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Does orange and blue make purple?

This is a common question many people have when learning about color mixing. While orange and blue are secondary colors on the color wheel, they do not actually combine to make purple. However, there are some important concepts around color theory that this question brings up.

The Basics of Color Mixing

When it comes to mixing colors, there are a few basic principles to understand:

  • Primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. These cannot be created by mixing other colors.
  • Secondary colors are orange, green, and purple. These are created by mixing two primary colors.
  • Tertiary colors are made by mixing a primary color with a secondary color next to it on the color wheel.

Specifically, the secondary colors are made by mixing the primary colors as follows:

  • Orange = red + yellow
  • Green = yellow + blue
  • Purple = red + blue

So purple contains red and blue, but not yellow. This means that while orange contains yellow and blue contains blue, combining them does not actually produce purple.

The Color Wheel

Looking at a color wheel helps visualize these relationships:

Primary Colors Secondary Colors
Red Orange
Yellow Green
Blue Purple

As you can see, orange is between red and yellow, while purple is between red and blue. So while orange contains some yellow and blue contains some blue, only combining red and blue makes purple.

Color Mixing in Painting

When physically mixing paint colors, the same color relationships apply. Mixing blue and orange paint will not produce purple.

Here is an example mixing chart showing what happens when you combine blue and orange paint:

Color 1 Color 2 Result
Orange Blue Brown

The resulting brown color contains some of the orange and some of the blue, but does not contain enough red to become purple. To make purple, you would need to add red paint.

Light vs. Pigment Mixing

There is an important distinction between mixing colored light and mixing pigments like paint. When combining colored lights, the additive color mixing principles apply:

  • Red + Green = Yellow
  • Red + Blue = Magenta
  • Green + Blue = Cyan

However, when mixing pigments the subtractive color principles apply. That’s why mixing orange and blue paint creates brown instead of purple light.

True Purple vs. Reddish Purple

There are also different shades of purple to consider. While true purple is made of red and blue only, adding extra red creates a more reddish purple. When people refer to mixing orange and blue to make “purple,” they may be referring to a reddish purple rather than true violet purple.

So in summary, mixing pure orange and pure blue will not create true vibrant purple. But mixing reddish-orange and blue may create a less saturated, reddish-purple shade.

Other Color Combinations

Understanding that orange and blue do not actually combine to make purple helps clarify which color mixtures will create different hues. Here are some other examples:

  • Red + Yellow = Orange
  • Yellow + Green = Chartreuse
  • Blue + Green = Teal
  • Red + Purple = Raspberry

There are endless possibilities when mixing colors, using the basic color theory relationships as a starting point. Using a color wheel helps visualize complementary colors, triadic color schemes, and more.

Light and Shadow Colors

Adding white or black paint also affects color mixing. Adding white makes a tint, while adding black makes a shade. So a “purple” could also be created by starting with blue and adding white, black, or gray.

Understanding these color relationships allows artists to mix the exact hues they want. The important thing is to experiment and observe how colors interact as they mix together visually.

Color Mixing Activities

Color mixing is best understood through hands-on activities. Here are some ways to explore color relationships with paint, paper, and more:

  • Make colored dough or fingerpaints to mix
  • Use an color mixing tray with paint
  • Blend pastels and chalk on paper
  • Mix colored water in jars and dropper bottles
  • Overlap colored transparent films or gels

Use a color wheel and take notes on the results. See how adding different amounts of a color shifts the hue and saturation. Over time an intuitive understanding of color theory will develop.

Digital Color Mixing

With digital design programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign color mixing takes place on screen. The same principles apply, but the colors interact with light rather than through pigments.

Digital artists can use the color selection tools to experiment with blending hues, shades, and opacity effects. Complementary color schemes can add visual interest to designs.

Color Mixing in Science

Color theory is applied in many scientific fields including:

  • Biology – Pigments in plants, animals, and microbes
  • Chemistry – Atomic emission spectra
  • Physics – Color and wavelength of light
  • Engineering – Displays and imaging technology
  • Psychology – Perception, cognition, and emotion related to color

Understanding how the eye and brain perceive combinations of wavelengths as color helps scientists understand natural phenomena and develop practical applications.

Cultural and Symbolic Meaning of Color

Beyond the physics and physiology of color, it also carries cultural meanings. Different color palettes and patterns can have significance in art, design, religion, and local traditions. Some examples include:

  • Red, white, and blue in many national flags
  • Saffron colors in Buddhism and Hinduism
  • Purple associated with royalty in Medieval Europe
  • White at weddings in the West, vs. red in China and India

These associations evolved over centuries and are not universal, but are important for visual communication. Using appropriate colors can convey meaning and make connections with an audience.


While orange and blue do not directly mix to make purple, exploring color combinations teaches fundamentals about primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Hands-on mixing activities help build an intuitive sense of color relationships. Understanding the basics of color theory brings science, art, and design together in a practical way.

So even though the original question has a simple answer, it opens up a broad and deep topic. Color mixing is a starting point for meaningful discussions and discoveries about the nature of light and perception.