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What makes red with yellow?

What makes red with yellow?

When mixing colors, the resulting color can sometimes be surprising. This is especially true when mixing the colors red and yellow. Red and yellow are both primary colors, meaning they cannot be created by mixing other colors. When combined, red and yellow make the secondary color orange. The specific shade of orange will depend on the proportion of red and yellow used. While the color orange may seem straightforward, there are some interesting science and art principles behind mixing these two vivid shades.

The Color Wheel

The relationship between red, yellow, and orange is illustrated on the basic color wheel. The color wheel shows the interrelationship of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. These colors cannot be created by mixing other colors. Secondary colors are created by mixing two primary colors. For example, red and yellow make orange, red and blue make violet, blue and yellow make green. Tertiary colors are created by mixing a primary color with a secondary color next to it on the wheel. For example, red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green.

The color wheel helps visualize how adding more red or more yellow will change the resulting orange. The orange made by mixing equal parts red and yellow is called red-orange. Adding more red pushes the color toward crimson. Adding more yellow pushes it toward amber. The color wheel is an important tool for artists learning color theory.

RYB vs. RGB Color Models

When looking at color theory, there are two important color models to consider – RYB (red, yellow, blue) and RGB (red, green, blue).

The RYB model is traditionally used by artists for mixing paints and other pigments. As mentioned above, the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. When red and yellow pigments are mixed, they make orange.

The RGB model is used for mixing light, such as on televisions or computer screens. The primary colors are red, green, and blue. Mixing red and green light makes yellow light. On a screen, red and green pixels turned on together make yellow.

So in RYB, red + yellow = orange, but in RGB, red + green = yellow. This distinction is important to understand why mixing red and yellow paint makes orange, while red and yellow light makes white.

Light vs. Pigments

The reason that red + yellow = orange with paints, but red + yellow = white with light has to do with the physics of how color works.

Paints and pigments work by absorption. They absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect others. The absorbed colors are subtracted from white light, while the reflected colors are what we see. Red paint absorbs green and blue light, reflecting red. Yellow paint absorbs blue light, reflecting red and green. When red and yellow paints are mixed, both blue and green are absorbed, leaving red and green light to be reflected – which mixes to be seen as orange.

Light works by addition. Red light and yellow light physically mix together to produce white light. Red light is composed of red, orange, and some yellow wavelengths. Yellow contains yellow, green and some red wavelengths. Combined together, red light and yellow light contain a full spectrum of visible wavelengths, which we see as white. So mixing adds the colors together, while pigments work by subtraction of colors.

Mixing Paints vs. Light

To summarize, mixing red and yellow pigment makes orange because the blue and green wavelengths are subtracted by the pigment molecules. Mixing red and yellow light makes white because all visible wavelengths are added together.

This table compares mixing paints vs. light:

Medium Primary Colors Red + Yellow makes
Paints/Pigments Red, Yellow, Blue (RYB) Orange
Light Red, Green, Blue (RGB) White

So while red and yellow paint create orange, red and yellow light blended together produce white. The mixing principles are different due to the physics of absorption vs. addition. This is an important distinction for both artists and scientists to understand.

Mixing Paint Pigments

When mixing red and yellow paints or pigments, the specific type of red and yellow will influence the resulting orange.

Warm red pigments like cadmium red will mix with a warm yellow like cadmium yellow to produce a bright orange. Cool reds like alizarin crimson mixed with cool lemon yellow will make a more muted orange. Opaque pigments will also make brighter oranges than transparent pigments.

The proportion of red to yellow impacts the orange as well. Equal parts red and yellow creates a pure orange halfway between each one. More red pushed it toward red-orange, more yellow creates yellow-orange. Colors can be mixed in different ratios to achieve precisely the desired orange hue.

Some examples of orange shades by mixing different reds and yellows:

– Cadmium red + Cadmium yellow = Vibrant orange
– Alizarin crimson + Lemon yellow = Dull orange
– Vermillion + Aureolin = Red-orange
– Scarlet lake + Yellow ochre = Amber orange

So an artist can mix custom oranges by selecting different red and yellow pigments and adjusting the ratios. This gives artistic freedom and nuance within the basic color wheel relationship.

Lighting Effects

The lighting conditions can also impact how orange is perceived from mixing red and yellow.

Under incandescent or candlelight, the orange made from red + yellow may take on a warmer, intensified hue. In shadow, it may seem more subdued and neutral. Under fluorescent or blue daylight, the orange could seem slightly shifted toward red-orange.

This is because the illuminating light source will skew the color, especially if it lacks parts of the spectrum. So the context of lighting is important when doing color mixing. An artist may adjust the paint ratios to compensate for the lighting color.

Digital Color Mixing

With digital art and design, red and yellow are mixed on screen using RGB color light. So adding pure red and pure yellow in equal amounts theoretically makes white.

However, most digital art programs divide the RGB spectrum into discrete values. The red may be RGB(255,0,0) and yellow RGB(255,255,0) – mixing these makes RGB(255,255,255) which is digitally rendered as pale yellow, not white.

So digital artists still mix colors visually to achieve the hue they want. The color wheel acts as a guide, even if technically the colors mix by light. Artists combine red and yellow paint swatches on screen to visually produce orange. They adapt their RGB values until the mix looks pure orange.

This table shows example RGB mixes for orange hues:

Mix RGB Red Value RGB Green Value RGB Blue Value
Red 255 0 0
Yellow 255 255 0
Red-Orange 255 102 0
Orange 255 165 0
Yellow-Orange 255 204 0

So even with light-based digital coloring, the RYB color wheel provides visual guidance when mixing red and yellow to create the perfect orange.

Color Psychology

Beyond the physics and art of mixing red and yellow, these colors also have psychological and symbolic associations. The resulting orange may impart some of these qualities as well.

Red is associated with heat, energy, passion, aggression, excitement, strength. It gets attention and makes things appear nearer.

Yellow is cheerful, optimistic, enlightening, fresh, bright, retrospective. It creates a sense of spontaneity and amusement.

Orange combines the energy of red with the vibrancy of yellow. It represents enthusiasm, creativity, success, balance, enjoyment. It builds rapport and draws social interaction.

So orange made from red and yellow incorporates some symbolism and psychology from both components. An artist can leverage these associations in using the mixed orange color for visual impact.


Mixing the primary colors red and yellow makes orange due to the absorption properties of pigments. But with light, red and yellow combine to produce white by adding wavelengths. An artist can mix different shades of red and yellow in varied ratios to achieve precise hues of orange for their needs. And orange derived from red and yellow brings a sense of optimism, creativity, and cheer. So while red and yellow make orange seem straightforward, there are nuances in the science, art, and perception behind this color mixing. Both physics and the human psyche contribute to the impact of these colorful combinations.