? I use expensive shampoos and color care.

  14. Ronnie O. says:

    Hi there! What developer would I use for 1A? My hair is brown. 🙂

  15. Katie collins says:

    Hi I am trying to work with what I have …. can I mix different brands?

  16. Jennifer says:

    Just the article I was looking for as I thought about ounces by weight or volume. I have always used a digital scale but for some reason the crazy thought came to mind that the mass or volunes would possibly ve different lol. Glad I read this!

  17. KATY says:


  18. ann says:

    Im using paul mitchell shines it says use a 20 developer my hair is blue smokey/blonde color but I want it gray would I still be using the 2:1 ratio when using the processing liquid

  19. Chrissy says:

    If I wanted to do a brown to purple ombre what would I need to do it? I really like Chocolate mauve but the cosmetologist I talked to wasn’t very helpful. And why wouldn’t you use a permanent and semi permanent.. and if you’re getting hair dye from Sally Beauty Supply which dyes are the best? I’m totally new to dyeing my hair and have lots of ideas..

    Thank you!!

    • Erika says:

      It depends on a few things….

      1. What color is your hair now?
      2. Is your hair artificial or naturally colored?
      3. How often do you plan to or want to retouch your hair color?

      If you can answer those questions I can help you with the rest!

  20. Samantha says:

    Hi, I toned my hair today but my hair didn’t take the color evenly. I used Wella T18 and T14 and the colors just didn’t mix as well as I had hoped. I was going to use Well a permanent liquid hair color tomorrow in the blonde shade (platinum) I had hoped for using As Well red/gold corrector and Wella 50 cooling violet to remove red and yellow colors from my hair. Obviously mixing all those together. My issue is I’m not sure it’s okay to dye over toner?

    • Erika says:

      It’s okay to color over toner, but you should consider using a semi-permanent hair color.

      The toner may not have taken evenly if your hair is porous. Also, depending on the desired color and the actual color of the hair before toning…you may need to add a booster pigment to help it take and hold the toner.

  21. Jes says:

    I have a tube of GI ON and I don’t have any developer. I read you can make your own with deep conditioner and Vaseline, is that possible?

    • Erika says:

      I would not suggest that…developer contains hydrogen peroxide and that’s absolutely necessary to cause the chemical reaction you need for the dye molecules to fill your hair shaft.

  22. Sherri Shaw says:

    Can I mix a permanent dye and a semi-permanent dye together?

  23. Tracy Lowery says:

    I’m doing a brown into pink ombre and I’m using pink by joico and 5m by socolor. Can I blend these two with no problem?

  24. Elke Portley says:

    Great Article! Question? If I mix a permanent dye with a booster is it necessary to also use a toner? I’m no professional lol so I hope I’m not asking a DUH kinda question!

    • Erika says:

      You won’t know if you need a toner until you rinse our the color. Toner is most often used after a lightening color service. Experienced haircolorists should know whether or not a toner will be necessary before they see the results.

      Boosters are used to intensify a specific hue in your color formula. I see what you mean about using a booster to tone, but if you’re using the proper formula then adding pigment won’t matter…if anything it could cause a problem depending on how porous the hair is.

  25. Linda Eschler says:

    How would I measure 50ml of haircolor in an bottle that only measures ounces

    • Erika says:

      You can either convert mL to oz, or you can do it the easy way and use a scale.

      Just put the bottle on the scale, then push the “tare” button. That will set the scale to 0 and you’re ready to go! Don’t forget to make sure the scale is set to mL.

      This is the scale I use:

      Mini Digital Scale

  26. Melissa Kost says:

    Hi, I was wondering if I could mix wella gel permanent with a wella toner?

  27. Susan Edwards says:

    I am not a hair stylist but this was great to read about. I have always known hair colouring can get very tricky so this article was very helpful to find out part of what goes into it. I think I will ask my hair stylist to keep records for my hair if she isn’t yet. http://skyenorman.com/hair-colour/

    • Erika says:

      Thank you! Surprisingly, a lot of haircolorists don’t keep regular notes! I used to be one of them….I was young and creative(still am…haha)….and I thought that what seemed right at the moment would always be right. Good record keeping is one of the keys to success in this business and people like that. They like that you know exactly what formula was used “that time…last year…when we changed it up”. It takes effort, consistency, and repetition to great such a good habit…that’s why so few do it…they start out with great intentions and slowing slide off.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Happy Holidays!

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