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Getting More From Your 12-Tone Swatch Book

Getting More From Your 12-Tone Swatch Book

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As you leave your personal colour analysis, you have a gorgeous little booklet that contains 65 colours that harmonize to perfection with the colours in you.

You head straight for your favourite clothing store. Within 10 minutes of being there, you notice that matching those swatches to real clothes isn’t quite so straightforward. Is close enough good enough? It wasn’t when you were sitting in front of the analyst’s mirror.

The harder you try to match those swatches to clothing, the harder it all gets. Maybe there’s another way to go about this. Forget about the little swatches. Look at the entire palette all at once. That’s how you look to others, all your blues, reds, yellows, browns, whites, all churned together at once.

My trainer in PCA, Terry Wildfong, came up with this excellent system:

>> Fan the palette all out.

>> Lay it on the fabric.

> Better yet, look around the store or your closet for two items in similar colours. Even once you get practice at this, without a comparison, our visual system hangs.

Give it a comparison, any comparison, and it gets (gets both in the senses of ‘to understand’ and ‘to fetch’) what you want. We have no idea what a colour is anywhere, in a fabric, in an eye, or in a person’s face, how cool, how dark, how anything, until we compare it to something.

>> Do these two things belong together, even if the exact colour swatch isn’t there? Often, it won’t be. Why not? Because you have many blues. If the book included them all, there would be no space to show you greens, reds, and so on.

>> Does the palette look like more than the fabric, as if the swatches are separating from the fabric, or the reverse, where the palette looks dull and easy to ignore on that fabric colour? They should bring out the best and the most in each other. The eye should feel rest and ease, aware of both palette and fabric equally and happily.

>> Look at the reds. Could you make some beautiful lipstick combinations?

>> Find the oddest, most extreme colours for that Season. Do they work well with the fabric colour or would you never wear them together? When the harmony is right, there are no unpleasant combinations.

>> Are the neutral beiges/whites/taupes/grays really enhanced or boring? Or changed in some way, like greenish.

>> Look for the complementary colours to the fabric colour. The pairs should be downright exciting.

> Make some colour schemes. Monochromatic, analogous, contrasting. It should be easy.


Art is partly formula. Without some feeling, individuality, or expression, it just stays a formula. That’s where you come in.


16 Thoughts on Getting More From Your 12-Tone Swatch Book

  • "; ?> Tina

    Such a great post….this will help a lot of those who own the 12 Tones fans break free from “fan-lock-itis” (only choosing colors that are exact fan matches) and see that there are infinite possibilities of colors that will work seamlessly for their seasonal category. It is also a great way to really train your eyes.

  • "; ?> Rachel

    Thanks for writing this! Color is context. It can’t be said enough.

  • "; ?> Nirmala

    Hi Christine, I’m so glad you’ve written this post, because I must admit that sometimes I find it SO hard to find colours in my range, and if they don’t match the fan, I always wonder: do they look good enough? Is good enough actually enough? How off is off, and how much off am I allowed? It’s a minefield! So your suggestions here are immensly helpful! Next time I go shopping and even in my own closet, I’m going to try these tips out! It really is a question of looking at the bigger picture- one can get so wrapped up in the idea of “colours” that one almost forgets that it’s what the colours have in common that’s important, their parameters as such.

    Thank you so so much!!!

  • "; ?> Rachel R.

    How do you know what to do with colors that fall *between fans*? Some of my very best colors are actually between Bright Spring fan swatches and the closest-matching Deep Autumn swatches. Are these Bright Spring colors? Deep Autumn colors? In no-man’s land?

    • "; ?> Christine Scaman

      I’d have to see the colour, Rachel. Most real world colours are between fans, as you say. The fans are created in a colour-perfect setting, but I don’t find retail colours that well controlled. There are no No Man’s Land Colours, or at least, it’s extremely rare for me to see a colour and decide that it fits nobody. B Sp and DA have very different energies. Laying the 2 palettes on the fabric as the article describes should figure this one out. You would need both fans to do this – or at least, I absolutely would.

  • "; ?> Kathryn

    Personally, I have taken to laying the whole fan against the fabric to see if the two look like organic extensions of one another. I keep in mind “the most important thing” — in my case, “Is it soft?” Sometimes I have thought I had a match but the fabric color was too harsh against my face. And later I would match that same color (supposedly) in a different fabric that worked much better. Sometimes our eyes can’t tell exactly where the deviances are, but if helps to confirm one way or the other if you place the matched fabric against your face to check if it is still expressing “the most important thing” in the whole context of your appearance.

    • "; ?> Christine Scaman

      You’re exactly right, Kathryn. Organic extensions of one another. I could not have said it better.

  • "; ?> inge

    I have found a nice site

    It is not about colour analysis, but it is about colours for designers, and the photos can help one to see how colours work together. Maybe for many of you this is not a piece of news, I am sorry.

  • "; ?> Jane

    Hi Inge, I enjoyed looking at these pics!

  • "; ?> Melinda

    I’m really interested in the in betweens as well because I find my best makeup colors to be a mix. I use EB foundation makeup that is a combination of two parts LSummer with one part TSpring. There might be a slightly better combination, but that is the closest to my skin I have EVER been able to reproduce. I did this using samples first and then mixing. I ordered almost every foundation color possible to do this including all Summer, Autumn, and Spring fair colors. I didn’t try Winter though.

    I have also found that my best blush is a LSpring color and I can use eye shadows from TSp, LSp, and LSu – LSu being my best for the most part. Still, I do better with the balance of 2 to 1 for my eyeshadow as well. Occasionally I can use some from other seasons as well, but they tend to start looking a bit heavy on me.

    I’m sorry to be such a pill, but I can’t help but think ‘If in between colors exist, then can’t there be in between people too?’

    • "; ?> Christine Scaman

      Never a pill, Melinda. It’s a good Q. Sure there are in-between people. Most of us are in-between. Every Neutral Season person, which is 8 in 10, are. And of those, half or more float a little to the warm or cool side. But, how do we guide all those folks to their best colour? By having 30 palettes? You could subdivide forever, Warm/Warm/Neutral, Warm2/Cool3/Neutral, I mean it gets out of hand. Nobody could see the differences in the colours or understand the system. With 12, you look way the heck better in that palette than any other you could wear, and you can fine tune to your heart’s content, with an understanding of how to control the tuning.

  • "; ?> jasmine

    Thank you so much for this post Christine. I have spent years trying to match the swatches in my cmb swatch book exactly, driving myself and others crazy, I am sure.The idea of laying the swatch book color against the fabric to see if it flows, or fits, is genius and has freed me from having to be so micro about it.

    It also adds to my color possibilities as the exact colors in my book are not available that often in retail.

    I am not a trained color analyst although I think I would someday like to be, but it is a passion of mine ever since I was color analyzed 30 years ago and I have studied on my own. I really enjoy your blog and your descriptions, they help clarify in my mind the essences of the seasons. And since no one else in my life is interested in this subject, it is fun to find like-minded people to share with here on your site.

  • "; ?> Eli

    Very good post! Thank you

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