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Have you ever mixed red and blue paint only to find you have “mud” instead of purple? Want to know how to create any color you may need for an art project? Now it’s time to learn how. Lack of good information has made mixing colors unnecessarily difficult in the past. Before the invention of color photography, color mixing was not very well understood, and it was believed that red, yellow, and blue were the primary colors, from which all other colors could be made. Now we know that magenta, yellow, and cyan are the true primaries and give much better results. You may have been taught the old way, since it is still believed by many people, but until you have tried mixing colors with the up to date, correct primaries, you won’t believe what a difference they make.
Check your paint supplies. Magenta, yellow, and cyan are needed in order to make some colors.
Find the color you want and follow the instructions below it. Each color chip represents a whole range of possibilities, and you can adjust the amounts of paint you use to obtain the exact color you’re looking for. For example, any light color can be made lighter or darker by adding more or less white. Complements are opposite colors on an accurate RGB/CMYK color wheel.
Magenta: Magenta can’t be mixed from other colors. You will have to buy it.
Light Magenta: Add white to magenta.
Dark Magenta: Add a small amount of black or green to magenta. Green is magenta’s complement.
Dull Magenta: Add both white and black (or green) to magenta.
Red: Add a small amount of yellow or orange to magenta.
Light Red (Salmon pink, coral): Add white to red. Less white and more red for coral.
Dark Red: Add a small amount of black or cyan to red. Cyan is red’s complement.
Dull Red: Add both white and black (or cyan) to red.
Orange: Mix yellow with magenta or red.
Light Orange (Peach): Add white to orange.
Dark Orange (Brown): Add a small amount of black or blue to orange. Or mix red and green. Blue is orange’s complement.
Dull Orange (Light Brown): Add both white and black (or blue) to orange.
Yellow: Yellow can’t be mixed from other colors. You will have to buy it.
Light Yellow: Add white to yellow.
Dark Yellow (Olive Green): Add a small amount of black or violet-blue to yellow. Violet-blue is yellow’s complement.
Dull Yellow (Light Olive): Add both white and black (or violet-blue) to yellow.
Lime Green: Add a small amount of green or cyan to yellow.
Light Lime: Add white to lime green.
Dark Lime: Add a small amount of black or purple to lime green. Purple is lime green’s complement.
Dull Lime: Add both white and black (or purple) to lime green.
Green: Mix cyan and yellow.
Light Green: Add white to green.
Dark Green: Add a small amount of black or magenta to green. Magenta is green’s complement.
Gray-Green: Add both white and black (or magenta) to green.
Teal Green: Mix cyan with a small amount of yellow or green.
Light Teal: Add white to teal green.
Dark Teal: Add a small amount of black (or magenta-red) to teal green. Magenta-red is teal green’s complement.
Gray-Teal: Add both white and black (or magenta-red) to teal green.
Cyan (turquoise blue): Cyan can’t be mixed from other colors. You will have to buy it.
Light Cyan: Add white to cyan.
Dark Cya n: Add a small amount of black or red to cyan. Red is cyan’s complement.
Gray-Cyan: Add both white and black (or red) to cyan.
Blue: Add a small amount of purple or magenta to cyan.
Light Blue: Add white to blue.
Dark Blue: Add a small amount of black or orange to blue. Orange is blue’s complement.
Gray-Blue: Add both white and black (or orange) to blue.
Violet-Blue: Mix magenta with cyan or blue.
Light Violet (Lavender): Add white to violet.
Dark Violet-Blue: Add a small amount of black or yellow to violet-blue. Yellow is violet’s complement.
Grayish Violet-Blue: Add both white and black (or yellow) to violet-blue.
Purple: Mix magenta with a small amount of cyan, blue, or violet.
Light Purple : Add white to purple.
Dark Purple: Add a small amount of black or lime green to purple. Lime green is purple’s complement.
Dull Purple: Add both white and black (or lime green) to purple.
Black: You can make black by mixing any two complements or any three colors spaced evenly around an accurate CMY/RGB color wheel, such as red, green, and blue. If you get a dark color instead of true black, correct it by adding the complement of that color.
White: White can’t be mixed. You will have to buy it.
Gray: Gray is black and white mixed together. See black, above.
- Study the color you wish to make, analyzing it according to three “dimensions,” hue, saturation, and value.
Hue refers to a color’ s position on the color wheel, red, orange, yellow, etc., plus all the intermediate colors such as red-orange and orange-yellow. Some examples: Pink’s hue is magenta or red (or something in between). Brown’s hue is orange because brown is dark orange.
Saturated colors are rich, bright colors, like those in the rainbow or on the color wheel. Pale colors (tints), dark colors (shades), and muted colors (tones) are less saturated.
Value refers to light versus dark. High-value colors are light (closer to white); low-value colors are dark (closer to black). For example, bright yellow is a relatively light, high-value color. But its value can be increased even more by adding white to make pale yellow. Bright blue is naturally dark, a low-value color, but dark blue is even lower in value.
Understand the theory. There are many ways to mix any given color, but here are some guidelines to help you.
Magenta, yellow, and cyan (turquoise blue) are the “subtractive” primary colors. This means that they can be combined to make any other color, but cannot themselves be mixed from other colors. Subtractive primaries are used when mixing pigments such as inks, dyes, and paints.
Magenta and yellow mixed together make reds and oranges.
Yellow and cyan mixed together make greens.
Cyan and magenta mixed together make blues and purples.
If you arrange your color wheel as a triangle, with magenta, yellow, and cyan in the three corners, then to get bright colors, just mix any of the colors on one side only of the triangle. For example, you can mix magenta with orange or yellow to make red, red with yellow to make orange, or orange with red to make orange-red. There’s no need to limit yourself to using only the primaries, and if you want really bright colors, you’ll find that mixing colors nearer each other on the color wheel will give you better results anyway.
If you mix colors from two different sides of the triangle, for example blue and red, you won’t get a bright color. Blue and red together make a dark purplish color.
For an unsaturated color like brown (dark orange), you can adjust the hue the same way as you would for bright orange, by adding small amounts of nearby colors on the color wheel: magenta, yellow, red, or orange. But since brown is not a bright color, you can also use colors from other sides of the triangle like green or blue. The former will brighten your brown, as well as changing the hue. The latter will darken it.
Low saturation colors (colors that aren’t bright) come in three basic varieties: tints (light colors), shades (dark colors), and tones (muted, dull colors).
Any color can be lightened by adding white. For a very light color it’s better to add your main color to the white a little at a time so you don’t waste paint.
Any color can be darkened by adding black. Painters usually prefer, however, to add the color’s complement, which is its opposite color on an accurate CMY/RGB color wheel. For example, green will darken magenta and magenta will darken green, because they are across from each other on the color wheel. Add black or a complement a little at a time so you don’t overdo it.
By adding both white and black (or white and the color’s complement), you can make your color muted, grayish, or dull. By varying the relative amounts of black and white you add to your mix, you can obtain whatever value and saturation you’re looking for. Example: add both white and blue to orange to make light brown. Blue will darken orange, and white will lighten it. Different light browns can be mixed by controlling how much of each is added.
Black can be made by mixing any two complements, but it can also be mixed from three or more colors evenly spaced around the color wheel. Just make sure you don’t add any white or any color that has white in it. If what you want is gray, then go ahead and add white.
White can’t be mixed from other paints Like the three primaries, magenta, yellow, and cyan, it will have to be purchased, unless you are working in a medium like watercolor in which your paper provides the white you need.
Plan your strategy on how to mix colors.
- Here are some examples:
You may have a brown in your paintbox, but it’s not quite the brown you need. Think about the hue, value, and saturation of the color you have and of the color you want, and make the adjustments. For example, brown is dark orange. Its hue can be changed toward red or toward yellow (orange’s neighbors on the color wheel). Its value can be made lighter (whiter) or darker (more blue, which is orange’s complement, or more black). And its saturation can be changed toward color-rich (more orange) or toward color-poor (more black and white). Because brown is not a bright color (low saturation), a small amount of any color can be added to it to make adjustments. Colors from another side of the color triangle will darken it, while colors from the orange side of the triangle will brighten it.
Here’s another example. You’ve mixed red and white to make pink, but your pink is too bright and too warm (yellowish). To correct the warm hue, you will have to add some magenta. To dull your bright pink, you will have to add either white, its complement (or black), or both. You need to decide whether you want a grayish pink (add the complement) or just a lighter pink (add white). If you plan to adjust the hue with magenta and dull your pink with green or cyan (complements of magenta and red), you could combine those steps by using a color that is in between magenta and cyan, like blue.
Mix your colors, and get going on that masterpiece! If all this sounds overwhelming, you may just need some practice. Making yourself a color reference booklet can be a good way to practice using the principles of color theory. Even printing one on your computer can provide you with a helpful reference until you’ve gotten more practice and are starting to find the process more intuitive. How to Make Yourself a Color Reference Booklet
When mixing paints, add small amounts to adjust a color. You can always add more. This is especially true for black and blue, which tend to be very dominant. Add a little at a time until you get the result you want.
You can use your eyes to find complementary colors. This is the old trick of staring at the color then looking at a white surface. You will see the opposite color appear due to the “color fatigue” of your eyes.
If you have trouble with the magenta, yellow, cyan paradigm, you can think of magenta as a certain kind of red, and cyan as a certain kind of blue. These are not the same red and blue which, together with green, are the additive primary colors for mixing light, as opposed to pigment, and which are used in technologies such as TV, computer monitors, and cameras. In fact, magenta, yellow, and cyan are the opposite colors of green, blue, and red respectively. Remember, “the proof is in the pudding,” and the correct primaries will be the ones that work best. Can you make bright magenta and cyan (turquoise blue) from yellow, blue, and red? No. Can you make bright blue and red from magenta, yellow, and cyan? Yes. You will only know if you actually try it.
Finding good primary colors to buy can be tricky. Look for magenta that doesn’t contain any white or blue pigments (PW and PB). Violet and Red pigments such as PV19 and PR122 are best. PB15:3 is a good cyan. PB15 and PG7 are good too. If you’re looking for craft paint or icing colors, you can try to match the colors in printer ink. Either print a sample from your computer printer to take shopping with you, or look for the primary colors inside the flaps of a box of cereal or cookies.
Things You’ll Need
- Palette – Disposable paper ones are nice.
- Mixing knife or palette knife (any size will do)
- Watercolor paper or primed canvas (there are pads available of both at your local art supply store; actual primed canvas is good)
- Containers of water or paint thinner for cleaning brushes
- Synthetic brush of your choice (#8 round or #6 flat is good)
- Spray bottle to keep paint moist
- Paper towel for blotting and cleaning brush
- Color Wheel – How to Construct a Color Wheel
- A smock or an old shirt you would not mind getting dirty
- How to Construct a Color Wheel
- How to Mix Colors to Get Turquoise
- How to Mix Paint Colors to Make Brown
- How to Paint With Watercolors as a Novice
- How to Oil Paint
- How to Make Brown from Primary Colors
- How to Mix a Bright Pretty Pink in Oils
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