How to Read a Print

Understanding Color

Happy day, reader dearest!

It’s odd to be back to blogging thrice weekly. And funny how quickly we adapt! Thank you for sticking with me during my October hiatus… One of my projects is done and the other begun. God-willing I can keep making progress on the next project, take care of my clients, and write for you all at the same time. We’ll see how that sorts itself out, won’t we?

Working with clients often gives me inspiration for blog posts. This one is no exception!

One of the concepts that takes clients a the most time to get comfortable with is prints. What color print looks best on me? What kind of jewelry should I wear with a printed top or dress? Can I mix prints? (That question is sorted right here!) Why do some prints look better on me than others? Can I wear large prints? Small prints? What about prints with colors not in my palette? These are all interlocking pieces, and one post would be unmanageably long, so let’s take related questions and answer them a few at a time!

Let’s start with color. Color is simply reflected light. I’ve written before about color, so if you haven’t read the Color Primer post and about Undertone and Overtone before, please do! It will clarify some of what I share today.

How many colors is too many?

The print that looks best on you is one that is in harmony with your physiology, meaning your physical self: your coloring, your features, your hair, your skin and your scale. Yes, your personality is a HUGE piece of the picture, but when we are talking about what looks best on you, that’s basically down to your DNA. Choosing a print (Or pattern… Yes, there is a difference.) that reflects your Color Contrast and Value Contrast will be more harmonious than a print that does not. Lack of harmony leaves a print/pattern wearing you rather than you wearing it! Think of it like clashing and matching. Harmony means your outfit matches you (has similar color properties to you). Harmony doesn’t draw attention to the outfit, it creates a whole.

How many colors does a print have?

As many as they put in? This is where it gets tricky! Here’s where the color wheel comes in handy! Frequently, a print will have multiple shades of one or two colors. A scarf with 8 shades of blue is still simply a blue scarf. Let’s look at the print of a blouse I bought this fall…

Easy peasy: Wine, Magenta, Light Pink, Green, Orange, Black. That makes six colors, right? Not quite! The Wine, Magenta and Light Pink in this print are actually one color: Red. All three are shades of red, some darker, some lighter, some more saturated, some less. The Black is a neutral, so I don’t count that. That leaves us with Red, Green, and Orange. Three colors. That’s a LOT of colors in one print, but still far less than the six with which we began! My natural coloring doesn’t really support this colorful a print, but I loved it and decided to run with it anyway… (More on that below.)

Why is it so hard to find prints in my colors?

Money. Plain and simple. Manufacturers prefer to make prints in multiple colors to appeal to a wider audience.

Some companies will make multiple colorways of the same pattern, for example a paisley blouse in warm tones and another in cool, but that is the exception, NOT the rule. (One company that does a brilliant job of this is Echo Designs–The scarf people.)

Creating multiple colorways is more expensive, because multiple print lots and separate manufacturing runs are needed to produce the same number of items. It’s cheaper to produce 30,000 identical items than 3 colorways of 10,000 items each. Wildly disparate colors in a print are like one-size-fits-all clothing, they fit few, and generally poorly!

What about prints with colors not in my palette?

Let’s take another look at that print. Red, Green, Orange. There is NO orange in my personal palette. The color properties of my coloring are cool, soft, and light. This orange is warm, clear, and bright.

As long as the out of sync color/s is minimal in the print, think 10% or less of the visual, those colors won’t overwhelm you. Here the orange takes up less than 10% of the print, so I went ahead and bought it.

Unfortunately, three colors still means I have too many colors for my 2N+1C natural coloring. So…

How do I make a print I own work for me?

Let’s break this down into color properties: If the undertone is all wrong for you, there’s not much you can do to change your skin (Unless you are cool and go for a spray tan!). You can overdye fabrics to change the undertone, but you have to LOVE the print to take that risk and make the effort. If the undertone is wrong, I’d let it go. That’s probably not what you wanted to hear.

If the general undertone of the print harmonizes with yours, warm or cool, but the print is too colorful, you can make it work by upping your personal color contrast and/or your intensity. We most commonly do that with makeup. Or you might try colored contact lenses! To make this blouse work, I intensify my eyes with green liner and make sure to wear a darker and more intensely colored lip. A bolder lip would be even better, but I wasn’t feeling it for daytime working from home!

If the print is far softer than your natural coloring, that’s a real struggle. When you have coloring like Snow White’s, a soft print creates a washed out look. Trying a very soft neutral lip may help? Your best bet is to up the Value Contrast by adding dark accessories, especially near your face.

Whew! That was a LOT to cover… Today has been all about reading the colors. Remember that the shapes and scale play into how a print will look on you, too! Those posts will be coming in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

So how about you? Do you prefer solids or prints/patterns? I’d challenge you to look at some of the prints in your wardrobe and count the colors of the prints you wear and the others that your closet wears… What do you see? Do tell! I love to hear from you…

Stylishly yours,


  • Rita

    I’m brown eyes brown hair skin ton is darker than yours and petite and mediums contrast and low colore contrast it’s amazing I’m reading David zyla s book it’s interesting but after I found you I’m absolutely drown to your consents it’s understandable and amazingly smart explained thank you so much I really appreciate your teaching and I have a lots of black and I’m cutting back wearing it or do some softened close to my face

    • Liz K

      Glad to help, Rita! Brown hair comes in hundreds of shades, from dark to light and warm to cool. You’ve not mentioned how old you are, but even for those of us who looked great in black in our younger days, it can be harsh as our coloring softens with time.

  • Rita

    Thank you so much it would be wonderful if each color contrast and value had a separate video that me with low color contrast and medium value could completely understand this contrast thank you so much

    • Liz K

      Maybe this way to think of it will help, Rita. To keep your clothing choices in your value range, look carefully at yourself when you buy and avoid buying darks darker than your darkest feature or lights lighter than your lighest feature. For me, that means avoiding black and navy (for the most part) and finding blues and greys in the medium to medium-dark range. Is your Overall Value medium, Rita or your Value Contrast?

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