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What is a substitute for yellow ochre?

What is a substitute for yellow ochre?

Yellow ochre is a pigment made from naturally occurring iron oxide-rich clay. It has been used since ancient times for painting and dyeing. If you need a substitute for yellow ochre, there are a few options to consider depending on the project you’re working on and the desired end result.

Why Use a Yellow Ochre Substitute?

There are a couple reasons you may need a substitute for yellow ochre:

  • Yellow ochre can be expensive or difficult to obtain depending on where you live.
  • You need a brighter or more transparent yellow than natural yellow ochre provides.
  • You want to mix your own custom yellow tones using other pigments.
  • You have an allergy to natural earth pigments like yellow ochre.

Having a few yellow ochre substitute pigments on hand gives you more flexibility with your painting and lets you adapt the yellows in your palette for different needs.

Yellow Ochre Substitutes

Here are some of the most common and useful pigments you can use in place of yellow ochre:

Cadmium Yellow

Cadmium yellow is a bright, intense yellow made from cadmium sulfide. It comes in a range of shades from lemon yellow to deep orange-yellow. The pigment has excellent hiding power and tinting strength.

Cadmium yellow is more opaque and vivid than natural yellow ochre. Mix it with white to make bright primary yellows or add small amounts to dial up the luminosity of other yellows.

Hansa Yellow

Hansa yellow is a modern organic pigment made from azo dyes. It comes in light (cool) and deep (warm) versions ranging from lemon to golden orange shades.

Like cadmium yellow, Hansa yellows are very pure, intense colors. They have excellent lightfastness. Use them when you want clean secondary mixes or to make other yellows pop.

Nickel Azo Yellow

Nickel azo yellow is another modern yellow pigment. It sits between cadmium yellow and Hansa yellow in terms of its hue, providing a greenish middle-yellow tone.

Nickel azo yellow has better opacity than Hansa yellow along with good mixing strength. Use it when you want a primary yellow with a subtle earthy character.

Yellow Ochre Mixing Colors

In addition to pure yellow pigments, you can mix your own hues to substitute for yellow ochre:

  • Combine cadmium yellow and raw sienna for an ochre-like mixing yellow.
  • Mix cadmium yellow or Hansa yellow with raw umber for a deeper, olive-tinged yellow.
  • Add a small amount of purple or violet to a bright yellow to dull it down.
  • Mix orange and green paints to create earthy yellow tones.

Mixing your own custom yellows gives you endless flexibility to vary the hue, value, and saturation of your yellow ochre substitute.

Paints With Yellow Ochre Substitute Pigments

Many premixed artists’ paints use modern yellow pigments as substitutes for natural yellow ochre. Here are some examples of paint colors that can stand in for yellow ochre:

Paint Brand Color Name Pigment
Winsor & Newton Cadmium Yellow Pale Cadmium zinc sulfide
Daniel Smith Hansa Yellow Light Arylide yellow
Holbein Primrose Yellow Nickel azo yellow
Liquitex Cadmium Yellow Medium Cadmium zinc sulfide

With any premixed paint, check the pigment information on the tube or product description to see what specific modern yellow pigment is used.

Picking the Best Yellow Ochre Substitute

So which of these yellow ochre alternatives is right for your project?

Here are some tips for selecting the perfect stand-in:

  • Match the hue. If you want to color mix similar shades, pick a substitute with a close yellow/orange hue to natural ochre.
  • Consider opacity. Opaque pigments like cadmium or nickel yellow will give you better coverage. Transparent ones like Hansa yellow work best for glazing.
  • Pay attention to temperature. Cool yellows like Hansa or cadmium pale will give a different feeling than warm ones like cadmium deep.
  • Mix it up. Use pure pigments for brightness but try mixing your own for more natural, subtler ochre effects.

Do some test swatches on a canvas or brushouts in your palette to get a feel for how the colors look in your specific application.

Painting Without Yellow Ochre

If you don’t have yellow ochre or a substitute available, don’t let that stop you from painting! Here are some tips for working without yellow ochre:

  • Use earth tone browns and greens to establish warmth instead of yellow tones.
  • Try mixing orange from red and yellow to substitute for ochre in shadows.
  • Use cream, light peach, or ecru instead of pale yellow mixes.
  • Work in a more limited palette of primaries, neutrals, and a few choice accent colors.
  • Experiment with color harmonies that use fewer yellows, like complementary blue and orange.

By tweaking your approach just a bit, you can still create beautiful, vibrant paintings without any yellow ochre at all. The limitations might even push you in creative directions!

Other Yellow Ochre Painting Tips

Here are a few extra pointers for working with yellow ochre as well as substitute yellow pigments:

  • Boost the tinting strength by mixing with white rather than water.
  • Glaze over other colors to shift hue and add an antique quality.
  • Layer pure cadmium over ochre for brighter highlights.
  • Scumble on canvas to pick up texture.
  • Use ochre for an underpainting or imprimatura before applying color.

Following the classic techniques of master painters will give you beautiful results even with substitute pigments. With a range of modern and natural yellows at your disposal, you can capture any mood or subject you want to paint!


Finding a suitable stand-in for classic yellow ochre isn’t difficult with the wide range of yellow pigments available today. Whether you choose a premixed paint or custom mix your own, bright modern pigments like cadmium and Hansa yellow provide excellent color and coverage for all your yellow needs. Complement them with earthy browns, oranges, and greens, and you can mix any hue from sunny lemon to rich gold. With a little creativity, you’ll never miss yellow ochre!