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Does blue and orange make green?

Does blue and orange make green?

When it comes to color mixing, many people wonder if combining blue and orange will result in the color green. At first glance, this may seem plausible since blue and yellow make green, and orange is a mix of red and yellow. However, the actual result of mixing blue and orange paint, light, or other pigments is a bit more complex than that.

The Basics of Color Mixing

To understand if blue and orange make green, it helps to review some color theory basics. The primary colors in painting and traditional color mixing are red, yellow and blue. When you mix two primary colors, you get a secondary color as follows:

  • Red + Yellow = Orange
  • Yellow + Blue = Green
  • Blue + Red = Violet

Based on this, it would be logical to conclude that mixing blue and orange paint should result in a green color. However, that is not the case.

Why Blue and Orange Don’t Make Green

When blue and orange paint or pigment are combined, the resulting color is not green. Instead, the blue and orange mix to create a brownish or dull tan hue. This is because paint mixing relies on subtractive color mixing, while the primary/secondary color combinations rely on additive color mixing.

Additive mixing involves combining different wavelengths of light. In additive mixing, blue light mixed with orange light would theoretically yield a greenish color. However, paint and pigment mixing use subtractive color mixing. This means colors subtract wavelengths from white light to create the perception of different hues.

In subtractive mixing, each paint or pigment absorbs and reflects different wavelengths. The wavelengths that are reflected back to our eyes are perceived as color. When blue and orange paint are mixed together, the combination absorbs a lot of the wavelengths and reflects back a muddy brown shade instead of green.

Color Mixing Models

To help further illustrate why blue and orange don’t combine to make green, it is useful to look at some common color mixing models that show paint and light mixing results:

RYB Color Model

The RYB or red, yellow, blue color model is a traditional color mixing system. The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. In RYB mixing, orange is a secondary color made from red and yellow. If you mix blue and orange paint in this system, you get a brown tone, not green.

Color 1 Color 2 Mixed Color
Red Yellow Orange
Blue Orange Brown

RGB Model

The RGB or red, green, blue color model is an additive color system used for mixing light. With light, the primary colors are red, green, and blue. When you combine red and green light, you get yellow light. Mixing blue and orange light makes a yellowish-green color.

Color 1 Color 2 Mixed Color
Red Green Yellow
Blue Orange Yellow-green

CMYK Model

The CMYK color model is a subtractive system used in printing and ink mixing. The primary colors are cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (key). In CMYK, orange contains yellow and magenta. When you mix cyan and orange ink, you get a neutral dark brown tone, not green.

Color 1 Color 2 Mixed Color
Cyan Magenta Blue
Cyan Orange Dark brown

As you can see from these models, the result of mixing blue and orange heavily depends on whether we are talking about adding light wavelengths or mixing pigments.

Mixing Paint, Light, and Pigments

Now that we’ve covered the color theory behind blue and orange mixing, let’s take a more practical look at what happens when you combine these colors using different media.

Paint Mixing

When mixing blue and orange paint, such as acrylic, oil, gouache, or watercolor, the resulting color will be a type of brown. More specifically, mixing a primary blue pigment like phthalo or ultramarine blue with a warm orange containing cadmium red or yellow will make a muddy, brownish tan.

Adding white paint to this mix will lighten the brown into more of a beige tone. Darkening the mixture with black will result in a more neutral dark brown. The paint blend will never yield a vivid green, no matter the orange and blue shades used.

Light Mixing

Combining pure blue light and orange light will produce a yellow-green color. This is due to the additive mixing principles in RGB color theory. However, mixing colored light is more difficult in practice than mixing paints.

One way to observe the green color is to shine an orange colored light and blue colored light at the same spot on a white wall. Where the lights overlap, the eye will perceive a greenish hue. You can also mix colored light bulbs or gels in lighting to see the effect.

Pigment Mixing

Outside of paints, mixed media artists can explore combining blue and orange through other pigments. Colored pencils, pastels, inks, and dyes all use subtractive mixing so will make various shades of brown when blended.

Computer and digital mixing with RGB programs like Photoshop provide the opportunity to mix blue and orange to get a yellow-green hue. This also demonstrates that pigment versus light mixing have very different results.

Tips for Mixing Blue and Orange

When experimenting with blending blue and orange, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Start with a small amount of paint or pigment until you get the desired hue
  • Mixing blue and orange light sources takes special setups and colored gels/bulbs
  • Be aware of the color properties of the specific paints or media you are using
  • Test out mixing different types of oranges and blues
  • Adding white will lighten the mixture to beige; black will darken it
  • Digital programs can simulate both subtractive and additive mixing


In summary, blue and orange do not make green when using traditional paint and pigment mixing. This is due to the subtractive principles that govern how paint colors interact. Only when working with light and digital programs can you get green from the combination, and even then the hue tends to be muted or yellowish.

Understanding the color theory behind mixing orange and blue is helpful for artists and designers exploring color relationships. While the brain may expect them to blend to green, the physics of light and pigments does not actually allow that result with physical materials. However, the color interactions remain interesting to experiment and play with.