What Color Do Yellow and Gray Make When Mixed?

Yellow and gray wallpaper

You might not use yellow and gray in designs often, but to better understand how color mixing works, it’s a good idea to know all color combinations. With one bright and one dark color, you’re sure to get an interesting result.

Gray isn’t always an easy color to mix with, but it’s still fascinating to try using it with different colors. So, what happens if you mix yellow and gray? Will it make the same color in every medium?

What Color Do Yellow and Gray Make in Paint?

Yellow and gray mixed together create an olive green color or gray with a green tint. It’s not what you’d expect, but it’s a unique hue that can be interesting in designs.

When you mix gray with any color, it creates a tone. Tones usually bring down the intensity of a color, so olive is a toned-down version of yellow. Most color mixtures using gray seem dull, but yellow and gray create one of the most interesting results.

Understanding the RYB Color Model

RYB color model illustrated with colorful overlapping circles

RYB is the color model that’s often taught in early art classes when kids are learning to paint. It’s a form of subtractive mixing that’s used with any type of physical art medium, such as paints and pastels.

The primary colors on this color model are red, yellow, and blue. By mixing two primary colors, you can create the secondary colors, which are green, purple, and orange. Then, all three primary colors combined create brown.

You might notice that white, black, and gray aren’t pictured on RYB’s color wheel. However, they exist in paint because they’re used to make colors lighter, darker, or less vibrant.

Making Olive Lighter or Darker

Olive is an interesting type of green, but it might not be the right color for your design. If you’d like to adjust a color to fit your preferences better, then here are some ways to make hues lighter or darker.

Mixing Tints

Tints are defined as a color mixed with white. The white makes the color look lighter and paler. So, adding some white to olive will make it look pastel, but it will also make it less vibrant. The more white you add, the paler the color will become.

Mixing Shades

Shades are any color with black added to them, which makes them look darker. Black paint is a lot more overpowering than white, so you only need to add a small amount to darken a color. Olive is already somewhat dim, so it’s unlikely that you’ll have to make the shade much darker.

Olive Color Meaning

Hand picking green olives

Olive is an obscure color, so it’s difficult to imagine what it will mean. It doesn’t seem similar to the color meanings of yellow, so it’s more closely related to green’s symbolism, which relates to safety, health, and growth.

Specifically, olive green is a symbol of peace, harmony, and sophistication. It’s often related to empathy and perception too. So, it’s most commonly used as a positive, uplifting color. Yet, the exact meaning can vary based on the context.

Can You Create Yellow and Gray Paint?

Most paint colors can be created by mixing other colors together. So, if you run out of yellow or gray paint, you might be able to get more without going shopping. Luckily, gray is an easy color to make. It’s a mixture of white and black. The more white you use, the lighter the gray will appear.

However, there’s no way to create a perfect yellow paint. Yellow is a primary color on both subtractive color models, so those diagrams won’t show you a way to mix it. The only way to create yellow paint would be to add a lot of white to orange. Even then, the yellow would be much paler than a traditional yellow. So, your best option is to buy more yellow paint instead. In lights, yellow is made by mixing red and green.

What Color Do Yellow and Gray Make in Lights?

Yellow spotlights on neutral background

Unfortunately, you cannot mix yellow and gray in lights because lights cannot be the color gray. That’s because black is the absence of detectable light, and gray is simply a lighter version of black. Thus, gray won’t appear on the visible light spectrum or RGB, which is the color model used for mixing colors in lights and digital displays.

The primary colors in RGB are red, green, and blue. You can combine them to make the secondary colors, which are cyan, yellow, and magenta. If all three primary colors are combined at full brightness, they make white. So, when lots of colors are added together in RGB, they make a lighter color rather than a darker one.

Even though gray light doesn’t exist naturally, we can still see gray objects. So, how is that possible?

Why Can’t Lights Be Gray?

If you look at the visible light spectrum, you’ll notice that it’s full of bright, vibrant colors, but dark colors like black, brown, and gray aren’t there. Those colors don’t exist naturally in lights. That’s because some colors don’t exist due to wavelengths, but instead, they’re seen due to context.

Our eyes do a lot to help us perceive colors, but they also rely on our brains. An object might be a certain color in light wavelengths, but our brains can shift how we perceive that color. For example, a dimmer white light can look gray, but only if it’s next to a brighter white light. So, if there are two white lights of different brightnesses next to each other, our brains may register the dimmer light as gray.

If you ever see gray in lights or on a digital display, it’s not gray at all. It’s just a dimmer version of another color that your brain is telling you is gray. That’s why you can’t create mixtures using the color gray in lights even though we can perceive things as gray on a screen.

How Do Our Eyes Perceive Colors?

Visible light spectrum illustration with human eye and colored wavelengths

Even though we need our brains to help us see every color, our eyes still do a lot of work to perceive colored lights. When we see the color of an object, we’re seeing the wavelengths that are reflecting off the object.

Each type of wavelength on the visible light spectrum represents a different color. The wavelengths go from long and stretched out to short and frequent. The end with the longest wavelengths is red while the shortest ones represent violet.

So, if you look at a red apple, only the longest wavelengths will reflect off it while all colors with shorter wavelengths will be absorbed. Thus, the apple will appear red because only red wavelengths are reflected toward our eyes.

Inside our eyes, we have cone and rod cells, which help us perceive colors. Cone cells help us see colors in bright lighting, and they’re found in the center of our retinas. Rod cells can help us see colors when lights are dim. Both of those cells work together to help us see colors no matter how bright the lights around us are.

Does Gray Exist in the CMYK Color Model?

The CMYK color model is used for mixing colors in printer ink. It seems similar to the RGB color model because the primary and secondary colors are similar but swapped. In CMYK, the primary colors are cyan, magenta, and yellow, while the secondary colors are red, green, and blue. However, CMYK is very different from RGB because it’s a subtractive color model instead of an additive one.

Gray exists in CMYK. The K in CMYK stands for “key color,” which is referring to black. A little black ink can make gray, which can then be used to mix with other colors. So, if you tried to mix yellow and gray in ink, you would get an olive color like you would with paints.

Designing with Yellow and Gray

Yellow and gray dining room

If you feel like you’ve seen the combination of yellow and gray in designs a lot lately, it’s most likely because Pantone selected these two colors as colors of the year for 2021.

Yellow and gray don’t always make the most appealing design, but luckily, there are plenty of ways to make it more interesting. If you’re designing with yellow and gray, you can try adding white, blue, brown, orange, or pink to the color scheme. Yet, if you decorate using these two colors separately, you’ll have more options.

Gray is a neutral color, so there are lots of hues that go well with it. Some colors you can pair with gray are blue, purple, gold, red, or green. Colors that go nicely with yellow are orange, white, pink, blue, or brown. Even if you planned to make a design using mostly yellow and gray, you might find that other colors work better.

Mixing with Gray Is Not That Common

Gray isn’t commonly used for mixing in any color medium besides creating tones in paints, which are muted versions of the other colors. With lights, it can’t be mixed at all. Yet, it can be a great way to experiment with mixtures and get unique results.

Mixing gray and yellow paints is an ideal way to give you a nice olive green color. So, you never know what you might get when you mix a wide variety of color combinations. Experimenting with mixtures is the best way to learn about color theory and find new colors for your designs.