Skip to Content

What is single process color and partial highlights?

Welcome back, friends! Today I’ll be explaining the concepts of single process color and partial highlights in hair coloring. As a hair colorist, it’s important to understand these techniques to create beautiful, dimensional color results on your clients.

What is Single Process Hair Color?

Single process hair color involves applying one uniform color evenly across the entire head of hair. This technique permanently alters the natural pigment of the hair shaft. Single process color is great for making an overall change to the hair color. It can be used to go darker, lighter, add warmth, or neutralize brassiness.

Here are some key things to know about single process color:

  • Only one color formula is applied to the entire head.
  • The color result is uniform from roots to ends.
  • It provides 100% coverage of white and gray hairs.
  • The timing is the same for full development.
  • It’s typically lower maintenance than highlights.

Single process hair color can create a variety of results from subtle to dramatic. It works well for first-time colors and hair that is more than 20% gray. However, it lacks dimension and can look flat, especially on long hair. That’s where partial highlights come in!

What are Partial Highlights?

Partial highlights involve lightening select strands of hair to create variation and dimension. The highlights provide depth and texture to hair color. They can also soften or brighten certain areas as needed.

Here are some key aspects of partial highlights:

  • Lightener or bleach is applied to less than 80% of the head.
  • Highlights are strategically placed to complement the base color.
  • They add dimension, visual interest, and reflectiveness.
  • The base color contrasts with the lighter pieces.
  • They require more maintenance over time.

The placement and amount of highlights is customized for each client. They can be fine and blended or bolder and more defined. Highlights brighten up solid single process colors to look more natural. They can also minimize the appearance of gray hair regrowth.

Comparing Single Process and Partial Highlights

Let’s compare some of the key differences between single process hair color and partial highlights:

Single Process Color Partial Highlights
Changes overall hair color Lightens select strands to add dimension
Provides 100% coverage Lightens less than 80% of hair
Uniform result from root to ends Contrast between base color and highlights
Lower maintenance Requires more frequent touch-ups
Good for first-time color Perfect for enhancing single process color
Can look flat on long hair Adds movement, depth and dimension

As you can see, single process and partial highlights each have their advantages. Many clients benefit from combining both techniques. The single process provides full coverage and gray blending, while strategic highlights add texture, dimension, and brightness.

Application Techniques

When applying single process color and highlights, proper sectioning and timing is crucial. Here is an overview of the application techniques:

Single Process Application

  • Divide hair into 4 sections – front, back, left, and right side.
  • Begin applying color at the back and process from roots to ends.
  • Use a tint brush to fully saturate and separate strands.
  • Ensure even saturation and timing throughout the hair.
  • Process for the full development time.
  • Rinse thoroughly until water runs clear.

Partial Highlight Application

  • Section out hair in triangular partings for precise placement.
  • Wrap foils tightly around each highlighted strand.
  • Lighten the mid-shafts and ends, leaving roots darker.
  • Process for shorter time than single process color.
  • Rinse foils individually to avoid color transfer.

It’s helpful to have a plan of placement for partial highlights. Alternate fine highlights with heavier ones throughout the head for a natural look. Keep them lighter around the face to brighten the features. Adjust density based on the client’s desired contrast and dimensions.

Formulas and Mixing

Choosing the right formulas and mixtures is key for beautiful single process and highlighted color. Here are some tips:

  • Select a single process shade close to the natural level and tone.
  • Boost grays with permanent color or low-volume peroxide.
  • For highlights, lighten 2-3 levels lighter than base.
  • Mix a violet-blue toner to neutralize yellow in highlights.
  • Adjust developer strength to control lightening and timing.
  • Perform a strand test to check results before applying.

When in doubt, opt for a lighter single process color as it can be darkened if needed. For highlights, err on the lighter side to allow for a subtle sinking-in effect. Careful formulation will help achieve the desired results.


Proper maintenance is essential for keeping single process and highlighted hair looking its best. Here are some tips:

  • Schedule tonsing services every 4-6 weeks to refresh color and tone.
  • Use color-protecting shampoo and conditioner at home.
  • Limit use of hot tools to reduce fading.
  • Apply a weekly conditioning treatment.
  • Get a trim every 8-10 weeks to minimize split ends.
  • Use temporary root touch-up between appointments.

Highlights require more frequent toning and glossing treatments to reduce brassiness. Clients with single process color may need an all-over glaze or toner refresh midway between color services. Proper at-home care is still important for maintaining vibrancy.


Single process hair color and partial highlights are foundational techniques for professional colorists. Single process adds uniform all-over color from roots to ends. Highlights strategically lighten select strands to create dimension and contrast. Combining both methods provides clients with multi-tonal color, coverage of grays, and visual interest.

With proper application, formulation, and maintenance, single process and partial highlight techniques can create gorgeous, head-turning hair color!

I hope this overview has helped explain these essential color services, my friend. Let me know if you need any clarification or have additional questions!