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How many mixes make brown?

How many mixes make brown?

Brown is a complex color that can be created by mixing together different pigments. The specific combination and ratios of pigments needed to make brown depends on the desired shade and intensity of the brown color. While there is no single definitive recipe for mixing brown, some general guidelines and common mixtures can provide a starting point.

Primary Colors

In painting, brown can be mixed using the three primary colors – red, yellow, and blue. Combining all three primaries together creates a dark muddy brown. Adjusting the ratios results in lighter or more reddish, yellowish, or grayish browns. Some examples of browns made by mixing primaries include:

2 parts red 1 part yellow 1 part blue
1 part red 2 parts yellow 1 part blue

One downside to mixing brown from primaries is that it can end up looking dull or muddy. Using cheaper primary pigments also limits the depth and richness of the brown.

Secondary Colors

Another common approach is mixing brown using two secondary colors – orange and green or purple and green. Combining complements creates more neutral and sophisticated browns. Darker shades require more green, while more orange or purple yields warmer, reddish browns. Popular secondary brown mixes include:

1 part orange 1 part green
2 parts purple 1 part green

Secondary mixes allow access to richer umber and sienna type browns. However, too much green can cause muddiness.

Earth Pigments

For more natural looking browns, earth pigments like ochre, sienna, and umber provide excellent color. These pigments are iron oxide-rich earth minerals that impart deep, warm browns and can be used alone or blended with other pigments. Common earth pigment browns include:

Raw umber
Burnt umber
Raw sienna
Burnt sienna

Earth browns have lower tinting strength than synthetic pigments, requiring more pigment to reach deep brown. But they provide beautiful translucent browns perfect for glazing.

Black and White

For painters that lack a wide pigment palette, a basic brown can be mixed using black and white. The more white added, the paler the brown becomes. A neutral dark brown uses more black. Typical black and white brown mixes are:

3 parts black 1 part white
1 part black 3 parts white

Black and white browns are affordable and convenient to mix but have a flat, opaque appearance compared to colors with more pigment complexity.

Complementary Colors

Intense, vivid browns can be created by mixing complements like red-green, orange-blue, and yellow-violet. Combining strong complementsneutralizes the colors, producing deep neutral browns. Complementary browns may consist of:

1 part red 1 part green
1 part orange 1 part blue
1 part yellow 1 part violet

Careful balancing is needed with complement browns to avoid muddiness. Small amounts of white can also be added to soften and lighten the mixtures.

Tertiary Colors

Blending adjacent colors on the color wheel, known as tertiary colors, can make nice earthy browns. These tertiary mixes include:

Orange + red = rust
Red + violet = mahogany
Violet + blue = taupe
Blue + green = olive
Green + yellow = chartreuse
Yellow + orange = ochre

Tertiary browns provide subtle variations from standard primary and secondary mixes. They are especially good for replicating natural brown tones.

Warm and Cool Browns

The temperature of browns can be adjusted depending on the desired application. Warm, reddish browns contain more yellow, orange, and red. Mixing in more blue, green, or purple yields cooler, grayish browns instead. Some examples include:

Warm Browns Cool Browns
– Raw sienna – Raw umber
– Burnt sienna – Payne’s gray
– Venetian red + yellow ochre – Ultramarine blue + burnt umber

Warm browns are energizing and inviting, while cool browns feel more reserved and elegant. Choose brown temperature based on desired mood and application.

Transparent vs. Opaque Browns

The opacity and transparency of browns also vary based on the pigments used. Transparent browns allow light to pass through, making them ideal for glazing and layering. Opaque browns cover and conceal underlying layers. Mixing strategies for transparency include:

Transparent Browns Opaque Browns
– Thinned burnt sienna – Titanium white + iron oxide
– Yellow ochre + quinacridone burnt orange – Carbon black + burnt umber
– Dioxazine purple + phthalo green – Paynes gray + ultramarine blue

Transparent glazes of browns are perfect for subtly deepening and enriching colors beneath without completely obscuring them.

Matching Existing Browns

When trying to match an existing brown, it helps to analyze the color composition. What are the warm and cool undertones? How light or dark is the brown? Identifying these qualities helps guide the mixing process. Some examples:

Light tan brown with yellow undertone – Add more yellow ochre
Medium walnut brown with red undertone – Use more burnt sienna
Dark coffee brown with subtle purple – Mix in more ultramarine blue

Having a wide artist’s palette makes color matching easier. Start with small test swatches before mixing larger quantities of paint.

Brown Mixing Tips

Here are some useful tips for mixing rich, vibrant browns:

  • Use a warm and cool pigment – Combining a warm color like burnt sienna with a cool like ultramarine makes balanced, natural browns.
  • Don’t overmix – Blend just until combined to avoid muddying colors.
  • Deepen tone gradually – Slowly increase pigment amounts to reach the desired darkness.
  • Add white judiciously – White lightens and neutralizes browns, reducing richness.
  • Consider transparency – Use transparent glazing for depth.


Brown is deceptively complex, with many possible mixes and color variations. Pay attention to the undertone, temperature, and transparency desired. Begin with recommended combinations like complements or earth tones, then fine-tune ratios as needed. With thoughtful color choices and mixes, vibrant, beautiful browns can be created with ease.