Hair painting is an organic and visual technique that allows the stylist to customize the color placement to suit the client’s face and natural hair color. Free-hand, balayage and ombre are the most common hair painting techniques. Clients and stylists sometimes use these terms interchangeably. However, each technique has its own application process and can be used alone or in combination with other techniques to create a truly unique look.

What are the key differences between each technique?

various hand painting

Various Hair Painting Techniques

Each of these hair-painting techniques will give you a natural look that is easy to maintain. However, each requires specific skills and an understanding of the intended results. Let’s dive into each technique in detail before you decide which one is best for you.


Free Hand Hair Painting

For Balayage and free-hand hair painting, are they the exact same thing? Balayage is sometimes used to refer to free-hand hair painting, or vice versa. Although Balayage will be used to paint hair freehand, the difference is in how it is applied. For a touch of contrast, the colourist will use color or lightener to add color to strategic hair pieces. This is a natural alternative to foils because the product is applied while the hair is still at its natural fall. The following images show how the color or lightener could be applied. A ½ V-shape is a popular application to use on the sides, as it focuses the pop of color around the face for face framing or “money pieces” effect.



Balayage is when the color or lightener are lightly swept over the section. The saturation through the section is focused more towards the ends (if necessary), as shown below.

Lightener is applied to all hair parts. Lightener is lighter near the roots, and more powerful near the ends. Balayage literally means “to sweep”, so use light pressure and only surface saturation. This technique will be done in open air for subtle lift and natural sun-kissed results. This photo shows how much depth will be left beneath lightly painted areas. This creates a subtle, natural result.

depth can be left beneath lightly painted areas

The abovementioned image shows the head tilted forward so that you can see that lightener has not affected most of the hair’s underside.


Alternately Ombre is described as a look that gradates color in different areas, such as home decor, fashion, and nails. Ombre isn’t a hair-painting technique like balayage, but a way to achieve a particular look. For a ombre effect, the color or lighter is applied horizontally with full saturation. The regrowth area will be darker, the ends lighter and there will be a transition in mid-strands. This look can also be achieved with virgin hair by using a mixture of various color formulas down each strand. A woman with ombre hair, which will range from dark blue at her roots to lime green at her ends.

The colourist may use all three methods to create beautiful and low-maintenance results. Whatever hair-painting method the colourist use, the aim is to create a blended transition between the roots and the place where the colour or lightener starts. This blending technique is popular with clients who desire a low-maintenance, long-lasting colour. To ensure that the process is seamless the colourist can perform any of the combination of the following blending techniques.

  • Angle
  • Projection
  • Saturation
  • Backcombing


Angles Blending

Vertical placements will be the most well-defined, while horizontal placements will be more diffused. Diagonals will fall somewhere in between. Saturation and section size play an important role. Foils should be used in thin sections to ensure maximum product saturation and the product is apply until it regrowths. Hair painting is done in different sizes depending on the desired result. The colourist usually leave natural hair between the sections that have been lightened and at the root to add depth and contrast. This distinction is important. If the horizontal placement is thin and has light saturation, it will be diffused. Conversely, a vertical placement will be defined only if it provides contrast such as with classic hair-painting. Because hair section sizes vary across the head, a diagonal placement is use to get the best of both. For a defined pop, the colourist use product to saturate the hair without creating a hard line. The actual hair partings or the angle of application will determine the placement of the diagonal. They are combined for optimal diffusion by using a diagonal color application and a parting.


Projection Blending

Projection is created when lifting the hair above its natural fall. Projection is also used in hair painting to enable soft colour line just as it can be used to increase hair length or softer layer during haircut. Angle of the line will change as the hair falls back into its natural fall if it were projected straight up. This is called diffusion from projection. Although the hair will not be projected as much while hair painting, this principle can be used at a lower angle and combined with a diagonal application. An area of hair is placed on one side of the head and projected at a 90-degree angle. An application diagonal is used. An area of hair is projected from the side at a 45-degree angle. An application diagonal is used.


Saturation Blending

If the hair is not able to be projected, or foils need to be added to give the hair maximum lift, saturation and brush pressure can be used by the colourist to create a seamless mix. If there is lightening of the hair, more saturation equals better lift. This principle can be used to create a diffused look in hair painting. More lift can be created towards the ends by increasing the brush pressure and saturation while work down the hair strand. This method might not work if looking for a cool or neutral result. A hair that is less saturated won’t lift as much, meaning the hair will have more underlying color and warmth. It must ensure that the saturation is equal. Uneven saturation will lead to an uneven and blotchy lift.


Backcombing Blending

When done properly, backcombing can create a seamless blend and diffused line in colour. The colourist will hold the strands between thumb and forefinger while use a comb to push the hair from the midway point up to the root. As shown in the video below, this gently moves the hair behind comb’s teeth towards the scalp. The reduction in density at the ends has allowed for a more even movement of the hair. The colourist will now paint straight across the backcombed area to get a beautiful diffused colour. The hair painting method and diffusion choose will vary from one client to the next. Sometimes, even section by section! Depending on the hair of the client and their desired result and most colourists will not be afraid of changing the hair-painting techniques.




Look no further, visit our Hera Hair Beauty salons and have a consultation with one of our talented international hairdressers to discuss how our different balayage techniques will work for you.

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