MIXING PAINT
 

 
IntroductionColor VisionMixing LightSubtractive ColorPaintingPhotosPrinting
   MIXING PAINT

Paint colors can be mixed to make other colors. Mixing paint colors utilizes the "subtractive" principles of color mixing.

Color art media is already provided in a great variety of colors. However, by mixing colors together to make other colors, it is possible to limit the starting colors to just a few. Such a select group of colors yields a color pallet.

Artists have used various groups of colors or pallets to do their paintings. Their choice of colors has often given their paintings a special look or style.    Acrylic Painting

Even limiting the colors to just the three subtractive primary colors, along with black and white, makes possible the creation of most other colors.

However, art is a creative process, and need not be limited to any one group of colors. Hundreds of different colors of premixed acrylic, oil, and watercolor paints are available for use. If the exact color is needed over large areas, then ready mixed colors may be helpful. 

Our knowing the exact colors and amounts to mix to get a desired mixed color may not come readily to us. Often it takes patience and much experimenting to become proficient at mixing colors. With practice, a person may be able to look at a color and discern what individual colors are required to produce that color.

OPAQUE VERSUS TRANSPARENT COLORS

Color paint can be either opaque or transparent. Opaque paint will usually cover over whatever is underneath it. This could be the canvas or paper. Opaque paint can also cover over other colors, especially after the underlying layer is dried.

Transparent paint is clear and allows for the surface beneath to be seen. Again, this could be the canvas or paper or other colors.

Both opaque and transparent paint can be mixed prior to applying to the canvas or paper. They can also be mixed right on the surface of the canvas or paper. If the underlying layer of paint has not dried, adding color over it is called "wet on wet".

Transparent colors can also be mixed by painting one layer over the other after the underlying layer is allowed to dry. The colors underneath will show through. The layers of color will appear mixed. However, the result may not always be the same as mixing the colors before applying the paint all at once.

 MAKING COLORS LIGHTER OR DARKER

The easiest way to lighten or darken opaque paint is by mixing it with black and white paint. Opaque paint can also be darkened by combining with a complementary color.

Transparent paint such as watercolor can likewise be darkened with black. However, to lighten transparent colors, usually water or other clear medium is used to dilute the color. The white paper surface will show through the diluted color and make the color appear lighter.

Transparent color lightened by mixing with water Adding water to transparent color to lighten
Opaque color lightened by mixing with white paint Adding white to opaque color to lighten
Opaque color darken by mixing with black paint Adding black to opaque to darken color

EXAMPLES OF COLOR MIXING

   
MIXING THESE
COLORS
  GETS THIS
COLOR


cyan

+


yellow

=


green


cyan

+
magenta
=

blue
blue


magenta

+


yellow

=


red


some
magenta

+


yellow

=


orange


yellow

+


red

=


orange


red

+


white

=


pink


green

+


black

=


dark green


some

magenta

+


some

cyan

+


some
yellow

=

brown
brown

     

OTHER COLOR DIFFERENCES

Hue (the actual name of a color) along with brightness and saturation can produce a great number of different shades.*

HUES (COLOR)
Hues are the colors themselves, such as, red, yellow, violet, green, blue, etc.

red

yellow

violet

   
BRIGHTNESS We can call it a dark yellow or a light yellow. Brightness is also called the value of the color.

dark

between

light

SATURATION
Saturation is how much of the color is present. The color can be diluted with black, white, or gray.

pale
(add white)

as is

 

grayed
(add black)

THE QUALITY OF THE LIGHT SOURCE

If one is creating  a painting, the source of light is important. It can actually make a difference in the appearance of the final painting. So you may hear of a painter using sun and skylight from a certain direction, such as northern light.

Artificial electric light sources vary greatly in their color. To our eyes, these light sources may appear as white. However, there may be differences in the quality or the color of the light. Tungsten light bulbs are usually more yellowish white than fluorescent or CFL lights. This is why cameras often have a "white balance" adjustment to correct the lighting. 

If we mix color paint under these different light sources, the resultant mixed colors may vary somewhat.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

Q: What happened to Red and Blue being primary colors?

A: Red and Blue are still alive as part of a red-yellow-blue trio.

1. The red yellow and blue group is sometimes used by schools to introduce children to color and to the wonders of color mixing.

The familiar starting hues of bright yellow, saturated red and deep blue will most likely hold their attention. Then their enthusiasm may soar when they see newly formed orange, purple and green hues appear mysteriously out of their mixtures.

A red yellow and blue color wheel
  Traditional
Red Yellow Blue

Color Wheel

2. There is an opinion that suitable magenta and cyan paint falls short of workable mixing colors. Also, the way different color media combine differently when mixed appears to add to this opinion. For example, a mixture of magenta and yellow ink may produce an intense red that does not look the same as a red made from a mixture of magenta and yellow paint which may look lack-luster. So in the absence of appropriate mixing media to make a suitable red when magenta paint is mixed with yellow, a ready-made red will fix the problem.

3. The tradition of using red yellow and blue as primary colors in painting has given the trio an historical status. "Red" "yellow" and "blue" were the original three colors picked as the primary colors for mixing paints centuries ago. Keep in mind that whatever the colors may be, the mixing together of color paint always utilizes the "subtractive" process of color mixing.

4. Although red and blue may be considered workable primary colors by some, their designation as primary colors may bar a more definitive understanding of the art and science of color mixing.

Q: What colors do I need to make mixtures that are not shown on this website?

A: It is beyond the scope of this website to list what colors can be used to make the millions of colors* that our eyes can see. Aside from a book or app for color mixing, sometimes practice and lots of trial and error will provide the answer.

* Note: Barring any condition of color-blindness, the human eye is able to see millions of colors. However, it may be difficult to see the difference in colors that are very similar. Usually holding one shade up to another is the only way to really see the difference.

 

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All text, images and animations are by Robert Truscio © 1997, 2016.