The Ultimate Guide to Mixing Colors

mix colors

When it comes to mixing colors, a lot depends on the medium you’re using. The rules for mixing stains are different from those for mixing light colors. But if you learn the primary and secondary colors for each medium and understand how they behave when mixed, you can mix the color you want in any situation.

Mix primary and secondary colors

Mix the secondary colors with the primary colors.

There are three primary pigment colors: red, blue, and yellow. These colors cannot be mixed with other colors. But you can mix them to get the three secondary colors: red and blue make violet, blue and yellow make green, and red and yellow make orange. Note that the secondary colors you mix from primary ones are usually not particularly bright and vibrant. This is because the mixed pigments absorb more light from the color spectrum and reflect less. As a result, these secondary colors often look a bit muddy and dark.

Mix primary and secondary colors to create intermediate colors.

There are six intermediate colors that can be mixed through the possible combinations of primary and secondary colors. These colors are Yellow-Orange (Yellow mixed with Orange), Red-Orange (Red mixed with Orange), Purple-Red (Red mixed with Purple), Blue-Purple (Blue mixed with Purple), Green-Blue (Blue mixed with Green), and Yellow-Green (Yellow mixed with Green). These intermediate colors are found between the primary and secondary colors on the color wheel.

Combine secondary pigments to mix tertiary colors.

In addition to primary, secondary, and intermediate colors, three tertiary colors are created by mixing two secondary colors. These colors are brown, brick red, and slate. These colors are not typically found on the color wheel, but they are all valid colors that can be achieved by mixing other colors.

Don’t try to mix white with different colors.

Stains are subtractive. This means that the pigments absorb some colors of the light spectrum and reflect others, which then causes us to see the color we see. So when you mix different pigments, the color gets darker because more and more light is absorbed. It is, therefore, not possible to mix white from different colors. If you need white for your painting project, you will have to buy it; it cannot be mixed.

Mix all three primary colors to

Brown paint is made by mixing equal parts of the three primary colors. Alternatively, you can mix any two complementary colors. If your brown is leaning too much toward one of the base colors, it’s best to neutralize that streak with a drop of the opposite color.

Mix brown paint with blue paint to

The easiest way to mix black paint is to mix the brown paint you just made with some blue until you get the shade of black you want. You can also mix all three primary colors; in this case, blue must make up the largest proportion. Be careful not to mix in white or other colors that contain white, like light yellow or light yellow-green, as this would make your black look grayer immediately.

Mix tones, nuances, and shades

Mix white under different colors to achieve sub-tones.

Tints are lighter versions of a color. To lighten a color and mix a tint, all you have to do is add white. The more white, the lighter the tone you get. For example, if you mix white paint with red, it becomes pink, which is a lighter red. If you’ve added too much white to a pigment and your color has gotten too light, you can always mix some of the original shade to darken the color again.

Mix different shades by mixing in black.

Darker versions of color are shades. It can be achieved by adding black to any color. How dark the color gets depends on how much black you use – the more black, the darker the color. Some artists prefer to mix colors with their complements, opposite colors on the color wheel. For example, you can darken magenta with green and green with magenta, since they are opposite each other on the color wheel. Add black or complementary colors a little at a time. If your color gets too dark, you can correct the mistake by mixing in some more of the original color again.

If you mix white and black into one color, you get a matte, muted tone.

These shades look less intense and saturated than the original color. You can vary the proportions of black and white to get exactly the brightness and saturation you want. For example, mix white and black in yellow to achieve a light olive green. The black darkens the yellow to olive green; white makes it a lighter olive green. Mixing in the amounts of black and white allows you to control exactly what your finished color looks like. With an unsaturated color like brown (dark orange), you can adjust the hue similarly to light orange. Add small amounts of adjacent colors on the color wheel, like magenta, yellow, red, or orange. This lightens the brown and changes the hue.

Mix colors on a palette

Put small dabs of the colors you want to mix on your palette.

Put the amount of paint you expect to need (or slightly less) on the palette. The color portions should be roughly equal if you want to mix the colors in equal parts. There should be enough space in between. If you want to mix a larger amount of one color with a smaller amount of the other color, you can adjust the amounts on your palette accordingly. For example, if you want to mix brown, you’ll need equal parts red, yellow, and blue. For black, you need the same three colors, but you have to use more blue than red and yellow. It’s better if you start with a little too little color on the palette than with too much. After all, you can always take something later.

Pick up part of a fern with the spatula and place it in a space on the palette.

Using the spatula like a spoon, place a small portion of one color in the center of the palette or any other free space. Tap the palette lightly with the spatula if the paint sticks to it. An artist’s palette knife is the ideal tool for mixing colors on a palette. Not only does it allow you to mix colors more thoroughly, you also extend the life of your brush because you don’t have to use it to mix.

Wipe the spatula with a cloth.

This will prevent paint from contaminating its original container when you spoon it out. Use an old rag or cloth that you don’t mind getting dirty to wipe the remains of the first paint off the putty knife.

Pick a second color and add it to the first color in the middle of the palette.

Use the clean spatula to place a blob of a second color next to or on top of the first color on the palette. The sizes of the blobs depend on the ratio in which you want to mix the respective colors. So if you want to mix equal parts, you’ll need to use equal-sized blobs of the two colors.

Repeat this process if you want to add another color to the mixture.

If you want to mix more than two colors, clean the spatula again and spoon the additional colors onto the palette until you have all the colors you need for your mixture.

Mix the colors with the spatula.

Once you have your base colors together, it’s time to mix them. Make small circular motions with the spatula to mix the colors. You may have to put some pressure on the spatula to do this. If the two colors have become one, you have successfully mixed them! If color didn’t turn out the way you would like, you can simply clean up your spatula and mix in more color until you’re happy with the tone of the mixture.

Final Tips

Every color has three dimensions: hue, saturation, and lightness. When it comes to color, always consider all three dimensions, hue, saturation, and lightness. Hue is the color’s position on the color wheel; high saturation means rich, bright colors like in the rainbow or on the color wheel; lightness tells how close a color is to white or black, regardless of the hue. Mixing gold tones is not that easy, but you have to consider a few more things.

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