Color Mixing

Topics covered:

  •  Link to color wheel
  •  Proportionate mixing of color
  • Mixing Equal Parts
  • Mixing Proportionate parts
  • The Mixing Ratio for Primary Colors
  • The significance of white and black in color mixing
  • Importance of the opacity of the medium in color mixing
  • Can we use or make any formula for mixing colors?
  • Swatching and color charts/ mixing recipe book
  • The various types of the above charts and significance of each
  • How to make Colors which are not in tertiary and artist use it frequently like Brown, White, Black, Gold, Silver (Other than secondary and tertiary colors)
  • How to mix colors for various skin tones for portraits?
  • What is visual isolation and how it helps identify the right colors?
  • What is meant by muddy color and how to not end up mixing a muddy color (Do’s and don’t’s)
  • When is there a separation in colors on paper? Is it good or bad to see the separation of colors on an artwork?
  • The technique of identifying color from reference images to be able to mix colors appropriately
  • What is an undertone and what is the importance of the under-painting or lean layer in oil painting?
  • Making different types of green
  • Importance of color mixing
  • Important points to remember while mixing colors
  • FAQ

Ever wondered how designers, creators, and artists find the perfect color combination? 

Have you ever wondered how the paint comes from a tube or a pan on paper, lying perfectly next to the color that enhances it? 

How to achieve the perfect green color that we want for a tree in the shade? 

Want to know what colors look perfect together?

The answer is color theory and color mixing. Color theory is a practical combination, detailed study of art and science used to determine what colors look good together, how we can achieve a particular color and the different terms to study the hue. In 1666 Sir Isaac Newton invented the color wheel and mapped the color spectrum into a circle or the wheel. It is the basis of color theory because it shows the relationship between colors and how they react with or beside each other. 

It’s important to understand the color wheel for the study of color mixing. Mixing colors of light that is a spectrum and mixing colors of paint produce very different results. While mixing the primary colors of the light makes white, primary colors of paint properties create black, grays or brown.

Refer to the color wheel blog before you continue to read about color mixing. It’s the foundation to understand color mixing 


Proportionate mixing:

Mixing Equal Parts: The basic color mixing formula involves mixing equal amounts of two or more colors. If any two primary colors are mixed in equal amounts, the result is a secondary color:

1 Red + 1 Yellow = Orange

1 Blue + 1 Yellow = Green

1 Red + 1 Blue = Violet


Mixing two secondary colors in equal amounts creates a tertiary color, such as-

1 Orange + 1 Green = Olive

1 Violet + 1 Green = Slate

1 Orange + 1 Violet = Brown

Mixing two tertiary colors in equal amounts creates a quaternary color, such as:

1 Brown + 1 Slate = Cedar

1 Slate + 1 Olive = Sage 

1 Brown + 1 Olive = Coffee

Mixing in equal quantities gives a clear picture.

Mixing Proportional Amounts-

To create a wide range of new colors, primary colors can be mixed using various colors in different proportions to each other. Mixing paints using proportional color mixing formulas ensures that a specific color can be duplicated, allowing a creator to provide consistency and uniform appearance in color mixing.

Proportional color mixing involves simple ratios, like using twice as much red as yellow, or complex formulas, such as mixing one part blue, two parts red, and three parts yellow. Each combination will produce a new, distinct and interesting result.

The proportional color formulas involve mixing two parts of a primary color to one part of a different primary color to create a tertiary color as given below;


2 Red + 1 Blue = Magenta

2 Blue + 1 Red = Purple

2 Blue + 1 Yellow = Teal

2 Yellow + 1 Blue = Chartreuse

2 Yellow + 1 Red = Amber

2 Red + 1 Yellow = Vermilion

The Mixing Ratio for Primary Colors:

To get orange, you mix the primary colors red and yellow. The mixing ratio of these two colors determines which shade of orange you will get after mixing. For example, if you add more red than yellow, you will get a reddish-orange. Similarly, if you add more yellow than red, you will get a yellowish-orange. 

It also depends on the temperature of the color that you choose. So experiment with the shades you have. Try different combinations and mixing ratios, and keep a written record of your results so that you can obtain the same color in the future. Therefore it is easier to say that different shades of reds mixed with different shades of yellows will not produce the same orange color. 

Everything depends on which secondary color and shade you want to create. If you mix a Hansa yellow with red carmine, you will get a different shade of orange than with Gamboge yellow. 

Are there Different Shades of Red, Blue, and Yellow to Buy?

Yes! You can choose from a variety of different shades of primary colors.

Here are some examples:

Blue: Cobalt blue, cerulean blue, ultramarine blue, Caribbean blue, Venetian blue, Prussian blue, 

Red: Cadmium red, scarlet, carmine, crimson, and Venetian red

Yellow: Naples yellow, gamboge, cadmium yellow, lemon yellow, and yellow ochre

The significance of white and black in color mixing-


While it may seem logical that to lighten a color, you need to add white to it, white reduces brightness or saturation, so although it makes a color lighter, it removes its vibrancy. It produces a tint of that color and makes a transparent color opaque. It also cools the color. This is most noticeable with red, which changes from a warm red to a cool pink when you use titanium white. 

Watercolors are transparent, so to lighten, you simply add more water to paint to let the paper shine through.

Black doesn’t add darkness but creates murkiness & tends to dirty the base colors rather than simply darken them. Of all ordinary blacks, Mars black is the blackest and is opaque, ivory black has a brown undertone, and lamp black a blue undertone.

Nevertheless, there are instances in which black is uniquely valuable, such as the range of greens it can produce when mixed with yellow. 

Importance of the opacity of the medium in color mixing-

Different pigments have different properties. Some pigments are highly transparent and are evident from underneath multiple layers of paint. Others are highly opaque. Considering this could further assist you in the process of layering your work.

The color mixing in watercolor would differ from color mixing in acrylic paints or oil paints. Traditional water paints do not encourage the usage of white and blacks, while acrylic and oils do not work efficiently without the two. It’s important to know which category your art medium falls into to better understand the painting process.

It’s important to understand the summary about the paints & other pigment-based materials to further study color mixing in-depth as artists. 

Every medium is pretty much created from the same sources of powdered pigment. Some colors are derived directly from nature, and others are man-made or synthetically produced. When the powdered pigments are mixed with various additives, which are called binders, the following are then created – 

Oil paints: As the name implies, pigments are mixed with oil (usually Linseed) in the tube, which is slow drying & easier to blend. It can be used straight from the tube or thinned down with the medium for under-painting or glazing. Oils maintain their intensity once dry, unlike water-based paints, which tend to dry darker or lighter than when wet.

Water-soluble oils: This kind of paint is Inter-mixable with traditional oils. Water can be used to clean the brushes if it is used in pure form. 

Oil sticks: These contain waxes that bind the pigment to a stick—slow drying as oils. Solvents are the same as oil paint.

Acrylics: This medium contains an emulsion creating a non-soluble waterproof, plastic surface when dry. It can be used diluted with water or used straight from the tube without dilution. Texture pastes can be added for impasto or a 3d effect. Replacing the water in the jar and thorough cleaning of the brushes after every paint session is advised to eliminate paint clinging to the brush. It can be used on any non-oily surfaces from paper to board & canvas. Acrylics cannot be reactivated in the same way as watercolors or gouache. So, to test out a unique color made from multiple colors, mix it in small quantities until you can fix the formula for it. Else you will end up with a lot of undesirable color on your palette that could go to waste.

Gouache and poster colors: It contains a binder that remains water-soluble when dry. Pigments are generally of a coarser or gritty quality than watercolors and are therefore more opaque or non-transparent. It can be re-activated for further blending using water.

Watercolors: Watercolors of higher quality are derived from the most finely ground pigments. They are created by the addition of special water-soluble gum-arabic. This medium is used on watercolor papers having a smooth, rough or texture that lies in-between the two. It is essential to know that despite being a transparent medium, there are watercolors that incline more towards being opaque. These lack vibrancy and dry out dull on paper. One of the best examples for this is black. That is the reason why artists advise learners to mix a color closest in resemblance to it rather than using the color straight from the tube unless it is to obtain certain hues.

Watercolor pencils: These are used for line drawing, adding texture and depth, or activated on paper after laying down the colors.  

Pastels: Here, the pigments have been molded into sticks using distilled water and a minimum of binders. Some are wrapped in waxed paper to prevent breakage and come in stick form. These are usually used on toned paper with a texture or “tooth” to hold the dry granules of pigment. Spray fixatives prevent rubbing but tend to darken the pastel work. Framing is behind glass with a matt board to avoid the work from touching the glass.

Inks: Inks are available as waterproof and water-soluble inks. Very fine pigments are used, and good quality inks can provide luminosity over white, which can be increased by adding layers when using waterproof varieties. It can be used with brushes, sponges, etc. Inks can be loaded into oblique pens for various line weights. The nibs need to be cleaned frequently.

Can we use or make any formula for mixing colors?

There are a few color mixing formulas that are popular among artists to achieve the desired colors. This is especially true in the case of achieving beautiful colors by mixing the primaries like ultramarine blue with earthy or neutral colors to obtain colors that are de-saturated and incline towards colors seen in nature. These are colors that appear subtle and visually pleasing to the eye. 

Here are some examples of formulas for neutral colors widely used by artists:

Ultramarine blue + Red brown/ Vermillion = De-saturated purple

Ultramarine blue + White + hint of pink/ red = Lavender

Lavender + Yellow Ochre = Yellow Grey

Picture 1
Colors derived from Ultramarine Blue

These are usually a result of a study of the color wheel and what has been proven to work best. While most artists mix colors based on experience, some admit to have been mixing colors based on instinct while painting the picture. Thereby it becomes essential to understand what color complements another color that you have used. 

A popular example for this could be the use of a deep warm purple (closely resembling the color of a plum) alongside yellow because these two colors fall opposite to each other on the color wheel and thereby complement one another. If you study paintings with architectural subjects, you might notice how such a color has been used to indicate shadows on a building or a door that is yellow.

Swatching and color charts/ mixing recipe book. The various types of the above charts and significance of each

Before proceeding to use any color on any paper, always take a small piece of the paper and paint on it using this color. You could just try a single color at a time which is termed as ‘swatching’ or work on different charts. Colors appear different on different papers due to the properties of the paper.

Different types of charts you could create for yourself are:

The color wheel

  • The mixing chart (Applicable to all mediums)

A mixing chart is structured as a grid of equal number of rows and columns. You can generate for example, a grid of 8 x 8 and paint single colors in the first row and first column in same order and discover the corresponding color by combing 1 color from a row with one color in the column.

Picture 2 1 scaled

Watercolor mixing chart


  • The glazing chart (Applicable for watercolor)

Since watercolor is a transparent medium, a glazing chart helps you understand what your first layer appears from underneath the second transparent layer. Start with the lightest hues such as yellows first as they are more prone to color contamination.

Choose a good quality of paper for this as the lighter colors appear better on sheets of better quality.

Picture 3 scaled

 Watercolor glazing chart

  • Dual-color mixing charts

Mix two colors in varying proportions to identify unique color mixes

  • Value chart

A single color can be indicated in different value across a picture. Observe that carefully. It is an indication of how dark or light a color is conveyed depending on the area of light and shadow. Try a monochrome study with just black before working on a value chart with any color.


  • Palette chart

It guides you towards the real appearance of a color mix on the paper when compared to what it appears like on the palette

How to make Colors which are not in tertiary and artist use it frequently like Brown, White, Black, Gold, Silver (Other than secondary and tertiary colors)

  • White:

White is a color that cannot be mixed from other colors. There are two pigments for white that are known to us: Titanium white and Zinc white. If the tube reads “Chinese white”, it is mostly made out of zinc with traces of titanium white sometimes. Zinc white inclines towards being a cool color and relatively more transparent whereas, Titanium white is a warm white and opaque in character.

Ideally, it is best to use white to create emphasis in a painting rather than mixing it with another color as it could make your painting appear dull.

  • Brown:

A basic brown color can be created by mixing all the three primary colors in nearly equal quantities. The quantities of colors can be varied to obtain varying shades of brown. 

Alternatively, brown can be created by combining the following:

  • Orange + Blue

It is important to note that the colors need to be mixed in equal parts. This might vary from the formula mentioned earlier depending on the orange being used.

Another method is to mix blue with yellow to form green (say, Prussian Green). When you mix this with red or variants of red such as Vermillion or red brown, you obtain a very dark shade of brown which can serve as a substitute for black in some areas.

Prussian Green + Orange/ Vermillion

  • Black

It is no joke when artists recommend you to mix all colors on the palette to form black. A color closest to black is obtained when you mix red, blue and green. Which is nothing but:

Red+ Blue + (Yellow + Blue)

Picture 4 i 1 scaled

Color mixing to form brown, black, grey, and gold

  • Grey

Grey color is basically formed by combining black with white.

  • Warm Grey

Warm grey is obtained by mixing small quantity of brown to a basic grey

Blue + Yellow = Green

Green+ Red (small quantity) = Brown

Grey + Brown = Warm Grey

  • Cool Grey

1 part Blue+ 1 part Black+ small quantity of white

The resultant color will have a cool tone

  • Silver

Silver in any image is nothing but grey with a sheen. To convey silver color in a painting, try mixing any of the following and indicate a highlight in white for reflectivity.

Ultramarine blue + Burnt Sienna = Warm Grey

Cobalt Blue + Burnt Sienna = Soft silver grey

Phthalo Blue + Burnt Sienna = Greenish grey

If you’re aiming for a shimmery effect, there are paints with pearlescent and shimmery pigments available. 

  • Gold

If an object in a reference resembles the color gold, artists tend to associate it with colors that classify as either yellow or brown. It might have a hint of olive green in it if the metal is antique.

However, if you are keen on mixing your own color from the primaries, here’s a formula you could try:

1 part Red + 1 part Yellow + 1 part Black

You can adjust the tone by mixing a small part of the primary colors until you obtain the desired gold color.


Picture 4 ii scaled

How to mix Grey and gold

How to mix colors for various skin tones for portraits?

The appearance of skin has either a warm or cool undertone. People with a paler complexion mostly have a cooler undertone of blue. However, people having a darker complexion tend to have a warm undertone such as olive green. You can make an informed decision on choosing the colors by carefully trying to observe and understand the tone that you’re trying to achieve.

The first layer of a portrait should indicate the undertone. This holds true while working with watercolors. One or two layers can be built above this using colors such as scarlet, orange, raw umber, burnt sienna, burnt umber, etc.

In case of oils, it may be the colors that are usually opted for an under-painting. Skin tones can be formed by first mixing a basic brown color. This is done by mixing equal parts of the three primary colors. 

If the skin tone is darker, this mix can be altered in tone by adding small amount of red, yellow or brown depending on the color you want. You may add black to attain a darker color.

c scaled

If a paler complexion is to be achieved, mix a red (for example, alizarin crimson) with say, lemon yellow and continually add white till a flesh tint is obtained.

Blush tones– Add a hint of crimson to the pre-mixed skin color to obtain a natural color to indicate a blush tone.

What is visual isolation, and how is it helpful in identifying the right colors?

To be able to mix colors with better accuracy, an important step prior to it is the identification of the true color in the subject. A little exercise for you could be to practice the technique of visual isolation on a reference image. It is very simple.

Picture 6

Visual isolation technique

Take a piece of paper and punch a hole in it. Move this punched hole over the area in the reference photo either as a printout or a zoomed- in segment of a picture on your screen. Now you will be able to identify the value, hue and color temperature of that segment. 

This technique is especially useful to identify the colors in the shadow region

As beginners, we often tend to use black to indicate shadow for any object. But using this simple technique, you will observe that the shadow isn’t actually black  but either a warm or cool color that compliments the subject depending on the time of the day or quality of light being shown in the picture. 

What is meant by muddy color and how to not end up mixing a muddy color (Do’s and don’t s)

Quite literally, a muddy color or murky color is an undesirable color resembling the color of mud, formed as a result of mixing colors in the wrong proportions or colors that are opposing in their inclination on the color wheel.


This is a color you wouldn’t want in your artwork as they are de-saturated, dull and opaque, which kills the beauty of your painting.

To avoid such a color, pay attention to these points:

Study the color wheel and prepare a study chart for your understanding and reference.

For example,

Cerulean blue and pthalo blue have a pull towards green or, are green biased

Ultramarine has a pull towards purple.

So, if crimson is combined with ultramarine, you get a neutral purple

If Scarlet is to be combined with Ultramarine, you get a warm purple

However, when you combine scarlet red (warm red) with cerulean blue (cool blue), the resultant color would be de-saturated when compared to the others. 

The context of the application of color is important. A color might not look muddy when mixed on the palette. But, if it does not work with the rest of the color in your painting, then that color is a muddy color.

In case of watercolor, identify opaque colors by understanding the properties of a certain color and avoid their usage as much as possible.

Separation of colors in watercolor :

Some pigments that behave differently than other pigments. This holds true in case of colors that showcase granulation upon application. Common examples of such pigments are those that are found in Ultramarine blue, Burnt sienna, Burnt Umber and also sometimes in cerulean blue and raw umber.

Upon mixing one warm color with a cool color from the granulating colors, you get fascinating color mixes that appear homogeneous upon application but show wonderful separation upon drying. This is especially evident and appreciable on rough paper or cold pressed papers that do not have a smooth finish.

Try this: Mix equal parts of Ultramarine blue and transparent orange in equal parts and paint a small portion on a rough paper. This can appear to be a mistake to some but can be used to your advantage while creating interesting contrasts.

What is an undertone and what is the importance of the under-painting or lean layer in oil painting?

Undertone is the color that is not directly perceived by the viewer but influences the mass tone/ overtone that is the color that the viewer identifies. 

Under-painting is the first layer that goes on the surface that you choose to paint on and acts as a base for the layers that follow. An under-painting creates the impression of depth and richness in a painting and prevents your painting from appearing flat. Earthy colors are often used to set the stage for the layers of paint that follow in a painting due to their neutral and pleasant appearance.

Under-painting is widely practiced in oil painting but is also used for mediums like acrylic and gouache. It functions the same way as the first transparent wash in a watercolor painting.

Making different types of green

Importance of color mixing-

  • It may seem like a simple, insignificant exercise, hardly worth spending time on, but it’s the first step in a fundamental painting skill—successful color mixing theory. Put up a chart on the wall until you’ve memorized which colors are primary, secondary, tertiary, and complementary. 
  • Color mixing gives you a range of color options with a minimum number of paint tubes (very useful when painting plein air as you do not have to carry a variety of materials). 
  • If you often use a specific color, it’s easier to decide to buy it in a tube rather than mixing it up again and again. Color mixing gives an idea about the same. 
  • Pigments are expensive, and so are colors. The basic knowledge of color mixing is important to produce a particular color that one might not use often or ever again in other paintings. So, your expenditure on supplies doesn’t burn a hole in the pocket.
  • There can be an instance when the color you cooked up simply doesn’t come ready-made (mostly a particular green in a landscape). The knowledge of color mixing enables you to achieve a ready-made green to the shade you require.
  • The advantage of buying a premixed color is the assurance that you are getting the identical hue each time. But the mixing of colors can be so addictive that you might not like buying a tube and instead choose to cook up your favorite recipe of color. 
  • Color mixing is a mandatory study that one needs to do for color-making companies or people who aspire to produce handmade paints someday. 
  • Color mixing is addictive. Most artists thrive by just studying the color mixing and providing the unique recipe to the world as its scope is limitless. 

Important points to remember while mixing colors-

  • To have the brightest possible colors, make sure that the colors you use consist of only one pigment and are not multi pigmented. You can usually find information about this on the color container itself or the manufacturer’s website.
  • Remember you need at least 3 tones to make something look 3D – dark, medium, and light. That’s when a tonal study comes in handy. 
  • If you want to darken a light color, you only need a small amount of darker hue. For the other way around, if you want to lighten a color, a large amount of color would be required to lighten it.

°Be cautious when dealing with dark colors such as brown or black since a lot of lighter hue is required to alter the tone.

  • While mixing colors and painting on a larger surface, mix the colors in larger quantities, so you don’t have to prepare it again while painting. Also because the next time you mix the colors, you don’t obtain a color different from the original one. Most of the time’s artists mix the colors based on instinct. 
  • It is important to identify the warm and the cool colors before mixing. For example, to create a warm blue sky, if you combine two warm colors, the results also shall be warm, while combining a warm color with a cool color gives a result in a relatively neutral color tone. 
  • One of the most essential information on parts of color mixing is two jars of water, one for warm and the other for cool colors. This is to be sure that the colors don’t turn muddy. 
  • If one color seems too intense or bright, one can soften it with a complementary color or a little brown. It is called ‘tint down,’ which helps the colors not look dull and vague.
  • It is always recommended to test the mixed colors on paper or canvas from time to time because the colors on paper have a different appearance. You wouldn’t want a different color on the final piece than what you had imagined. 

Color mixing challenge: Going the extra mile! Print out the color mixing challenge from Google and start mixing in the primaries to achieve the colors, both warm and cool, and challenge yourself. You have a lot to pick up from this activity. And it further evolves your knowledge on how colors work together in the medium.


1.How to obtain colors combination with Higher Intensity? 

Answer: Limit the number of colors with pure pigments while mixing colors. This results in higher intensity.

To make lighter or pastel colors stand out more, paint them next to a contrasting darker color. For example, dark green will be more intense if it is surrounded by a light color like lemonintensity.. 

  1. Can we mix acrylics and oils?

Answer: While painting on any porous surface, a layer of gesso or acrylic is applied before painting, or the surface needs to be primed. So while oils can be applied over acrylics, one should never use acrylics over oils. Also, never mix oils with acrylics while painting on any surface. This is because the acrylics can dry and seal the moisture while oil takes a longer span to dry, resulting in either decay or cracks of the painting. 

3.Would you mix the whole colors in that row onto your palette in readiness, or do you mix them as you need them? Do you mix large amounts of each – enough for the whole painting? Being the one who doesn’t like to waste expensive paints, what do we do?

Answer- In the case of oils, colors can be batch mixed at the beginning of a painting. They are slow drying and there is plenty of time before it dries. Also it is motivating to keep going and finish the painting. But if you plan to suspend your work, You may cover the palette lightly with cling wrap and put the mixing dish / palette in a refrigerator for storage. Unless the paint is spread very thinly, it will stay moist for a good 7-10 days.

Acrylics can be kept wet by mixing in a shallow plastic file case – just keep them wet by giving a light spray of water now and again and when you want to finish the session, make sure they are wet and then close the lid.

With watercolors, you can just let them dry and re-activate them with water when needed. Most convenient medium. 

  1. Could you please tell the accurate colors for peacock, especially of its head and feathers?

Answer- A peacock has a blue to turquoise gradient on the neck. Turquoise can be formed by mixing Prussian blue with a deep yellow. Alternatively, you can pick from these colors: ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, teal, and viridian. Also a touch of pthalo green and burnt sienna would be required to balance out the blues. 

  1. What is the most important tool while choosing colors?

Answer: The contrast in tone (light against dark) is the most powerful tool in painting. So if color is a problem, just choose one color plus black and white and try that for a while, an opaque medium. Later on, choose 2 colors plus black and white & so on. This way, you will stay in control of the composition.

  1. Does color combination differ with not only the temperature of color we use but also vary from brand to brand?

Answer: Colors are named differently by various brands, especially in acrylic ranges. Even in the case of watercolors, the appearance of a color may differ from brand to brand. For example, Payne’s grey by one brand may have a bluer tint than by a different brand. 

Colors can also vary depending on time of the day and atmospheric conditions. Selecting the right colors depends on whether you are painting something from life or your reference of a place you know well. Close observation and plenty of practice of mixing colors – mixing warm tones and cool tones, varying the value are the keys to your success.

  1. How do you mix your colors? 

Answer: The paints can be mixed on the palette, creating different colors on the palette itself before applying it on the surface, can be a canvas, paper, or any other surface. Either that or it can be mixed directly on the surface such as an impasto art piece or wet on wet or wet on dry techniques. 

It also depends on the medium and techniques in use. Opaque or heavy body paints like acrylics or oils can be mixed with the help of a knife with an elevated handle or brushes, and water-based mediums like watercolor can be combined with wet on wet technique on paper or with brushes on the palette. It’s a style embedded with the artist and the colors he/she would like to choose. 

  1. How to create the perfect purple? 

Answer: The trick to getting an excellent purple range is to use a red and a blue that does not have an inclination towards yellow in them. If a hint of yellow is in there, the result will be more of a brownish-purple or a grayish-purple.

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