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What makes brown What two colors make brown?

What makes brown What two colors make brown?

Brown is an earthy, neutral color that can have warm, cool, or neutral undertones depending on how it is made. The specific shades and tones of brown are achieved by combining different colors together. So what two colors make brown? The simple answer is that brown is made by mixing various combinations of red, yellow, and black. By adjusting the proportions of each, you can create different hues and shades of brown.

Primary Colors

To understand what makes brown, it’s helpful to first review the primary colors. The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. These are the core pure colors that can’t be created by mixing other colors together. Secondary colors are made by combining two primary colors. For example:

Red + Yellow = Orange
Yellow + Blue = Green
Blue + Red = Purple

The primary colors provide the building blocks for creating all other colors through mixing. So to make brown, we need to look at mixing the primaries red and yellow.

How Red and Yellow Make Brown

When you mix red and yellow together, you make orange. If you add more red, the orange shifts to a reddish, rusty orange-brown. Adding more yellow pushes it toward mustard or ochre brown. So adjusting the proportions of red and yellow allows you to create different brown shades.

For example:

More red + yellow = Reddish brown
Equal red + yellow = Orange brown
More yellow + red = Yellowish brown

Warm, earthy browns with golden, orangey undertones result from mixing dominant amounts of red and yellow. Think of the colors of dark wood, leather, autumn leaves, etc. These shades rely mainly on different combinations of the two primary colors.

Adding Black

While red and yellow produce basic browns, adding black darkens and neutralizes the color. Black deepens the shade and blends down the brightness of the red and yellow. Different amounts of black added to red and yellow mixes result in darker or cooler browns.

For example:

Red + yellow + small amount black = Medium warm brown
Red + yellow + more black = Dark reddish brown
Red + yellow + large amount black = Very dark brown

Cool brown shades, like chocolate or coffee browns, come from adding more black to the red and yellow mix. The black dilutes the reddish and yellowish aspects. So while red and yellow make up the base for brown, black is key for creating darker or cooler browns.

Blue Tones

While not a pure primary color, adding blue along with small amounts of red and yellow can produce grayish, taupe, or cool neutral browns. The blue neutralizes the warm orangey undertones, shifting the brown into cooler, more muted shades. Think of the tone of brown bags or boxes.

For example:

Small red + yellow + blue = Cool light brown
Small red + yellow + more blue = Grayish brown
Small red + yellow + large blue = Taupe brown

So while red and yellow make up the warm base, blue mixed in helps produce more neutral, cool browns. Blue counteracts the orange undertones of red and yellow mixes.

Green and Purple Browns

While less common, mixing complementary colors green and purple with red and yellow can also produce some brown shades. The green and purple neutralize the warmth somewhat, shifting the brown hue.

For example:

Red + yellow + small green = Muted brown
Red + yellow + small purple = Dull brown

These combinations create more grayish or muted browns by diluting the brightness of the red and yellow. But green and purple mixes are less common for making natural looking browns.

Shade and Tone Variations

By adjusting the proportional mixes of red, yellow, and black, you can make countless shades and tones of brown. Lighter browns come from adding more yellow and red with less black. Very dark browns result from adding more black to the red/yellow mix. Cooler browns add blue. Warmer browns emphasize the red and yellow.

Some examples of brown shade varieties:

Light brown Medium brown Dark brown
Warm brown Cool brown Golden brown
Chestnut brown Chocolate brown Taupe brown

Brown can range from pale yellowish brown to nearly black. By tweaking the portions of the component colors, you can make any shade imagined.

Tinting with White or Cream

Once the base brown color is mixed, you can also lighten it by adding white or cream. This creates tinted or lighter shades of the mixed brown.

For example:

Medium brown + white = Light tan brown
Dark brown + cream = Milk chocolate brown

Adding white or cream is how you make softer, lighter browns past the intensity of the pure red, yellow, black mix.

Properties of Brown

Understanding what makes brown helps explain some of its unique color properties:

  • Earthy and natural – brown’s link to red and yellow connects it to earth tones
  • Warm and cool varieties – can be warm with yellow/red or cool with black/blue
  • Not a primary or secondary color – made by mixing other colors
  • Neutral background color – works in any design or palette
  • Many shade varieties – light to dark based on color mixing
  • Not very bright or intense – more subdued and muted

Brown’s natural, down-to-earth qualities make it a steadfast, dependable color choice.


In summary, while no two pure colors combine to make brown, it is created by mixing together red, yellow, and black, with adjustments to the proportions depending on the desired hue. Adding more yellow results in warmer, golden browns. More red makes reddish browns. Black darkens and cools the brown. And sometimes blue or other colors are mixed in for more neutral grayish browns.

So brown is not a primary or secondary color, but it can be conveniently made by blending red, yellow, and black pigments. This combination allows for a wide range of beautiful, earthy brown tones for any purpose. Whether a warmer, vibrant brown or a cooler, muted one, know you can mix your perfect brown by starting with red, yellow, and black.