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When is Red not a Red?

“I’m surprised by the reds, in the 12- Tone TW (True Winter) palette. They’re pinker than I expected, much more so than the reds in the classic palette. In fact, they seem more like hues I had previously associated, rightly or not, with Bright Winter! And the cool true reds and cranberry reds that I like and wear well, clear blue-reds without any obvious pinkiness, aren’t really represented in either TW fan. I’ve been puzzled about the TW reds for a long time (e.g. if red is such a key colour for TW, why are there twice as many yellows as reds in the original palette?)”

TCI 12 Tone Red

Being a bit surprised by an aspect or two of a palette is very common, even the rule – most of us come to PCA with some pre-existing notions of “what colour goes where” and what a named season or tone “is”, and these preconceptions (often down to previous experiences with other systems) may or may not correspond with SciART’s tonal maps.

True Winter (TW) indeed has cranberries, but as a result of original editorial decisions we find that these are better represented on the TCI 12 Tone corporate palette. Bright Winter (BW) reds/pinks are warmer (slightly ‘coral’ looking) than those found in the TW palette because they are influenced by the warmth (yellow) of True Spring, and as a result they will always look slightly brighter and more “incandescent” than the “pinker” TW reds when compared. Remember, comparison is the key to PCA. We see best when we see two options together.


What is a “true red”? Something that lives in the eye of the beholder, perhaps. Painters and crafters familiar with standard student and artist colour ranges will know that when we buy tubes of pigment there are usually two ‘primary’ reds on offer: one with a little blue added (it being cooler and slightly pinker) and one with a little yellow added (resulting in a warmer and slightly more orange looking red). A neutral red, in my book, results when you mix the two – and these “neutral” reds, by cultural convention, are what is often meant by “true reds”.

Red is the core colour for TW as defined, but a core colour may be so singular or so integrated that it is not necessarily dominant in the palette. This idea of the ‘core’ colour is a PCA theory reference to the dominant visible element of pigmentation (haemoglobin/blood in the case of a winter type) of the individual, and not the palette colours in themselves. In fact there is a very limited scope for inclusion of multiple TW “truest” reds, simply because they do not exist. As the TW red is lightened and/or blued it very quickly turns to the hues that most people refer to as ‘pink’ or ‘cyclamen’ or, getting very much “bluer”, ‘orchid’, and as we go darker (and/or bluer) we get maroons and deeper purples and the cranberries of the corporate palette – hence the inclusion of so many of these colours. It’s just the way colour works and moves, and the decisions are not at all arbitrary.

Strawberry Red

Let’s review and expand on this a little more, for those interested.

True Winter’s “reddest” cool red is like an optical white or a true black – a very tightly defined point in colour space, and as soon as we move away from it, as we have seen, we are somewhere else, depending on the direction of the move – warmer, cooler, lighter, darker, albeit perhaps very subtly so. How much “room to move” you have depends on the colour and the tone – where colour space is tight, there tend to be fewer examples on the palette, where it’s more generous (usually found in the softer/lower chroma tones), there will be more (there are editorial exceptions to this, such as in respect of yellows which are critically difficult for cools).


Remember, colour space is a continuum, and individual colours and tonal families shade into each other. When you move from TW’s red to lighter (that is, higher value) but still “cool” versions of its reds you get “blued” clear pinks (and not pastel pinks, let’s be clear, but relatively saturated, blued cerises, such as are found on strip 2,3 and 4 of the Classic palette), while when you drop the value and look for the darker versions of these cool reds we are in maroon and cranberry territory (from 6.2A down on the corporate palette, if you like). The most saturated and purest version of red, then, is a very defined spot – a peak, perhaps – for True Winter.

Red Red Red

BW looks to have relatively more “reds” on the palette as it has more “room” around its neutral reds/corals which sit higher in terms of overall saturation and which are more likely to grab the eye as firey “reds” rather than attracting another name, like “cyclamen” or “maroon/wine” or whatever. The real key is one of comparisons – TW has very subtle intervening reds other than that on the palette, but they need to avoid the sunnier yellowed versions that BW has and the rich, darker, faintly browned/mahogany neutrality of Dark Winter (DW), and, again, those deep blued pink-reds and rich maroons and cranberries (you will find a few more on the corporate palette) are still cooler than the other winters do best.

Here as elsewhere it can be useful to invert the question when you’re looking at a red – ask is it yours, but also ask if it could possibly belong to anyone else. Can you see harmony with the palette (allowing for textural differences and ignoring sheen)? Can you, a true cool winter, see any obvious warmth in it? Does it harmonize with your cool silver and ice-white diamond/zirconia jewellery? And most of all – do you feel fabulous in it?

Lipstick Red

I wonder if our thoughts about “red” have been influenced by the lipstick industry, which is the most personal point of contact with its variations for so many women. In the advertorial preferences of the cosmetic industry, reds are often sold as designed to stand out and “grab” the viewer’s eye rather than to harmonize as we would understand it (see previous article “Is Disharmony Ever Desirable” for a fuller discussion of this idea). Are there more warm and neutral reds out there than true cools? Does this influence our feelings about how easy or hard it is to find our tone?

As an aside regarding the yellows: TW yellows are very faintly blued, which gives them that clear, sharp-cool lemon quality, and yellows by definition tend high in saturation and lightness – but these qualities also limit their number. The TW palette overall – Classic and Corporate – really has far more red, but as we’ve seen, it depends on your definition of “red”.

Valentino Red

Valentino’s famous signature red is trademarked as a combination of 100% magenta, 100% yellow, and 10% black – as the percentages add up to way over 100% we can take this as meaning fully saturated pigment with some drop in the value. If there was ever a good example of the hazards of trying to explain a colour onscreen, it is this one: Google it in Images and you’ll see renderings that look like everything from a warm-neutral, lightish Bright Spring red through all three Winters and even, in some moodily desaturated edits, as True or Soft Summer. I would think I would think this a neutral red, as the magenta base is “blued”, so in theory it is probably a BW or DW or even at a stretch a BSp red – but I’ve never seen it in person under daylight conditions that I am aware of, and (since we all cheat a little) I suspect that few winters of any tone who love the style would knock it back if someone was insisting they take it home.

Three key final points, which cause a lot of confusion out in the real world. First, a palette samples 65 or 70 of your best colours, but colour is a continual spectrum, endlessly subtle and with thousands of tiny gradations perceptible to the human eye, and you will never fully exhaust all of your options. Look for harmony, rather than absolute matches. Secondly, we may love things that are not strictly our most harmonious colours, but relish wearing them regardless, perhaps finding something a little exciting and stimulating about a dissonance of hue temperature or excess saturation – and modern pigments, dyes, make-up and clothing trends do a lot to enable a learnt preference for higher chroma (which was difficult for the average person to indulge prior to the modern aniline/chemical dye era). Neither the palette (which aims to harmonize with the natural base) nor this personal artistic choice to step past it are inherently “wrong”, but different aesthetic values and priorities are in play. Finally, if another palette seems to consistently work better for you, then re-examine your placement, though sometimes – especially where hair colour and makeup have been routinely used – it can take a while to accept and get your eye in for your colours and how they work for you.

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