In elementary school art class, most people learned the basics of mixing colors. Coloring with paint helped us see how primary colors can become secondary colors, tints, and shades with proper mixing. Yet, those core art lessons aren’t clear and consistent in every form of color mixing.
When mixing red and blue, which are two primary colors, we might not always get the same exact color. The color you get depends on the medium you’re using, along with the types of red and blue you choose. So, here are the basics of mixing red and blue together.
What Color Do Red and Blue Make When Painting?
When mixing red and blue on paper or canvas, you’ll likely get some kind of purple. “Red + blue = purple” is something that’s often covered in early art classes.
However, mixing colors isn’t always as simple as it sounds. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to create the perfect purple paint, it just doesn’t seem right. Blending red and blue to make the ideal color takes a lot of trial and error, so following some tips and tricks might help you achieve it.
Why Does Mixing Red and Blue Not Always Make Purple?
The problem with mixing colors today is that there are so many variations of red and blue. Some reds and blues make a perfect purple when mixed together. Others create a dark, gross-looking color that’s far from what you expected.
If your purple ends up looking dull or unpleasant, it could be because some red and blue paints contain a little yellow in them. Since yellow complements purple, the two create a brown color when mixed. So, even a little bit of yellow mixed in with the red or blue could throw the purple off.
When looking for ideal mixing colors, be sure to choose a paint that’s pure red or blue, without any unexpected colors mixed in. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to mix a bright purple, no matter how hard you try. It can also be helpful to try mixing a variety of reds and blues to observe the different types of purples you get.
It’s important to note that the type of paint you’re using could vary your results. Acrylic, watercolor, and oil paints all have different consistencies, so some might be easier to mix than others.
What Paints Should You Use?
For example, let’s say you’re trying to make purple using “ultramarine blue.” If you use “alizarin crimson,” which is a deep red, the mixture comes out more gray than purple. That’s because the red is darker and already has a hint of blue in it.
A light red, such as “permanent rose,” will create a much better purple mixture. However, if you want an even lighter purple, you can try using “cerulean blue” instead of ultramarine blue. You’ll end up with a nice violet.
The paint names aren’t always consistent, but you’ll likely find a wide variety of blues and reds to work with, no matter what brand and type of paint you use. Taking some time to test all the red and blue mixtures can be a great way to see all the purple possibilities. From there, you can think about adding tints or shades to your purple.
How to Mix Different Shades of Purple
Mixing red and blue together will get you a true purple color, but that’s not always the color you’ll want. In some cases, you’ll want to make different shades of purple that are lighter or darker.
Mixing Lighter Purple
Adding white to a color is the easiest way to make the paint lighter. Adding extra red can also make the purple look warmer and softer.
Mixing Darker Purple
To create darker shades of purple, you can add extra blue instead. You can also add a tiny bit of black, but don’t overdo it. Mixing in too much black could overpower the color, which is difficult to fix.
Purple vs. Violet vs. Indigo
RGB: 128, 0, 128
CMYK 0, 100, 0, 50
RGB: 143, 0, 255
CMYK 44, 100, 0, 0
RGB: 75, 0, 130
CMYK 42, 100, 0, 49
Sometimes, you might see the words purple and violet used interchangeably, but they’re not the same exact color. On the color wheel, the color is often referred to as violet instead of purple. Violet is on the electromagnetic spectrum while purple isn’t. In fact, violet is on the lowest end of the light wavelength spectrum.
In most cases, violet appears more blue than red, while purple is closer to a perfect mixture of the two. In other words, they’re different shades or tints of the same color.
Indigo is another purple variant that’s more blue than red. Both violet and indigo are colors of the rainbow while purple isn’t included in “ROYGBIV”. By definition, indigo is a deeper color with more blue than violet.
Regardless of the type of purple you mix, it’s a good idea to understand the meaning before using it in your art. Purple represents imagination, mystery, royalty, and spirituality. It’s meant to enlighten, inspire, and encourage those who look at it.
Lighter tints of purple often represent romantic and nostalgic feelings. However, darker shades of purple are signs of sadness and frustration.
So, when you mix red and blue together with paint, consider how these shades and tints of purple will affect those admiring your artwork. Purple is a beautiful color, but it has so much deeper meaning to it.
Can You Mix Colors to Create Red and Blue?
Since red and blue are primary colors, no two colors mix together to create a perfect red or blue. However, if you don’t have red or blue paint, you can still make it from scratch, as long as you understand the color wheel. You will need to use a subtractive formula to create either of these colors from scratch.
For blue, you can mix cyan and magenta together. Cyan is green-blue and magenta is purple-red. While it might seem like an odd combination, it will give you a pure blue. It’s sort of like how the cyan, yellow, and magenta ink in a printer can make all other colors.
So, for red, you will need to mix magenta and yellow together in a similar way. Of course, it’s easier to buy red and blue paint, but mixing them is an artistic decision that helps advance your knowledge of color theory.
What Color Do Red and Blue Make With Lights?
If you’re mixing red and blue lights together, the result is no longer purple. In this scenario, red and blue make magenta. Blue and red are still primary colors for lighting, but the mixture of colors that our eyes see is slightly different from paint mixtures.
Understanding the Light Spectrum
Electromagnetic radiation depends on the frequency of wavelengths, and in the middle of that spectrum is light visible to the human eye. Ultraviolet, x-ray, and gamma-ray have a higher wavelength frequency than visible light while infrared, microwave, and radio have a lower frequency.
One interesting aspect of this spectrum is that temperature closely correlates with the color of light. When objects increase in temperature, the energy released has shorter wavelengths, making it appear different to the human eye. It’s why you might see a flame turn from red to blue as it gets hotter.
Understanding colors, wavelengths, and temperatures in this way helps astronomers learn more about space. However, for most humans, the impressive spectrum of light is just the ordinary way we perceive the world. When we look at colors, a lot more is happening than we think.
How Do Our Eyes Perceive Colors in Light?
When our eyes look at color, we’re seeing how that object reflects or gives off light to create a certain color. Each color is a certain wavelength that our eyes can perceive.
Cones and rods, which are cells in our eyes, are what help us see different colors. Rods take in visible light and send it to our brains. Then, cones catch the light at certain wavelengths that match the right color.
Wavelengths on the low end of the light spectrum tend to appear red while the ones on the high end are closer to blue. Anything in the middle is perceived as green. Thus, red, blue, and green are the primary colors in light. Any other light colors are a mixture of these.
When we see a mixture of blue and red light together, we see magenta rather than purple.
The only exceptions to this process are pigments. Pigments are natural coloring that trap frequencies of light and only let certain frequencies bounce off objects, rather than adding light together. This process is called subtractive coloring, which is similar to how paints and dyes are created.
Chlorophyll is the most popular pigment, which is commonly found in green plants. It absorbs blue and red light, causing only green light to be reflected to the human eye. Some other pigments are hemoglobin, melanin, carotenoids, and anthocyanin.
So, if blue and red pigments are mixed together, they’ll create purple just like a paint mixture.
Mixing the Perfect Colors
Mixing colors looks simple on paper, but finding the perfect hue can sometimes be more difficult than expected. Between different types of colors, such as painting, lighting, and printing, the color that blue and red make can vary. So, it might take some trial and error to find the perfect purple or magenta. Luckily, the more you practice mixing colors, the more you’ll learn for future projects.