How to Mix Paint Colors

June 4, 2014

By Alina Bradford

One of the keys to learning how to paint is mixing paint colors well. No, good artists don’t just use the color straight out of the tube. Tube colors are almost never spot-on, and need to be tweaked to achieve a realistic effect. 

Thankfully, learning how to mix paint colors isn’t terribly difficult. New artists simply need practice and a few guidelines to help hone their mixing techniques. 

Paint Color Combinations 

Most artists learn the fundamentals of color mixing in kindergarten. Red, blue and yellow are called primary colors. These colors cannot be made by mixing other colors, but they can combine to create secondary colors. Secondary colors are: 

  • Purple- A mixture of blue and red
  • Green- A mixture of blue and yellow
  • Orange- A mixture of yellow and red

There are also tertiary colors. Tertiary colors result from mixing secondary colors and primary colors together. This creates: 

  • Yellow-orange
  • Red-orange
  • Yellow-green
  • Blue-violet
  • Blue-green
  • Red-violet

Color Temperatures 

All colors can be separated into two categories: cool or warm. Cool colors have a lot of blue in them. Warm colors have a lot of yellow in them. Purple, for instance, is a cool color, while orange is a warm color. Learning color temperatures is particularly useful when painting skin tones. 

Mixing Paint Colors 

To get the perfect shade, choose a base color, or a tube of color that is pretty close to the shade you need. Add a little dab of color, mix and test the color on a scrap piece of paper. If the color isn’t quite right, add another dab of color, mix and test. This may be a slow process, but it will give you cleaner results. 

Here’s an example. Say the artist needs a dark purple. The artist would start by choosing a dark blue, like cobalt. Then the artist would add a little dab of a cool red, since purple is a cool color. 

Creating the Perfect Red Paint Colors 

There is a wide-range of reds in the world, so red is one of the most difficult colors to match when painting. The key is choosing a red base color that is the same temperature as your subject, and adding either yellow or blue to the base color to tweak its hue. 

How to Mix Green Paint Colors 

Green is another color that is hard to match perfectly. Like red, the artist should start with a basic color that matches the green’s temperature and build on it by adding more blue or yellow. 

What Colors Make Brown? 

Browns are made by mixing orange with a dark red and a touch of blue. The artist should experiment with different combinations since they differ depending on paint type. 

How to Make Black Paint 

Black is made by combining primary colors with brown. For example, a versatile black can be made by combining brown with a dark blue. Just like with brown, the artist should experiment with different combinations since they differ depending on paint type. 

When these rules are followed, an artist can create any color needed for a painting. After some practice, color mixing will become second nature.


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