Mixing Colors: How to Mix Paint Colors to Make a Custom Color

Color splash in paint bucket isolated on white background

Mixing colors might seem like an easy topic but if you research a bit on it, you will find that thousands of guides have been written on this subject. What could be the reason behind this – is it not as simple as orange = red + yellow?

Sure, that is the basic formula, but there is still a lot more to mixing colors, especially when it comes to mixing paints. The reason being that paint is not always manufactured in its perfect uniform hues. In fact, millions of varieties of a single color can exist.

If you buy red, it could come in many forms such as warm red, cool red, transparent red, or even opaque red. So when you use these for mixing colors to make your own custom color, you will end up with a shade that is not what you were looking for.

Female hands mixing paints on a wooden art palette

Furthermore, the properties of a particular shade of paint depend upon the manufacturer. The individual pigment type of the selected color also plays a role in the result you get by mixing colors. The techniques and materials used in paint production will affect the final shade too.

Often, three or more hues may be present in a single color. For instance, brick red can include a bit of brown, orange and red in it. Thus, when it comes to mixing colors, it is not limited to only two colors.

It is important to understand the science behind mixing colors in order to get perfect results when you mix your own colors. Let us take a look at a few expert recommended techniques.

Techniques for mixing colors

Bucket of blue paint mixing in motion
  • The secret to mixing colors is to start with very little paint in the first place. If you are going to use a lot of paint in the beginning, then you should make sure you know the proportions needed to mix. Besides this, remember that mixing too much paint at once is going to make matters more difficult for you when you need to change the resultant shade.
  • Start by taking small amounts of paint and adding the mixture in steps. The color will change a little at a time and you can then decide if you need to add more or make any other changes. Keep track of the ratios and quantities you are using in case you want to create more of the same color later.
  • When using custom mixed colors for painting walls, remember to let the paint dry. The color you get when the paint is wet will not be the same after it has dried.
  • It is always a good idea to mix colors on the side of a palette when painting artwork. Make sure to use a palette knife for stirring the colors. Do not use the brush for this purpose as its bristles can soak up the color before it has been mixed completely.
  • Practice mixing colors regularly. This can especially help students of art excel in the subject. The experience can come in handy and is sure to give you freedom to paint more intuitively.
  • Mixing three primary colors results in brown. Likewise, mixing complementary colors like blue-orange, red-green and purple-yellow also results in brown.
  • If you are making shades of gray, experiment with mixing varying amounts of orange-blue and white.
  • When mixing colors, make sure to consider the temperature of the colors. This means that when making orange, mix together a warm red with a warm yellow or, conversely, a cool red with cool yellow. When testing the result, you can make color charts to see if the resultant custom color is giving warm or cool undertones. Cool and warm colors can exist together in art on canvas, but they do not give favorable results when used for custom color mixing.
  • When darkening a color, avoid using black since the effect can end up a bit ‘muddy’. Try mixing brown instead or use the original color’s complementary shade.
Shape from mix of two colors in water

These are a few tried and tested techniques and tips used by experts for mixing colors and paints. The techniques can be applied while using leftover wall paints or for creating beautiful artwork on canvas.