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How do you make skin tone color?


There are a few key things to consider when trying to mix the perfect skin tone color for painting or other creative projects. First, it’s important to understand the basic color theory behind skin tones. Human skin contains undertones of red, yellow, and blue. The amount of each undertone varies depending on factors like ethnicity, age, and exposure to sunlight. When mixing skin tones, you generally want to use warm shades like yellows, reds, and oranges. Cooler shades like blues and purples can mute or gray the skin tone. The ratios of paint you use impact the depth and vibrancy of the color. Mixing complementary colors like red and green can also desaturate the tone. So balancing your paints thoughtfully is important. You also need to consider highlights and shadows which add dimension. Light skin tones use white to highlight and dark browns or grays to shadow. Darker skin tones use browns, oranges or yellows to highlight and cooler darker shades like purple or blue for shadow. So understanding these color relationships is key to blending realistic and nuanced skin tones.

Choosing Your Paints

When mixing skin tones, you want to select paints that offer richness, transparency and tinting strength. Opaque paints can sometimes appear flat or chalky. Here are some good paint options:

  • Cadmium red, yellow and orange for warmth and vibrancy
  • Burnt Sienna for rich reddish-brown undertones
  • Yellow Ochre for golden hues
  • Raw Umber for neutral browns
  • Dioxazine Purple to desaturate and deepen shadow tones
  • Titanium White to lighten and highlight

Avoid black paint, which can come across as lifeless. Mixing complementary colors together is a better way to darken a color without dulling it. When selecting your medium, oils and acrylics both blend well for mixing skin tones. Watercolors can be more challenging with their transparency but are useful for soft gradations.

Mixing Light, Medium and Dark Skin Tones

Here are some examples of paint ratios you can use to mix basic skin tone colors for light, medium and dark skin:

Light Skin Tones

  • 1 part Cadmium Yellow or Yellow Ochre
  • 1 part Cadmium Red or Burnt Sienna
  • 8 parts Titanium White

Add more yellow for warmer golden skin or more red for cooler pink skin.

Medium Skin Tones

  • 2 parts Cadmium Yellow or Yellow Ochre
  • 1 part Cadmium Red or Burnt Sienna
  • 5 parts Titanium White

Increase the red or yellow to saturate the color. Add white sparingly to avoid muddiness.

Dark Skin Tones

  • 1 part Cadmium Yellow or Yellow Ochre
  • 2 parts Cadmium Red or Burnt Sienna
  • 1 part Ultramarine Blue

Use more yellow for golden undertones or more blue for cooler ebony tones. Avoid adding white which will diminish vibrancy.

These basic mixes serve as a starting point but skin tones have endless nuances. Test your colors on a palette before applying to your work surface.

Highlighting and Shading Skin Tones

Highlights and shadows breathe life into a skin tone painting. Here are tips for effective highlighting and shading:


  • Light Skin – Add Titanium or Zinc White to lighten skin and create highlights
  • Medium Skin – Mix in Yellow Ochre, Naples Yellow or other yellows
  • Dark Skin – Use browns, oranges, yellows. Avoid graying the color with white
  • Apply highlights to convex or raised areas that would naturally catch the light like forehead, nose, cheeks


  • Light Skin – Mix in browns, grays or Blues to deepen tones for shadows
  • Medium Skin – Add Browns, Burnt Sienna or Sienna to deepen the skin tone naturally
  • Dark Skin – Blues, purples and grays create nice shadows. You can also deepen with Browns.
  • Add shadows in concave or sunken areas like eye sockets, under the nose, neck and chin

Use soft edges between your highlights and shadows to prevent harsh transitions. Building up layers also helps blend tones smoothly for a more natural look. Don’t forget reflected light–areas in shadow pick up light bouncing off nearby surfaces. Subtle highlights can give shadows more dimension.

Practicing Mixing Realistic Skin Tones

Mixing skin tones takes practice and observation. Try these exercises to improve your color mixing for different skin tones:

  • Paint color swatches of light, medium and dark skin starting with the base mixes provided above
  • Refer to color photos of different skin types to mimic the undertones and lighting
  • Mix the same skin tone under different lighting like sunlight, candlelight and shade
  • Paint sections of a portrait and experiment with highlight and shadow to create form
  • Blend multiple swatches together wet into wet to practice smooth transitions
  • Study your own skin color closely in a mirror to observe undertones and color variations

The more you practice observing and mixing skin tones from life, the more nuanced your colors will become. Be patient with yourself as skin tones can be one of the most complex elements to recreate accurately. But don’t be afraid to experiment and find colors that capture the skin tones you want.

Tips for Photographing Diverse Skin Tones

Photographing diverse skin tones can also be challenging. Here are some tips for capturing excellent photos of all skin types:

  • Use soft diffused lighting to avoid harsh shadows
  • Have subjects avoid direct sunlight which can cause squinting and flattening of features
  • For darker skin, slightly overexpose to brighten shadows and details
  • Use reflectors to bounce light back into darker areas bringing out highlights
  • Position lighter backgrounds behind darker skinned subjects to cleanly define contours
  • Focus on rich end-to-end dynamic range for processing Raw images
  • Optimize white balance to avoid color casts and render natural, flattering skintones

With some practice and care around lighting, camera settings and processing, you can achieve gorgeous photos that capture the beauty of every subject no matter their skin tone.


Mixing accurate, nuanced skin tones requires careful observation of undertones, lighting and color harmony. Use warm pigments like yellows, reds and browns as your base. Add highlights and shadows with white or darker complementary colors. Practice mixing swatches from life and photos to train your eye. Photographing diverse skin tones also requires consideration around lighting, exposure, focus and processing. With some diligence and experimentation, you can master painting and photographing lifelike, beautiful skin tones across the full spectrum. So grab your paints or camera and start perfecting those complexion colors!