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This is a bit convoluted (and I'm still wrapping my head around Blender in general) so bear with me:

I'm trying to create downy feathers on a robin. I created a basic hair system, cranked up the clumping for a feathery look, made a few weight maps to control distribution and length, and so far so good: fluff achieved.

But what I'd really like to do at this point is to control the color of the fluff based on where it is on the model. I have a texture mapped to the mesh already (to cover any bald spots that might show through) but that's not doing me much good since the fluff is covering it.

Do I have to make a separate system for the red breast? Or is there an easier way?

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Yes you can, In cycles.

In the hair's material, simply add an image texture, and plug it into the color factor as such: enter image description here

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When using internal render. If an object has a UV map and that texture is assigned to the particle system, the hairs will inherit the colour from the texture.

You may also combine multiple textures using a blend texture set as stencil allowing you to have a different texture map for root and tip (or more).

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    $\begingroup$ Additionally, if you switch from the particles to textures you will get a slightly different window (object>part-system>texture). This allows you to finely control hair generation with UV maps or procedural textures. $\endgroup$ – SleepyMolecule Jun 25 '14 at 9:10

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