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How do I choose acrylic paint color?

Choosing colors for an acrylic painting can be an exciting yet daunting task. With so many hues and shades to pick from, it’s hard to know where to start. Selecting the right acrylic paint colors is key to achieving your desired artistic vision. By understanding color theory, planning your palette, and experimenting with mixes, you can confidently choose colors that work in harmony. Follow this guide to learn techniques and tips for selecting dynamic, vibrant acrylic paint colors for your next masterpiece.

Understand Color Theory Basics

Before choosing any paint colors, it’s helpful to understand some basic principles of color theory. This gives you a framework for making color selections that interact well on the canvas. Here are a few key concepts to keep in mind:

  • The color wheel – Reds, yellows and blues are primary colors. Mixing primary colors creates secondary colors like green, purple and orange. Tertiary colors are made by mixing a primary and secondary color. Complementary colors sit opposite each other on the wheel.
  • Color harmony – Related colors work well together, like analogous hues next to each other on the wheel or triadic colors equidistant apart. Colors have temperature as well – warm vs. cool.
  • Value – How light or dark a color is. Creating value contrast adds depth and interest.
  • Hue, chroma, tint and shade – Important properties that affect a color’s look and feel.

Use these fundamentals to make informed color choices that interact in pleasing, harmonious ways.

Plan Your Palette

Once you have a basic grasp of color theory, it’s time to map out a color scheme for your painting. Planning your palette is an important step to prevent colors from clashing or appearing disjointed. Here are some tips for designing a cohesive palette:

  • Pick 1-3 dominant colors as a starting point. These will establish the overall mood.
  • Choose 4-6 supporting colors. Use colors adjacent on the wheel for harmonious blending.
  • Include both warm and cool versions of colors for variety.
  • Mix in neutrals like black, white and browns to add contrast.
  • Limit your palette to avoid colors competing with each other.

It can help to sketch your subject first and identify areas of light, shadows and details. This allows you to strategically choose fitting colors for each section.

Mix and Experiment

With acrylics, the creative possibilities are endless when it comes to mixing custom colors. Be sure to spend time experimenting to find just the right shades and tones for your painting. Here are some mixing tips:

  • Start with smaller mixes – add more paint slowly as needed.
  • Mixing analogous colors creates nice gradients (green to yellow).
  • Deep colors can be lightened with white and softened with gray.
  • Adding a complementary color makes a hue more vibrant.
  • Black, white and grays mute and tone down bright colors.
  • Test mixes on a practice sheet before painting.

Don’t be afraid to play with blending colors on your palette. This exploration will give you lots of nuanced paint options to work with.

Choosing Color for Different Subjects

The colors you select also depend on your painting’s subject matter. Certain color palettes are better suited to convey the right look, feel and mood. Here are suggested palettes for popular subjects:

Subject Recommended Color Palette
Landscapes Earthy greens, yellows, blues and browns
Seascapes Blues, greens, grays, white
Still Life Vibrant primary and secondary colors
Portraits Skin tone colors, muted backgrounds
Abstract Bold primaries, secondaries, black, white

Tailor your acrylic paint color choices to complement what you’re painting. Observing real life subjects can inspire appropriate hues. Let your creative vision guide you too.

Tips for Color Application

Choosing the paint is only half the battle – proper application is key. Here are some tips for applying acrylic paint colors:

  • Start by blocking in large areas of color first. Add details later.
  • Use thicker paint in the foreground and thinner washes further back.
  • Blend colors with soft, feathery brush strokes.
  • Glazing adds transparent layers of color for depth.
  • Wet blending mixes colors directly on the canvas.
  • Dry brushing paint creates texture and interesting effects.

Take time to experiment with different techniques to really make your selected acrylic colors shine. Let the colors and textures enhance each other.


Choosing acrylic paint colors for a new painting involves some planning and experimentation, but the payoff is a vibrant, professional-looking piece. Use color theory as a guide, map out a cohesive palette, test mixes, and tailor your selection to the subject matter. With a balanced, harmonious color scheme and proper application, your artistic vision will come to life in acrylics. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and tweak mixes along the way. Most of all, have fun with color and see where it takes you!