What Colors Make Brown and How Do You Mix Different Shades of Brown?

Shades of brown brush strokes

Brown is unmatched in its versatility. Rich and textured, brown awakens feelings of strength and reliability. There is something about brown’s connection with the very dirt and clay that sculpt the earthen terrain we walk on that makes us feel grounded and connected. This is why brown evokes feelings of warmth, comfort and naturalness when introduced into a space.

However, brown done the right way can be extremely sophisticated. It can even activate our senses like a cup of strong, nutty coffee or tart dark chocolate. You have every reason in the world to want to incorporate the color brown into your color expeditions.

You may be wondering what colors make brown and how you can create this color from scratch. Take a look at what you need to know to craft earthen, chocolatey hues that treat the senses.

The Perks of Mixing Your Own Brown Paint

Angle view photo of color palette with mixed brown oil paints and paintbrushes

Typically, brown is used as an accent in paintings and décor. That means it doesn’t make sense to buy tube after tube of different shades of brown just to be able to paint texture on chocolate truffles or add a dusting of sandstone along a riverbank landscape.

For artists, knowing how to create very specific and realistic shades of brown using paint colors they already have in their palette saves time and money. Yes, you can create masterful shades of brown using the main colors you probably already have in your art kit. What’s more, these techniques carry over even if you’re planning a much larger and ambitious interior décor project.

What Colors Make Brown?

Brown is a very special case in the color family. That’s because it’s one of the only colors created by mixing the three primary colors. Yes, mixing red, yellow and blue will get you brown. Of course, the ratio that you use when blending the colors will determine the intensity of the brown you create.

How to Make Different Shades of Brown

Color palette with different brown shades from light to dark

Anyone who has looked around at brown dirt, sand, dogs, fall leaves and chocolates knows that there are endless shades of natural brown in the universe. As a result, you may want to tweak the Red + Yellow + Blue formula a bit to create very nuanced shades of brown. Take a look at the formulas for creating variants of brown:

Light Brown (Coffee With Milk, Natural-Looking Fur and Sandy Beaches):
Red + Yellow + Blue + White

Warm Brown (Bricks, Wood, Tree Bark and Stones):
Red (heavier) + Yellow (heavier) + Blue

Cool Brown (Dark Hair, Wintertime Trees and Shiny Dunes):
Red + Yellow + Blue (heavier)

Dark Brown (Brunette Hair, Twilight Scenes and Chocolate Desserts):
Red + Yellow + Dark Blue

Creating custom hues of brown is truly a balancing act. While white can be great for creating a latte-type hue, you do run the risk of getting too far into the beige family if you’re too quick to swirl white into your palette. There’s also no shortcut to getting to a darker shade of brown quickly by blending in some black. Generally, black simply overpowers brown to the point where it loses its textured nuance.

A dark, inky blue is often a better option for darkening brown than black. In fact, dark brown that has been deepened with blue is often used as a replacement for black when painting twilight and evening scenes because it allows for the details to show through while still conveying the same “dark as night” look.

Brown is also the perfect base for creating a beautiful and realistic rust color. In fact, this is one of the only times when black actually works well with brown. The easiest recipe for rust-colored paint is to add red and yellow to a very flat brown. You can then add just a touch of very grimy black. Some people even like to add a touch of gold for a brassy texture.

Perfecting Brown Hues

Decorative wall paint with brown and beige shades

It’s likely that you’ll make the mistake of adding too much white when trying to tone down brown. It’s not too late if you find that you’re headed more toward a cashew-colored tone than a true brown. You can actually walk back your color a bit to restore the rich brown tones that you’re trying to achieve.

The simplest way to darken brown without adding black or a harsh blue is to experiment with adding red and yellow to create a warmer tone. Conversely, you can bring in a touch of blue to draw out the cooler hints within your custom shade. A little blue can do a great job of bringing out the highlights in an image.

How to Optimize Brown

Oil painting of Venice at night with brown, turquoise and yellow colors

When painting with brown, it soon becomes obvious that this is a very overpowering color. This is one of the reasons why it works so well as an accent shade. However, you can successfully pull off painting in blocks of brown if you understand how to stage brown.

You only have a handful of colors that really work in harmony with brown. This is especially important to know if you’re creating a shade of brown paint because you intend to paint a room or accent wall in brown. In addition, knowing about brown’s flattering companion colors is also important if you’ll be slathering a canvas in rich, brown paint. Here’s a look at the colors that work with brown:

White: Crisp, pristine white creates a beautiful contrast with a dark or chocolate brown. The contrast created is pleasing to the eye because it is much gentler than the classic black-and-white contrast. However, it creates that same elegant effect.

Yellow: Yellow is a good option for infusing energy into brown spaces.

Turquoise: Calling on the blue within the color brown, turquoise does a great job of bringing out the nuance hidden within brown.

Rose: Similar to turquoise, rose brings out the natural primary red that is in brown. It also contrasts brown’s warmth nicely.

While these colors are just suggestions, they all draw out the very rich and deep beauty that can be easily overlooked due to the strength of brown. The bottom line on creating brown is that there’s no limit to how granular you can get when mixing shades of brown that occur in nature. Just remember that it all starts with a balance of red, yellow and blue. What you do after that depends on how rich or muted you’d like your brown to be.