Color Formulation: To Fill or Not To Fill?

Each season brings change, and although not every client wants dramatic seasonal change, some do.  So the question alway is, “What’s the best approach to take when you client wants to go from red to blonde and back again?”  The answer is easier than you think.

This is a dear client of mine who always wants to be red in Fall and Winter, then switch it to blonde in Spring and Summer.   She’s super easy going with her hair, the only real requirement is she loves seeing contrast and dimension.  Oh, and she doesn’t want me to damage her hair… Fair enough, eh?


The real issue here is protocol.  If she’s coming in pre-lightened and wants to go darker (2 or more levels) we really should be filling.  But the truth of the matter is, since I know she has this pattern of going darker for a few appointments and then lighter again, I don’t fill her.

Why I Chose Not to Fill Her

The whole point of a filler is to “pre color” the hair a few levels down so you can then overlay it with your target color, otherwise your end result may look hollow, and defiantly will fade. But, since this client doesn’t want to be red for longer than 6 months (max), I don’t want to ensure longevity.  Instead I want to use something that will fade to my advantage.

They only thing I have to do is make sure I communicate that with my client and let her know she’s “trying on” this color for awhile, it’ll fade each time she shampoos, but as long as she’s in every 6-8 weeks for maintenance then she will be a-ok.  Plus, when Spring comes around I’ll be able to pull out those faded color molecules very quickly and easily so I can get her back to blonde with minimal stress on her hair.


Here’s How I took her haircolor darker while keeping dimension

I decided that since she had so much pre-lightened hair that I would not be adding any foil or balayage highlights, this color application was just going to be a base color and a very heavy free-hand lowlight application.  Which fit perfectly into the 45 minute time allotted for her appointment.

Step One:  Her base color was applied, strictly at the regrowth around her hairline and through the top, but then as more of a “root stretch” application through the sides and back, that way I could start maximizing depth, without making her top look too “rooted”.


Step Two:  This is when the real magic here happens.  Once the base color is applied, I painted large vertical panels of lowlights, taking special care to saturate each panel, and then every once in a while I would leave out a vertical blonde subsection and that would act as my “highlight”.  That will really ensure the contrast we were looking for.


Step Three:  I let it all process for 30 minutes (timer started after that last lowlight was placed).


Step Four:  I decided not to gloss her,  I wanted those blonde pieces I left out to stay as bright as possible.


Her Color Formula

Natural level: 6

Percentage of Gray: 0%

Underlying Pigment: Orange

Existing Color: 9NG

  • Base: Lanza 20g 7C+ 20g 7CR with Double Demi
  • Highs: None, instead I’m leaving out pre-lightened pieces
  • Lows: Shades EQ 40g 7C + 10g 6CR with 15 volume
  • Gloss: None

Process 30 minutes

Finished with Olaplex



But… What if I Needed to fill Her?

What if she didn’t want the fading and she wanted to be red for a year or longer?  Then in that case, yes, I would fill her. I would just use a level 8 Copper Semi or Demi to do it.  Here’s that hypothetical protocol because it can get tricky if you are trying to maintain some of the blonde as dimension for her end result, since filling creates a two-step process:

Step One:  Isolate some blonde pieces that will act as your “highlights” and securely place them into foils (you can use conditioner if you need to paint them with something to get them secure)

Step Two:  Damp down the remaining hair just slightly and apply your filler; let that process for 20 minutes.

Step Three: LEAVE FOILS IN PLACE and carefully rinse filler very well from hair, don’t shampoo.  After that, still don’t touch those foils, make sure they stay secure while you towel dry (and even blowdry a touch) to prep the hair for the next color process.

Step Four:  Apply the base color, do a bit of a root stretch, and then once the base in in place start saturating the filled ends with your target color.  As you go, if you want to remove those foils to see your isolated blonde pieces, you may but I would only do that if I felt like I needed to feather the base color into the blonde.  Process for 20 or 30 minutes and finish as usual.


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