Color Mixing Guide

Here's a color mixing guide for watercolor, acrylic and oil painting techniques. Have you seen the "primary color"-scheme (red, yellow and dark blue)? They're a good start - but with two more colors you can do a lot more, like mixing vribrant greens and purples. With this color mixing guide of five colors (seven, when you include black and white), you can mix every possible hue. Check here more color theory.

Basic colors for good mixing

With the following five colors (seven when you add black and white), you can mix every possible hue. Scroll down for examples, to see what colors will mix other pure and strong colors - all prismatic colors - rainbow or light colors. If you make other combinations, you'll get more shaded tones - brownish and greyish shades.

Yellow
Vermillion red
Carmine, Burgundy

Yellow

Vermillion Red (warm red)

Carmine (cold red)

Prussian blue
Ultramarine

Prussian blue (cold blue)

Ultramarine blue (warm blue)












Together with black and white, you can mix all other colors with these five hues. In this list the blues and reds are split in a 'warm' and a 'cold' blue and red.

  • Alizarine and Ultramarine, the cold red and warm blue, wil mix great purples and violets.
  • The warm red, with yellow, will make pure oranges and golden yellow.
  • Yellow and the cold and 'turquoise' Prussian blue wil mix strong, pure greens.
  • Alizarine carmine, mixed with white, will make an almost pure magenta (chemical pink).

Scroll down for a ready-to-order list of paint color names.

Color mixing guide - examples

Here's how you mix all other prismatic hues. Prismatic colors are pure, strong rainbow-colors with no 'smudge' in them. These are graphic examples, made with web-safe colors to guarantee the best color depiction. Some deviation may still occur (depending on your screen age etc). If, in real life, your color is too dark, add a little white (it will stay pure).


Ultramarine with a little prussian blue give a cobalt blue, like the sky on a clear day. You'll need to add a little white, and Prussian will become turquoise when mixed with white.

mixing-turquoise-ultramarine.jpg

Cadmium red and cadmium yellow give a range of yellows and oranges - including a 'golden yellow'(with just a bit of red mixed in)

mixing yellow and red

Cadmium red and Alizarine Crimson give a wide range of reds

mixing light red and alizarine crimson

Ultramarine and Alizarine Crimson give a range of blue-violets, violets and purples, and may also need a little white.

mixing turquoise and ultramarine

Prussian blue and yellow give a strong and bright greens: from seagreen, to strong parrot green, to yellowgreen

mixing turquoise and yellow

Yellow and Ultramarine will produce more of a dull leaf-green.

mixing ultramarine and yellow

Experiment with them, at first only two at a time, and see what comes out. After that, add a third color to see what greens, browns and greys you can make. This will help you a lot in learning how to paint. Also check this page on basic color theory.

From prismatic colors to 'earth' colors

The above colors still are 'rainbow 'colors or prismatic colors - pure, strong colors - not at all like the browns-and-greens in a natural landscape. First just try them out, two at a time. After mixing two colors, add bits of a third color and you'll see earthy browns and greens appear. Some tips for mixing:

  • Start with one base color and add little bits of the other, little by little (for saving paint)
  • Stir well in between, take your time to see what comes out
  • When mixing yellow and blue, you'll need more yellow because it's a light color
  • Use a palette knife (or a kitchen knife) for stirring, it saves paint.

Isn't it great to have just five colors and being able to mix all other hues? Painting with these colors works as a color mixing guide on itself. You can make them darker or lighter with black and white. So, with seven colors, you'll have a complete starter's color list. Scroll down for the color names in acrylic- and oil painting techniques. What colors you have to mix depends on what you want to paint. You can learn about this with some basic color theory

Paint color names for oils

  • Titanium white or mixing white (a very big tube of it)
  • French ultramarine
  • Prussian blue (blick) or Cobalt turquoise
  • Cadmium yellow (blick) (or yellow lemon)
  • Cadmium red light
  • Alizarine crimson
  • Mars black (iron oxyde black)

These are the paint color names of the above color mixing guide, in Blick Oil Colors. Blick is a big online supplier of professional art materials. They offer good quality, and a big company like that can offer good prices. They have two oil paint house brands: Blick Oil Colors is a cheaper student-grade linseed-oil paint, and Blick Artists' Oil Color is a safflower-oil artist-grade paint. Linseed oil actually is better for adherence, only it yellows sometimes and safflower oil doesn't. Yellowed linseed-oil paint goes clear again when put in the daylight. Blick also has other known brands of professional oil paint (Winsor and Newton, Rembrandt and Old Holland). Click here for the paint color names of Rembrandt and Winsor & Newton, and here for info on different oil paint brands, with extra tips on mixing, and an economy-quality list of oil painting colors.

More on oil painting

Oil paint is only a raw ingredient, and general info (and painting habits) are usually not that reliable. Everyone uses acrylic gesso as a primer, but in house painting, we all know it's not a good idea to put oils over acrylic paint. In this oil painting guide you'll find recipes and info, on both modern and classical painting supplies, that will help you make your oil paintings become time-resistent.

Color mixing guide - acrylic paint color names

These colors were picked from Blick Artists' Acrylics:
  • Titanium white (a bigger jar)
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Turquoise green
  • Cadmium yellow light (or cheaper: Yellow medium azo)
  • Cadmium red light (or cheaper: Cadmium red light hue)
  • Mars black

  • For carmine, take another brand: Golden Historic Artist Acrylics and choose

  • Alizarine Crimson Hue

  • Most color names are the same in other brands, but be careful with turquoise (it's often too dark) and carmine - in acrylic paint, it's usually too light.

    Color mixing guide for mixing neutrals

    When you mix contrasting colors, you get a more or less neutral dark grey, but each of these combinations gives a different kind of grey. Contrasting colors are:

    • yellow and violet (mixed by magenta and ultramarine blue)
    • magenta and green (Viridian green, or a green mixed by yellow and blue)
    • Carmine and viridian green (idem ditto)
    • orange and ultramarine

    Yellow and blue-violet

    yellow
    blue violet

    Orange and ultramarine

    orange
    ultramarine

    Vermillion-red and turquoise

    Vermillion red
    Turquoise

    Carmine and viridian green

    Carmine
    Viridian green

    The funny thing is: if you mix these colors, they go black(ish) - but if you put them side by side, they make each other's color come out. When a brown (toned down orange) and a toned down blue are put side by side, their "orangeness" and "blueness" come out - they start to flirt. When you put prismatic and contrasting colors side by side, they'll do a scream contest. But if you mix them, they turn into a dirty brownish grey. Click here for more on contrast.

    One thing oldfashioned primary colors are good for

    For realistic and natural painting with sedated colors, the three primary colors (red, yellow, blue) can be a good option. I've seen paintings that looked completely naturalistic, that were actually painted with only a strong red, yellow and blue. Everything has to be mixed first. Black and white can be used for extra lightness and darkness. It can be a good mixing excercise to work with only three colors, and achieve all the rest with that. Some options:

  • Yellow, alizarine crimson and ultramarine: sedated reds and greens, nice purples
  • Yellow, alizarine crimson and prussian blue: strong greens, muddy purples and sedate, natural reds
  • Yellow, vermillion and prussian blue: strong oranges/reds, strong greens, deep red will be brownish, very muddy purples
  • Yellow, vermillion and ultramarine: strong reds, muddy purples, sedate greens
  • Each of these combinations will have its own mood. For portraits, it's best to have alizarine crimson for reds, and for luscious green, it's best to take prussian blue. For dreamy night scenes, use alizarine crimson and ultramarine. For yellow, take a cold yellow (cadmium or azo yellow light). It makes good greens, and can be warmed with either of the reds.

    A limited palette helps to create a unified basis. If you take your time to mix them carefully, you'll still have a big range of colors. If you like pure colors in all color groups though, it's best to use the color mixing guide above.

    List of earth colors

    List of earth colors

    Here are the most important earth colors:

    • a - yellow ochre
    • b - raw umber
    • c - burnt siena
    • d - burnt umber
    • e - caput mortuum
    • f - green earth

    Once you figured out the basics of the above color mixing guide, it's good to start working with these earth colors - one by one. The colors from the color mixing guide are prismatic colors - really, they are light colors, like rainbow colors. Earth colors are like their earthly appearance. Earth colors are made of earth, they're types of ready found (raw or burned) clay. They can give the prismatic rainbow-colors a good basis, and you can use them to make your basic colors more shaded and natural (good trick: using one earth tone to tone down all your colors - they'll harmonize much better).

    The basic color list mentioned in the color mixing guide above is necessary for learning how paint colors mix. But after that, it's good to use earth colors for imprimature and underpainting, and add the brighter colors later (especially if you like a natural, realistic painting style). You can mix browns yourself too if you want to: click here to see what colors make brown. But buying them is easier.

    This list of earth colors is a basic one - there are more kinds available, but these colors all have a very specific function in classical oil painting techniques. The color names in the list above guarantee the right shade, as long as you don't buy tubes of paint with "hue" added to their name. Click here for more info on colors for oil painting - with info on brands, pigments and an economy-quality pick.

    Besides the lightness, the most important difference between the different browns is their color temperature. Burnt siena is the warmest brown, it's almost red. Raw umber is a cool brown, leaning towards green. Burnt umber is the darkest one, and also relatively warm. Caput mort is also cooler, but more towards magenta (instead of green). And yellow ochre is a warm color too.

    Additional colors for mixing

    The basic color mixing guide list, plus the earth colors, will cover most of your needs. But there are additional colors with a great use, that you can add for practical or sentimental reasons. Cadmium yellow and red have a certain coldness and a very strong hide - for a transparant yellow or orange you need to add painting medium or get another color (my favorite: gold lake from Old Holland Paints). Dioxazine Violet is great for combining with oranges and warm yellow - a magenta interval color is formed relatively easy. Viridian green is a unique, very transparant blueish green - the only kind of green you can't really get by mixing. It's the most immaterial green available - I couldn't do without it. Indigo is a very dark night-blue. Technically, you can mix it by putting ultramarine and black together. But it's nice having it ready made.

    Some colors seem to be designed to represent a very specific mood or character. Permanent red, viridian green or ultramarine blue represent color effects that are truly an enrichment to the range of natural pigments that were available before. A little basic color theory can help understand more about these effects. This wil help you to create you own artistic set of painting techniques. If you know, by heart, why you apply a color, your painting will be more authentic and convincing.

    Color mixing guide for greens

    Any kind of yellow/orange mixed with any kind of blue, gives a green. There are thousands of kinds of greens. The way you mix green really depends on your painting. Two general ways of mixing green are already indicated in the color mixing guide higher on this page. But if there's blue or orange/yellow in your painting, you can make a harmonizing green by using the blue or yellow already present on your painting. But even though greens can be mixed, it's still good to have some green pigments at hand. These colors represent certain basic qualities:

    • Viridian green - a very transparant, pure, cold, strong and utterly immaterial bluish green. Like menthol. You can't mix it.
    • Green earth - everything you paint in green earth and white becomes like an immaterial dream or memory. But the immaterialness is different from viridian green: green earth is like a dream in the past, and viridian green is very much "here and now".
    • chromium oxyde green, a good base-color for foliage.

    Color mixing with viridian green

    Viridian green is great for mixing a wide range of greens and turquoise. If you mix it with yellow, you get the strongest lime-green, if you mix viridian green with cyan or phtalo blue, you get turquoise, and mixed with any earth color, you get all kinds of shades of natural foliage-green. And viridian with indigo (dark blue) or violet becomes a highly interesting and scary dark petrol green.

    Mixing fleshtones

    Here are some tips for flesh tones, but it's best to look at the person you want to paint. I can write a color mixing guide for fleshtones, but the only way to make sure you pick the right one, is by comparing them directly to the person you'll paint. Before a portrait painting session, it's good to prepare a little color chart of flesh colors. Hold them up to the persons face, and you'll see what's needed. Click here for more on portrait painting techniques Try out these recipes:

    • burnt siena and white
    • English red and white
    • Yellow ochre, alizarine crimson and white
    • for Asian skintones, use a little more yellow ochre and some raw umber
    • for olive skintones, add raw umber
    • for dark skintones, add burnt umber

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