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Will yellow and orange make red?

Will yellow and orange make red?

Mixing paint colors is a fun experiment that allows you to explore color theory and chemistry. When it comes to mixing the colors yellow and orange, the result may not be what you initially expect. Keep reading to find out if combining yellow and orange paint creates red.

The Basics of Mixing Paint Colors

Before looking specifically at mixing yellow and orange, it helps to understand some basics about how paint colors work. Paint gets its color from pigments – powdered minerals, organic dyes, or other particles suspended in the paint base. The pigments absorb some wavelengths of light and reflect others back to our eyes, creating the color we see.

When two paint colors are mixed, the pigments combine and interact with light in a new way. Sometimes this creates a brand new color, like mixing blue and yellow to get green. Other times, mixing colors just produces a blend of the two original colors, like mixing red and blue to get purple.

Whether a color mixture creates a whole new color depends on the specific pigments involved and how their light absorption/reflection interacts. So mixing any two given paint colors could result in a range of different color outcomes.

Mixing Yellow and Orange Paint

When yellow and orange paint are mixed together, the resulting color is not red. Instead, the two colors create a golden yellow-orange blend.

This is because yellow pigments mainly reflect light in the yellow to green wavelength range. Orange pigments reflect reddish-orange to yellowish-orange wavelengths. When combined, there is no pigment present to reflect the longer red wavelengths needed to make red paint. The mixture stays in the yellow to orange color range.

Specifically, some common results of mixing yellow and orange paint include:

  • Cadmium yellow + cadmium orange = brilliant orange-yellow
  • Lemon yellow + orange = golden yellow
  • Yellow ochre + orange = mustard gold

The exact hue can vary based on the specific pigments and their concentrations. But the mix generally produces a vibrant yellow-orange shade – not pure red.

How to Mix Red Paint

Since yellow and orange do not directly mix to make red, different color combinations are needed to produce a red paint mixture. Here are a few ways to mix a vibrant red color:

  • Magenta + yellow = red
  • Cadmium red + white = bright red
  • Alizarin crimson + cadmium yellow = fire engine red
  • Vermillion + titanium white = scarlet

Magenta is the perfect color to mix with yellow to get red. This vivid purplish-red pigment supplies the additional red wavelengths that yellow lacks. Combining the two makes a complete red color in theory.

Pre-made red paints like cadmium red and alizarin crimson can also be lightened with white or brightened with a dash of yellow. Vermillion is another excellent standalone red pigment.

The Science Behind Mixing Yellow, Orange, and Red

The interaction of light waves and pigment molecules is the key to understanding why yellow and orange do not directly produce red when mixed. Here is a more in-depth look at the science behind these color mixes.

Light Waves and Color

Visible light from the sun contains wavelengths across the rainbow spectrum. Different wavelengths correspond to different colors:

Wavelength (nm) Color
380-450 Violet
450-495 Blue
495-570 Green
570-590 Yellow
590-620 Orange
620-750 Red

When a material absorbs some wavelengths and reflects others, we see the reflected wavelengths as color.

Pigment Particles

Paint pigments contain colored particles that selectively absorb and reflect different wavelengths of light. Common examples include:

  • Cadmium yellow – absorbs violet to blue, reflects green to red
  • Cadmium orange – absorbs violet to green, reflects yellow to red
  • Vermillion – absorbs violet to orange, reflects red

When two pigments are mixed, their light absorption and reflection combine. If the mix lacks particles to reflect longer red wavelengths, no true red will be produced.

Why Yellow and Orange Don’t Directly Make Red

Yellow pigments like cadmium yellow absorb short violet-blue wavelengths and reflect green to red. Orange pigments like cadmium orange absorb violet to green and reflect yellow to red. But neither contains particles reflecting at the far red end of the spectrum.

Mixing the two combines their mid-range absorption/reflection. This creates a color that remains in the yellow to orange range – not enough to produce pure red.

In contrast, magenta contains pigments that reflect both the mid-range yellow-green wavelengths and the longer red wavelengths. Combining this with yellow creates a full red color.

How to Use Color Mixing in Painting

While yellow and orange may not mix directly to red, these colors can still be used together beautifully in painting. Here are some tips for working with these colors:

  • Mix yellow and orange to produce a range of warm, golden hues perfect for sunsets, autumn scenes, or glowing light effects.
  • Layer pure cadmium red lightly over a yellow-orange mix to shift it towards a more reddish tone.
  • Use blues and violets to subdue intense orange-yellows into earthy shades.
  • Pair yellow and orange with purple, blue, or green to create vivid contrast and lively color combinations.

The blending possibilities of yellow, orange, and red are endless. Having a fundamental understanding of how the colors interact allows for better mixing and more flexibility in applying color in your artwork.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does yellow and orange make red?

No, mixing yellow and orange paint does not produce red. The resulting color is a yellow-orange hue due to the pigments and light waves involved. To make red, you need to mix a color with longer wavelengths like magenta or crimson with yellow.

What color does yellow and orange make?

Mixing yellow and orange makes a vibrant golden yellow-orange color. The specifics depend on the paint pigments used but stay in the yellow to orange color range.

What two colors make red?

Common color combinations to mix red paint include magenta + yellow, cadmium red + white, alizarin crimson + cadmium yellow, and vermillion + titanium white. Of these, magenta + yellow most directly produces a pure red.

How do you mix a vibrant red?

For an intense, vivid red, try mixing alizarin crimson or cadmium red with a lemon or cadmium yellow. Adding a dash of white can also boost the brightness. Vermillion is another excellent standalone pigment for mixing bright reds.

What colors should not be mixed?

Some colored pigments can turn muddy or dull if mixed together, like mixing complementary colors orange and blue. Very intense pigments like cadmiums can also overwhelm weaker pigments. In general, mix colors in small amounts first to test their compatibility.


Mixing the colors yellow and orange produces a lively yellow-orange shade – not quite red. While these colors are beautiful together, different pigment combinations are needed to make a true red paint mixture. Understanding the science behind paint mixing allows for more informed color choices and better painting techniques.