When mixing colors in art or design, adding black and white to a pure color produces different results depending on the proportions used. Black darkens and mutes a color, while white lightens and brightens it. Using both black and white together grays down a color. The more black and white added, the more desaturated the color becomes until eventually reaching a neutral gray. With care, black and white can be combined with colors to create subtle hues, soft pastels, and rich earth tones.
Add a Small Amount of Black
Adding a touch of black to a bright color produces a darker, richer shade. For example, mixing a small amount of black with a vivid red makes it deeper and more intense. This works well for saturated primary colors like red, blue and yellow. The black adds shadow and depth, brings down the brightness slightly and makes the color appear bolder. With bright orange, a hint of black enhances its warmth and distinction from yellow. For lighter colors like pink, turquoise and lavender, a small bit of black creates a dusty, muted version of the color.
Add a Small Amount of White
When you add white to a pure color, it lightens it and gives it a softer, pastel look. For instance, mixing a little white into olive green results in a pleasant minty hue. With navy blue, white makes a soft periwinkle blue. Just a touch of white in plum gives a nice lilac shade. White works especially well with darker or muted colors like burgundy, teal, terra cotta and mustard, lifting them into more delicate versions. Too much white will overpower the original color, so it’s best to use sparingly and mix thoroughly.
Add Equal Parts Black and White
Using equal proportions of black and white produces a toned down, grayer version of the original color. For example, combining half black and half white with red makes a burgundy shade. Doing this with green results in an earthy mossy color. Equal black and white with orange gives a rusty terracotta hue. For lighter colors like yellow, turquoise and pink, this mutes them down into soft neutrals. Adding more and more black and white continues lightening or darkening the color into an increasingly grayer neutral shade.
Add Mainly Black
Using more black than white significantly darkens and dulls a color. With a vivid color like yellow, adding a lot of black produces a murky olive green tone. For blue, extra black makes a dark charcoal navy. Magenta mixed with mostly black becomes a blackish-purple. Pink turns into a light dusty rose. The color loses most of its brightness and intensity, shifting closer to black on the color wheel. This technique works well for subtly darkening a color without completely muddying it up.
Add Mainly White
Adding more white than black to a color lifts it into pastel territory. With red, using extra white makes a soft baby pink. For orange, this results in a washed-out peach. Mainly white with green is a seafoam hue. Purple becomes lilac and yellow turns into an ivory cream color. Too much white causes the color to look faded and worn out. But when used carefully, extra white lightens a color in a subdued, vintage way.
Add Lots of Black and White
Using equal or large amounts of black and white generates a neutral gray version of the original color. Mixing purple with lots of black and white makes a soft gray lavender. Orange becomes a warm tan. Yellow changes into a vintage beige or parchment tone. Blue shifts into a slate blue-gray. With any color, enough black and white eventually brings it to a neutral medium gray. Further adding black and white continues darkening or lightening that gray into a very dark charcoal or pale silver color.
Tips for Mixing Black and White with Color
Here are some helpful tips when combining black and white with pure colors:
- Start with small amounts and add gradually until you achieve the desired hue.
- Make sure to stir or blend thoroughly so the black and white mix evenly with the color.
- Use black to mute brightness or white to soften intensity.
- Adding both together grays down and neutralizes the original color.
- Too much black can flatten a color, so use sparingly with lighter colors.
- Too much white can make darker colors look chalky.
- Test on a paint palette or sample board before applying to a larger project.
- Taking photos in natural light helps capture the true mixed color.
- Consider the feeling you want to achieve – dramatic, soft, lively, relaxed, etc.
Here is a table showing examples of different colors mixed with varying amounts of black and white:
|Original Color||With a Small Amount of Black||With a Small Amount of White||With Equal Parts Black and White||With Mainly Black||With Mainly White||With Lots of Black and White|
|Red||Maroon||Pink||Burgundy||Dark Red||Blush Pink||Grayish Red|
|Blue||Navy||Baby Blue||Dark Blue||Very Dark Blue||Periwinkle||Grayish Blue|
|Yellow||Mustard||Cream||Khaki||Dull Yellow||Pale Yellow||Grayish Yellow|
There are many creative ways to utilize black and white when mixing colors:
- In painting, add white to a color for highlights and black for lowlights and shadows.
- In interior design, use black to make accent walls or white to brighten up dark rooms.
- Black and white with bright colors like red and orange conveys an energetic, fiery mood.
- Soft muted colors made with white evoke tranquility, elegance and vintage charm.
- Neutral grayed colors are versatile and sophisticated for modern spaces.
- In fashion, black and white combined with a color makes it more wearable.
- Black adds drama to floral arrangements while white creates an airy feel.
- For photography, black enhances contrast and white is used for soft, diffused lighting effects.
The classic color wheel demonstrates that adding a color’s complement creates a gray tone. For red, green is opposite. For yellow, violet is complementary. Yet black and white offer nuanced control over grays. Carefully blending them with pure hues, pastels or earth tones achieves refined, imaginative results.
Mixing black and white with colors produces moodier, softer, richer or neutralized shades. Black deepens, white lightens, and together they mute and gray a color. Small amounts keep the original hue recognizable. Balanced proportions make sophisticated neutrals. Black dominates to lower value and intensity. White dominates to increase lightness and softness. With endless combinations possible, black and white offer versatile ways to modify color for art, design and self-expression. The next time you use color, try adding black and/or white to unlock new tonal possibilities.