Ribbon balayage is the newest incarnation of the now-classic balayage color technique. This technique works larger pops of color into subtly sun-kissed balayage looks for more contrast, more dimension, and a bolder way to show off your new color.
In this ribbon balayage guide, you’ll learn about this highlight/balayage technique, what makes it different from basic balayage, and see gorgeous examples of ‘ribbon lights’ in different shades. See why ribbon balayage is the latest color trend that’s going to be here to stay!
What Is Ribbon Balayage?
- Weaves larger ribbons of off-root color through strands
- Also called ribbon lights or balayage ribbons
- Creates bigger pops of color for more noticeable results
Ribbon balayage is a bolder take on the classic balayage technique. Instead of weaving tiny strands out to apply off-root color that looks subtly sun-kissed or lightened, ribbon balayage is all about creating bolder pops of color that weave throughout the hair like ribbons. Hence the name!
While the description might bring 90s-00s chunky highlights to mind, this color technique is far from the wide streaks that were popular back in the day. Think of ribbon balayage – also called ‘ribbon lights’ or ‘balayage ribboning’ – as the cooler, more sophisticated cousin of the wacky streaks of the early aughts.
Ribbon lights take on a more polished, trendy look thanks to their off-the-root placement and more natural weaving pattern. Unlike chunky highlights, ribbon lights are interspersed throughout the hair more naturally and not in a precise every-other-section pattern.
They’re often done in combination with fine balayage color or highlights that add even more dimension and depth. The result is seamlessly gradient, variable, luxe color that looks expensive in a good way.
How Ribbon Balayage Is Done
- Weave highlight sections
- Apply lightener mixture by hand
- Lift and process to desired level
- Rinse and tone
The first step to creating dimensional ribbon balayage color is starting with a medium-width highlight weave. You want some color saturation on sections of strands roughly half an inch thick (for wide ribbons) or quarter-inch thick (for finer ribbons) from the midshaft to the ends.
A rattail comb is used to weave out thick sections of hair in an “every-other” weaving pattern. The tail of the comb is dipped down and brought back up through thin sections of hair to form this weave pattern.
One section is worked at a time before moving on to the next section. For ribbon highlights, not all sections will be lightened. That’s what forms the stand-out ribbons in the final result!
Bleach is then applied to the woven sections (by hand, using the balayage technique) and swept upward toward, but not touching, the roots in this step. Some stylists use a color brush to fine-tune the details here. Others may use a gloved hand. Both techniques work well!
Once all the sections to be highlighted have been saturated and swept with bleach, the hair is allowed to process and lift for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on your hair type, the desired lift level, and current color. The lightener mixture is thoroughly rinsed out afterward.
The final step is toning, where your stylist will apply toner to neutralize any brassiness in the final color and give your blonde or brown the shade of your choosing. Learn more about the toning process here: How to Tone Hair | Step-by-Step Guide & Things to Consider.
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14 Gorgeous Ribbon Balayage Color Examples for Inspiration
So, what can you do with the ribbon balayage technique? A lot, it turns out! This trendy color effect works well with a variety of base shades and tons of different highlight colors and tones.
From the lightest silvery platinum blonde balayage to rich, warm tones with auburn and brown depth, you’re about to see just how versatile and gorgeous ribbon highlighting can be!
1. Nutty Brown With Butterscotch Ribbon Balayage
Warm, nutty tones are so cohesive and look almost naturally blended with the ribbon balayage technique. It doesn’t get much better than this! Rich butterscotch blonde with golden, caramel undertones weaves through the medium brown with plenty of color, but an overall subtlety we love.
Read Next: Butterscotch Hair Color Ideas for 2023
2. Ash Brown With Silvery Blonde Ribbon Lights
This cool-toned, ashy platinum blonde ribbon light runs through a deeper medium ash brown base. The result is a dimensional look balanced with bright, silvery pops of color that brighten and cool down the color.
3. Chestnut and Butterscotch Ombre Ribboning
A rich dark chocolate root adds instant shadow and depth to this two-toned ombre ribbon highlight. Closer to the root and midshaft, you see auburn chestnut brown tones begin to make way for a brighter, deep butterscotch blonde color. These 3 tones together are positively delicious!
4. Bold Blonde Ribbon Lights
Dark espresso base color gets a major facelift with high-contrast, bright golden blonde ribbon lights. While we usually recommend keeping your highlight color a little closer to your base shade, this dimensional look manages to pull it all together cohesively with interspersed thick ribbons and more subtle sweeping color alongside it.
5. Chocolate Brown With Honey Blonde Balayage Ribboning
We love a chocolate brown/honey blonde color combo – especially with the trendy balayage ribboning technique! Here, fat strips of honey blonde work their way through the warm chocolate brown base color to add brightness and cut through the shadowy depth. The honey blonde reaches a little higher here, but never touches the roots.
6. Golden Blonde Ribbon Balayage
Golden ribbons of color weave through a light-medium brown base to brighten and highlight in ways that regular balayage just can’t. Bolder ribbons rise up around the face for an extra-flattering color boost, while thinner ribbons of color weave through the rest of the look.
7. Mocha Brown With Subtle Blonde Ribboning
Who can resist a subtle, natural-looking color like this? Rich, mocha brown is the foundation for a pale golden blonde ribbon highlight and the pair make a gorgeous combo. Thinner ribbons of highlight color keep the effect noticeable but more subtle than chunky ribbons.
8. Caramel Blonde and Golden Brown Ribbon Lights
Adding a rich, warm caramel blonde and slightly deeper golden brown ribbon light to a dark, espresso brown base creates instant dimension and depth. Thick ribbons of golden brown weave upward close to the roots while thinner ribbons of caramel stay further down and brighten the lower half.
9. Bronde Ribbon Ombre
The ribbon highlights in this example start out with a bronde – blonde/brown – color and gradually lighten to an effervescent, pearly white blonde at the ends. This technique requires a skilled stylist to perfectly create all the dimension and color gradation, but it’s definitely got the wow factor!
10. Dark Blonde With Light Beige Blonde Ribbon Lights
Dark blonde is very close in color to light browns and is a great option if you want to steer clear of high-contrast ribbon lights. Keeping a dark blonde base will ensure your pale beige blonde highlights take on a more subtle and natural effect!
11. Cafe Noir With Caramel Blonde Ribbon Lights
We aren’t big fans of the brassy caramel tone here, but the technique is done well with bold pops of color and more subtle brightening around the ends. If you’re starting with a rich, deep brown/black base like this, opt for a light to medium brown ribbon light – or tone the blonde to get rid of any orange brassiness.
12. Medium Brown With Pale Gold Ribbon Balayage
Adding in more ribbons of color will transform the overall shade and obscure the base color more. The medium brown chocolate tones in the base only peek through noticeably at the roots, letting the wide golden blonde ribbons take over from there.
13. Bubbly Champagne Blonde Ribbon Lights
The bright, almost-white tone of champagne blonde makes for a noticeable and bubbly ribbon light. We like how the medium brown base blends with the blonde ribbons and classic balayage to create a dirty blonde transition zone.
14. Medium Golden Blonde Thick-Ribboned Balayage
Espresso roots contrast starkly with the medium golden blonde ribbons in this example. We’d like to see better blending of the base and highlight color, but it’s worth noting how the thicker ribbons really amp up the base shade and brighten the overall color. Try this blonde with a medium chocolate brown for a lower-contrast look.
Ribbon Balayage Tips and Things to Consider
We’ve talked about the ribbon balayage technique and what it entails, how it’s done, and why it stands apart from classic balayage.
You’ve seen some gorgeous examples of ribbon highlights of different shades and tones to get an idea of how versatile and fun this color technique is. What else should you know before you rush to the salon?
- Be careful with pre-lightened hair. Stylists have to use care when bleaching pre-lightened hair, even if it seems healthy. Most will want to use a bonding product if you’re getting ribbon lights or any other bleach technique on pre-lightened hair. Don’t be shy about your hair color history – spill the details if you’ve recently or not-so-recently bleached your hair!
- Go in knowing what you want. Your stylist won’t mind helping point you in the right direction or giving advice on great color/tone options for you, but it’s helpful to go in knowing what you want. Be open to a little direction or guidance, but make sure you’re arriving with inspiration photos (like the ones above!) and clear ideas on the shades, color placement, etc. you’re looking for. Your stylist will thank you!
- Expect the process to take a while. Ribbon balayage can take as little as 45 minutes if it’s straightforward, one-dimensional color being applied. It takes a lot longer if you want layered, multi-toned color with ombre or additional highlights in between. It can take up to 3 hours on long hair from start to finish, so mark out plenty of time on the day of your appointment if you have long strands or a complicated color order!
- Don’t try this one at home. There are some color processes you can get away with DIYing, but ribbon highlights aren’t one of them. It’s tempting, especially after watching a few videos of the process in action and checking out the gorgeous final results. But without an experienced stylists’ eye, it’s hard to know when your hair has lifted enough, when you’ve under or over-saturated the hair, where to place the highlights, how thick to weave the sections, etc. Trust a pro on this one!
- Pick flattering colors and shades for you. It’s easy enough to look at a few examples and pick one that looks great, but you also need to consider your complexion and undertone to get good results. Cool undertones need cool-toned colors like platinum, ash blonde, and ash brown. Warm undertones need warm-toned colors like golden blonde, honey blonde, caramel blonde, and golden or chocolate brown.
As long as you keep these tips and considerations in mind, you’ll end up with excellent results that are everything you’re hoping for. With the balayage ribboning technique, you’re not only taking part in one of the hottest hair trends of the moment.
You’re also brightening and adding dimension to your mane to get the most flattering, energizing color transformation you’ve ever had.
Choosing the right shades and tones is key, as is going into the appointment with your chosen color shades, a few inspiration photos to show, and managed expectations for the time you’ll spend in the chair.
As long as you resolve to leave a multi-step color technique like this to a true pro (seriously, please don’t DIY), you’re going to love how balayage ribboning looks on you.
Just like balayage burst onto the color scene and quickly became an evergreen “trend” that won’t fade from popularity, ribbon highlights are destined to be an instant classic. Mark our words – and jump on it now to call yourself a true early adopter!