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What is the easiest way to mix paint colors?

Mixing paint colors can seem daunting, but with some basic knowledge of color theory and the right tools, it doesn’t have to be difficult. The easiest way to mix paint colors is to start with the three primary colors – red, yellow and blue – and adjust from there to create any color you need. Understanding how to combine primary paint colors to make secondary colors and tertiary colors will give you endless options for custom mixing. With some trial and error, you’ll be mixing custom paint colors like a pro.

What are the primary colors?

The primary colors in painting are red, yellow, and blue. These are called primary colors because they cannot be created by mixing other colors together. All other colors are derived from some combination of the primary colors. Here’s a quick overview of each primary color:

  • Red – A strong, warm color that’s associated with energy and excitement.
  • Yellow – A bright, cheerful color that evokes happiness and optimism.
  • Blue – A cool, calming color that is linked to tranquility and relaxation.

With just the primary colors red, yellow, and blue, you can mix them together to create all the other colors on the color wheel. But before we get into color mixing, it’s helpful to understand some basic color theory.

Color theory basics

Here are some key concepts in color theory that will help you when mixing paint:

  • Primary, secondary and tertiary colors – The primary colors are red, yellow and blue. Mixing two primary colors makes a secondary color: red + yellow = orange, yellow + blue = green, and blue + red = purple. Mixing a primary color with a secondary color results in a tertiary color like red-orange or blue-green.
  • Color wheel – The color wheel shows the relationship between colors. Complementary colors are located opposite each other and create a striking contrast when mixed. Analogous colors are located next to each other and create harmony.
  • Warm and cool colors – Warm colors like red, orange and yellow evoke heat or energy. Cool colors like green, blue and purple are calming and soothing.
  • Color value – The lightness or darkness of a color. Tint refers to adding white to a color to lighten its value. Shade is adding black to darken the color value.
  • Color saturation – The intensity or vividness of a color. A highly saturated color is vivid and bright. Desaturating a color mutes the intensity.

These basic principles will help guide your color mixing. Now let’s look at some recommended tools and materials for mixing paints.

Helpful tools and materials

Here are some recommended supplies for efficiently mixing paint colors:

  • Palette – For squeezing out and mixing paints. White palettes allow you to see true colors.
  • Brushes – Round or flat synthetic brushes in different sizes for blending.
  • Paint knives – Helpful for mixing larger amounts of paint.
  • Containers – For mixing custom colors to store for later use.
  • Rags or paper towels – For wiping palette and brushes.
  • Artist’s tape – Mask areas of palette for mixing custom colors.
  • Palette paper – Disposable parchment paper to cover palette.

High quality acrylic or oil paints provide the best color for mixing. Student grade paints have less saturated color. It’s also important to thoroughly mix paint on the palette before applying to canvas. Now let’s get into techniques for mixing those primary colors!

Mixing primary colors

Mixing the primary colors red, yellow and blue will give you an endless array of new colors. Here are some key techniques for mixing primary paints:

  • Start with small amounts of paint – Add more as needed to adjust color.
  • Use a flat brush to thoroughly mix colors.
  • Add white to lighten and black to darken color value.
  • Mix in varying ratios – More yellow than blue makes a green with yellow undertones.
  • Clean brushes and palette between mixing to keep colors pure.
  • Label mixed colors to recreate them later.
  • Store mixed colors in airtight containers if not using immediately.

Here are some examples of mixing primary paint colors:

  • Red + Yellow = Orange
  • Yellow + Blue = Green
  • Blue + Red = Violet

You can also mix primary colors in varying ratios to create different hues. For example, mixing mostly yellow with a little red makes a warm orange. Mixing in more red creates a darker, blood orange. Adding white to bright orange makes a peach tone. The possibilities are endless!

Mixing secondary colors

Once you’ve created the three secondary colors – orange, green and violet – you can start mixing them together to form even more colors.

Here are some examples:

  • Orange + Green = Olive green or brown
  • Orange + Violet = Rust or brick red
  • Green + Violet = Forest green

You can modify these colors by adjusting the ratio of each secondary color or by adding white to lighten or black to darken the hue and value.

Mixing complementary colors located opposite each other on the color wheel results in a dark, neutralized grey or brown. For example:

  • Orange + Blue = Greyed brown
  • Violet + Yellow = Muted grey

Mixing adjacent colors on the color wheel creates subtle, harmonious hues. For example:

  • Orange + Yellow = Peachy tone
  • Yellow + Green = Lime green
  • Green + Blue = Aqua tone

So you can see how combining secondary colors gives you many options for mixing vibrant tertiary colors.

Mixing tertiary colors

Tertiary colors are made by mixing a primary color with a secondary color adjacent to it on the color wheel. This results in subtle, complex hues with grayish tones. For example:

  • Red + Orange = Red-orange
  • Yellow + Green = Yellow-green
  • Blue + Violet = Blue-violet

You can lighten these hues by adding white or darken them by mixing in complementary colors. Adjusting the ratios also shifts the undertones. For example, mixing mostly red with just a touch of orange makes a red with an orangey undertone.

Some examples of beautiful tertiary paint colors include:

  • Vermilion – Red-orange tone
  • Chartreuse – Yellow-green tone
  • Mauve – Red-violet tone

Mastering mixing the primary triad of red, yellow and blue along with white and black will equip you to create any paint color you need. Next let’s look at some tips for saving and reproducing mixed colors.

Saving and reproducing mixed colors

When you’ve come up with a custom mixed color you want to use again, there are some good techniques for preserving and reproducing the shade:

  • Label containers storing mixed colors with name and mixing ratio.
  • Save swatches of unique mixes for visual reference.
  • Note themixing ratio of primary colors used to recreate the hue.
  • Photograph painted color charts for visual matching later.
  • Use achromatic black and white for neutral mixing base.
  • Start with smallest amount of prior mix and adjust.

It can also be helpful to create a mixing reference guide documenting colors and their mixing recipes. Here is an example reference chart:

Mixing Ratio Color Name Repeat Recipe
2 parts red : 1 part yellow Brick red 10 parts red : 5 parts yellow
1 part blue : 1 part yellow Green 5 parts blue : 5 parts yellow

Keeping good records allows you to consistently reproduce your custom mixed colors.

Tips for color adjustment

When mixing paints, you may need to adjust a color to get an exact hue. Here are some tips:

  • Darken with complementary color on color wheel.
  • Lighten with white or lighten with tint of primary color.
  • Gray down intensity with gray or complementary color.
  • Mute brightness by mixing with a less saturated color.
  • Add a touch of analogous colors to shift hue.
  • View in different light conditions to test true color.

Mixing very small amounts at a time and testing on a palette is key for zeroing in on an exact shade. Allow time for mixing and experimenting for best color precision.


Learning basic color theory principles and mastering combining the primary colors provides infinite options for mixing custom paint colors. Use a organized, systematic approach starting with the primary triad. Adjust with white, black and complementary hues. Keep notes on ratios and recipes. With practice, you’ll be able to reproduce colors precisely. The world of color is now at your fingertips to explore and create!