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What is a mixture of colors called?

When two or more colors are combined together, the resulting color is called a mixture. The study of color mixtures is complex, but there are some basic principles that help explain what happens when colors are mixed.

Primary Colors

In traditional color theory, there are three sets of primary colors that can be mixed together to create all other colors:

  • Red, yellow, and blue (RYB)
  • Cyan, magenta, and yellow (CMY)
  • Red, green, and blue (RGB)

The RYB primaries are used in art and design for mixing pigments like paints and dyes. CMY are used for mixing colored lights and inks. RGB are used for mixing colored lights on TV and computer screens.

Secondary Colors

When two primary colors are mixed together in equal amounts, this makes a secondary color. The secondary colors are:

  • Green (mixture of yellow and blue)
  • Orange (red and yellow)
  • Purple (red and blue)

For example, mixing red and yellow paint makes orange paint. On a computer screen, mixing pure red and pure green light makes yellow light.

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors are made by mixing a primary color with a secondary color. Some examples are:

  • Red-orange (red and orange)
  • Yellow-orange (yellow and orange)
  • Yellow-green (yellow and green)
  • Blue-green (blue and green)
  • Blue-violet (blue and purple)
  • Red-violet (red and purple)

Tertiary colors have more complex names like reddish-orange, greenish-yellow, and bluish-purple to describe their mixed composition.

Color Wheel

The relationships between primary, secondary, and tertiary colors can be visualized using a color wheel. This shows how colors blend into each other in a continuous spectrum.

color wheel

An RGB color wheel shows the colors made by mixing red, green, and blue light. An RYB color wheel shows pigment mixtures of red, yellow and blue. While the colors differ, the same principles of color theory apply.

Shades, Tints, and Tones

Colors can also be lightened or darkened to make new variations:

  • Shades – Adding black to a color to make it darker
  • Tints – Adding white to a color to make it lighter
  • Tones – Adding gray to a color to mute or soften it

For example, navy blue is a shade of blue, while sky blue is a tint of blue. Mixing gray and blue makes a blue tone.

Chromatic vs. Achromatic Colors

Chromatic colors are the hues from the color wheel like red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Achromatic colors include black, white, gray, and other neutrals without distinct hues.

Mixing a chromatic color like red with an achromatic color like gray makes a less saturated, muted tone of that color. For example, maroon is a red tone made by mixing red and black.

Color Mixing Terms

Here are some other color mixing terms:

  • Monochromatic – Variations of a single hue like different shades and tints of blue.
  • Analogous – Colors next to each other on the color wheel like red, orange, and yellow.
  • Complementary – Colors opposite each other on the wheel like red and green.
  • Split complementary – A color plus the two colors adjacent to its complement.
  • Triadic – Three colors equally spaced around the color wheel.
  • Tetradic – Two pairs of complementary colors forming a rectangle on the wheel.

These terms describe color schemes artists use to create harmonious compositions. The contrasts and relationships between the colors influences the overall effect.

Color Mixing in Painting

When two wet paints mix together on canvas, they physically blend to create a new uniform color. For example yellow and blue paint mixes to green paint.

The qualities of the original colors like the shades, tints, and opacity affects the mixed result. Darker, more opaque paints will subdue lighter translucent ones.

Oil and acrylic paints follow roughly the same color theory, but because oils are slower drying they allow more time for colors to blend on the canvas.

Color Mixing with Light

Colored lights combine in an additive way. When red, green and blue light mix together, the resulting light looks white to our eyes.

Computer and TV screens take advantage of this by mixing different amounts of RGB light to display millions of colors. Mixing 100% red and 0% blue makes pure red light.

In stage lighting, colored gels and filters are used to tint white light different hues. The combined effect depends on the types of fixtures and intensity of the lights.

Color Mixing for Dyes and Pigments

Subtractive color mixing happens with dyes, inks and pigmented surfaces. Cyan, magenta and yellow are the primary colors used in printing.

When two colors are mixed, some wavelengths are absorbed or subtracted from the light. Combining cyan and magenta makes blue because both absorb the long red wavelengths.

Overlapping transparent inks results in darker browns and blacks. This limits the range of colors possible compared to mixing light.

Color Mixing Equations

Here are some examples of color mixing equations in percentages:

  • Red + Yellow = Orange (50% red + 50% yellow)
  • Yellow + Blue = Green (50% yellow + 50% blue)
  • Red + Blue = Purple (50% red + 50% blue)

Changing the percentages alters the mixed result. 25% yellow + 75% red makes a more reddish orange.

Computer programs like Photoshop use RGB values between 0-255 to mix colors. R=255, G=0, B=0 displays pure red, for example.

Why Study Color Mixing?

Understanding color mixtures allows greater control over the colors used in art, design, photography, printing, lighting, and other fields. Important concepts include:

  • Using primary color triads (RYB, CMY, RGB) as building blocks
  • Mixing secondary and tertiary colors
  • Varying shades, tints and tones
  • Complementary and contrasting colors
  • The physics and psychology of color mixing

Practice mixing colors with paints, colored pencils and markers. Experiment with photographic filters, camera RAW settings, and digital tools like Photoshop. The more you work with color, the better you will understand the art and science behind it.

Color Mixing in Traditional Painting

Traditional painting with pigments follows basic color theory principles. Primary colors red, yellow and blue are used as starting points. Mixing two primaries makes secondaries like purple, green and orange. Further mixing creates tertiaries like red-violet and yellow-green. Unlimited colors can be mixed using different combinations and ratios.

Some important painting techniques involving color mixing include:

  • Glazing – Layering transparent glazes of color over each other to build depth.
  • Scumbling – Dragging opaque colors over an existing layer to mix.
  • Wet-on-wet blending – Mixing wet paint colors directly on the canvas.
  • Alla Prima – Completing a painting in one session while colors are wet.

Oil paints blend well for alla prima style thanks to longer drying times. Acrylics and watercolors blend only when wet. Understanding these techniques allows painters to mix the colors they want and achieve a variety of effects.

Digital Color Mixing in Photo Editing

Photo editing software uses the RGB color model to mix colors digitally. Each pixel in the image has a specific RGB value controlling its color.

Adjusting the RGB channels allows changing color hues, lightness and saturation. Some photo editing techniques involving color mixing include:

  • Hue/Saturation – Shifting all colors towards a particular hue or increasing/decreasing saturation.
  • Selective Color – Targeting specific color ranges to alter independently.
  • Color Balance – Offsetting the RGB channels to add or reduce those components.
  • Gradient Maps – Applying color gradients to tint the brightness spectrum.

Advanced photo editing lets photographers adjust color in ways not possible with physical filters and gels. This provides immense creative control when post-processing images.

Mixing Colors in Graphic Design

Graphic designers employ color theory principles like the color wheel to select color schemes. Important considerations include:

  • Linked colors – Analogous, complementary, triadic
  • Context – Brand colors, meaning, psychology
  • Accessibility – Contrast ratios for text legibility
  • Aesthetics – Fitting color to project goals

Software tools like Adobe Illustrator and InDesign provide extensive color picking, mixing and editing capabilities for design work. Common workflows involve:

  • Creating color swatches as primary hues
  • Using tints, tones and shades as variations
  • Testing color schemes with mix-and-match
  • Outputting files with correct color profiles

Understanding effective use of color mixing principles elevates the visual impact of graphic design.

Color Mixing in Printing

The CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) color model is used for color mixing in printing. Overlapping CMY inks on paper creates a wide gamut of hues. Black (K) improves contrast and density.

Key aspects of printing color mixing include:

  • CMYK ink percentages on press
  • Overprinting colors to mix optically
  • Trapping overlapping edges
  • Proofing to preview final results

Pantone spot colors can be printed instead of CMYK builds. Metallic, fluorescent and other special inks are also used to achieve effects not possible with regular 4-color process printing.

Lighting and Color Mixing

Stage and event lighting takes advantage of additive RGB color mixing principles. Combining colored beams and gels is an art that lighting designers carefully cultivate.

Important lighting color considerations include:

  • Color temperature for warm or cool effects
  • Intensity for saturating colors
  • Complementary colors for contrast
  • Mood, drama and composition

LED fixtures can produce millions of colors by mixing RGB values. Smart home lighting lets users customize colors for different moods and activities.

Pigment vs. Light Color Mixing

Pigment mixing follows subtractive principles, while light mixing is additive. This means the primary colors and resulting mixtures have key differences:

Pigment Mixing Light Mixing
RYB primaries (painting) RGB primaries (TV, digital)
Overlapping pigments darkens Overlapping lights brightens
Yellow + Blue = Green Green + Red = Yellow

Understanding these principles helps artists select suitable color mixing methods. Pigments naturally suit painting media, while colored light aligns with photography and digital projects.

Psychology of Color Mixing

Color psychology impacts how color mixtures are perceived. Some examples include:

  • Red + Yellow = Feels energetic, youthful
  • Blue + Purple = Calming, contemplative
  • Green + Brown = Natural, earthy
  • Black + Red = Powerful, intense

Properties like warmth, weight and gender associations also affect impressions of mixed colors. Moods and emotions can be refined by tweaking mixtures.

Context also matters. A dark somber scheme for a funeral website would feel inappropriate on a child’s birthday party site. Selecting the right colors for the audience and purpose drives positive engagement.

Color Mixing in Art History

The history of art reveals fascinating uses of color mixing. Some key examples include:

  • Renaissance sfumato blending
  • Impressionist broken color
  • Pointillist optical mixing
  • Fauvist unexpected color
  • Minimalist color fields

Many painters created their own unique palettes by mixing colors. Vermeer mixed natural ultramarine with lead-tin yellow to make luminous greens. Renoir invented new brilliant oranges by blending modern cadmium yellow and vermilion reds.

Studying color mixing innovations of different artistic eras provides inspiration for modern techniques.

Color Mixing in Decorating

Interior designers and decorators use color mixing principles to create appealing spaces. Some best practices include:

  • Tints of one color for unity
  • Tones for subtle gradients
  • Warm and cool accent colors
  • Complementary color balance
  • Testing paint samples as swatches

Well-blended room colors evoke pleasant feelings and harmonize furnishings, fabrics and accessories. Poor color mixing can make rooms feel chaotic and uncomfortable.

Color Mixing for Children

Mixing colors is a great educational activity for children. Useful strategies include:

  • Having primary color paints or markers
  • Demonstrating how to mix secondaries
  • Encouraging creativity exploration
  • Asking them to identify mixtures
  • Teaching color wheel relationships

As they experience how colors physically blend, kids gain first-hand understanding of color theory basics. This engages visual thinking and problem solving skills.


The mixtures that result when colors are blended together depend on principles like primary triads, subtractive versus additive mixing, and color relationships. Mastering the complex science and art of color mixing takes considerable practice across different mediums and contexts.

But a grasp of the fundamentals enables endless variation for unique palettes. From shifting