Color Mixing Guide: Learn What Colors Make Brown, Purple, Orange etc.

Color mixing illustration that shows how to make different colors

These days it’s easy to purchase a wide variety of colored paints, crayons, markers, and other art supplies, but no matter how many different colors these companies come up with, it’s impossible to cover them all. This is because there is a near infinite number of color shades that can be created by mixing colors.

A good example of this would be a computer monitor or television that boasts being able to display millions of different colors. While this may sound like some sort of marketing baloney, what it’s really referring to are all the shades that are available thanks to the way colors interact with one another.

Since traditional art supplies can limit how many colors are available to you if you’re just using what comes prepackaged, it’s good to know how to create your own colors by mixing them together. This will give you access to a wider variety of shades to use in your projects, and allow you to really exercise your creativity. With that said, let’s take a look at how to make some of the more common colors, and the shades that are derived from them.

What Colors Make Purple or Violet?

Purple has always been a special color. In ancient times it was incredibly difficult to produce, making it very rare. As a result, it became a color associated with royalty.

These days purple isn’t as hard to make. In fact, you can make it yourself by mixing red and blue. The ratio of each is up to you, but a 50/50 split will create a nice rich shade of purple. You can increase the red to make a more reddish purple and get a shade of magenta, or you can increase the blue to darken the shade. These are known as analogous colors since they are side by side on the color wheel.

Illustration shows how red and blue combined makes purple or violet color

Shades of purple tend to pair well with yellow, which is opposite on the color wheel. This is known as complimentary colors, and for good reason. The darker tones of the purple will make the brightness of the yellow pop, while the yellow makes the purple look deeper and richer by comparison.

Read more about purple and violet color mixing.

What Colors Make Green?

Green is actually a primary color of the light spectrum, but when it comes to pigments, things are a little different. Making shades of green pigment is done by mixing yellow and blue. As you would imagine, making shades of yellow-green are done by increasing the ratio of yellow, and making shades of blue-green are done by increasing the ratio of blue.

Illustration shows how yellow and blue combined makes green color

One notable thing about the color green is that it’s one of the most common colors in nature thanks to the presence of chlorophyll in plants. This has made it a very popular shade when it comes to art as well.

Read more about green color mixing.

What Colors Make Red?

Red is a primary color in both the light spectrum and with pigments. It is at the very end of the color spectrum and comes right before infrared which can’t be seen by human eyes.

Red brush stroke isolated over white background

Since it is a primary color, it is not possible to make red using additive color mixing (follow the link below for a solution). This was never a problem throughout history since acquiring red pigment was very easy. In fact, some of the earliest known cave drawings were done using red pigment, making it possibly one of the first colors used to create art.

Read more about red color mixing.

What Colors Make Blue?

Like red, blue is a primary color in the light spectrum and when it comes to pigments. While you might expect it to lie at the opposite end of the color spectrum from red, blue is actually located between green and violet.

When it comes to color mixing, blue has the same problem as red because it’s a primary color. That said, you can darken it with small amounts of black to make shades like midnight blue, or lighten it with small amounts of white to make something like cerulean blue.

Blue brush stroke isolated over white background

While many people have been conditioned to think that the color blue is associated with males, particularly when babies are born, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the idea that “blue is for boys” was the result of post World War 2 department stores splitting their toy isles into boy and girl sections, and coloring the boys section blue, and the girls section pink to differentiate them.

Read more about blue color mixing.

What Colors Make Yellow?

Yellow is an odd color due to the fact that it is a primary color when it comes to pigments, but a secondary color in the visible light spectrum. In this way it’s similar to green.

While you can’t mix anything to make yellow using additive color mixing, you can mix green and red to make yellow using subtractive color mixing.

Yellow brush stroke isolated over white background

Yellow is also one of the earliest known pigments used in art. This is because yellow ocher was widely available. In fact, one of the oldest known paintings is of a yellow horse on a cave in France. The painting is estimated to be around 17,000 years old.

Read more about yellow color mixing.

What Colors Make Brown?

Brown is one of the strangest and most unique colors. This is because it doesn’t occupy a place on the color spectrum or color wheel, but it also isn’t an achromatic color like black, white, and gray. Instead it is considered a composite color.

Making brown via color mixing is also unique because it can be done in many different ways. Using pigments it can be made by combining red, yellow, and black, or by combining red, blue, and yellow. Using the RGB color spectrum, brown is made by combining red and green.

Illustration shows how red and green combined makes brown color

In painting though, brown is typically made by combining black with orange. While this may seem like it would just produce a darker shade of orange, it will in fact give you a nice shade of brown if done correctly.

Read more about brown color mixing.

What Colors Make Gray?

As previously mentioned, gray is an achromatic color like black and white. What this means is that it’s a color without a hue. This can also be referred to as a neutral color.

Illustration shows how black and white combined makes gray color

Making shades of gray is fairly straightforward as you just need to mix black and white. You can make it darker with more black, or lighter with more white. You can also mix in some yellow to create warmer tones of gray, or blue to make cooler tones of gray.

Read more about gray color mixing.

What Colors Make Turquoise or Cyan?

Turquoise is a shade of cyan. It is a secondary color sometimes called aqua, or even just “blue-green” after the colors used to make it. Shades of turquoise can be altered adjusting the ratio to make shades such as Celeste, sky blue, dark turquoise, or bright turquoise. Being a primary pigment color, cyan is difficult to create, but blue mixed with white does come close.

Illustration shows how blue and white combined makes turquoise or cyan color

Turquoise probably has the most unique name out of all the standard colors since it is literally the French word for “Turkish.” This is because the color was closely associated with a precious gem that was imported from Turkey.

Read more about turquoise and cyan color mixing.

What Colors Make Orange?

Orange is a secondary color that lies between yellow and red on the color spectrum, and on the color wheel. As you would probably guess, it is made by mixing red and yellow. Darker shades are known as red orange, while lighter shades are yellow orange. As previously mentioned, you can also mix it with black to create brown.

Illustration shows how yellow and red combined makes orange color

The origin of the name “orange” is interesting because it is actually named after the fruit. Before it had an official name, the color orange was just called “yellow-red” after the colors used to make it.

Read more about orange color mixing.

What Colors Make Pink?

Speaking of colors named after plants, pink is a shade created by mixing red and white. However, when using water colors you can make it by simply diluting the red with water. In any case more red will make a darker, richer pink, while more white will make it lighter and paler.

Illustration shows how red and white combined makes pink color

Like blue, pink has an interesting history. In many cultures it was actually seen as a symbol of masculinity but that changed thanks to department stores as previously mentioned. These days pink is more closely associated with femininity and romance.

Read more about pink color mixing.

What Colors Make White?

White is a neutral color, also known as an achromatic color. The interesting thing about white is that in the visible light spectrum white is a combination of all colors, but with pigments it is an absence of color.

Interestingly enough, white is made in the RGB color spectrum by mixing red, blue, and green, the three primary colors of the light spectrum. Since it can’t be made by mixing pigments, white instead must be obtained naturally.

White brush stroke isolated over white background

Also of note is the fact that white pigment reflects all incoming light. The reason for this is that because it reflects all wavelengths, all of the colors of light are combined to make white.

Read more about white color mixing.

What Colors Make Black?

Black is the exact opposite of white in more ways than one. While white is a combination of all wavelengths of light, black is the absence of light. Black is also made by mixing red, blue, and yellow, the three primary colors of the color wheel.

Illustration shows how yellow, red and blue combined makes black color

Unlike white, black absorbs all of the wavelengths of light rather than reflecting them. Since it absorbs so much energy, black surfaces tend to get much hotter than other surfaces. The darkest shade of black, created by MIT engineers, actually absorbs up to 99.995% of light.

Read more about black color mixing.

Be Bold and Experiment

While knowing what colors to mix in order to create new shades can be a powerful artistic tool, it may also feel intimidating since you may realize that you’re never going to create a brand new color. However, there are practically an infinite number of shades to explore and play with.

By mixing your own colors rather than relying exclusively on premade store bought products, you can create shades that are more unique, and better suited to your artistic pursuits. You can also experiment with color theory, and all the ways that different colors interact with one another.

On computers it’s even easier as you have access to a variety of blending tools and options. Using the RGB spectrum you have the ability to create literally millions of different colors that you can use as you see fit.

Whether you’re mixing colors for your job, or for your own interests, it’s always fun seeing the different shades come to life. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a shade that you previously hadn’t thought of that will make all the difference for your project.