Bright and cheerful, yellow is a color that is naturally infused with energy. Energetic yellow is considered to be the most visible color on the spectrum. As a result, many artists and interior designers consider it to be an accent color that draws attention to strategic spots. There’s a reason why traffic signs use yellow to get the attention of drivers in a snap.
Of course, yellow is also a warm color that evokes the sensation of droplets of sunshine coating us in summertime bliss. Knowing how to create very specific shades of yellow can help you to get your desired effect instead of accidentally creating an overpowering, fatigue-inducing hue.
It’s easy to point to things like the sun or fields of daffodils when thinking of where to find yellow in the natural world. However, you may be curious about how to create yellow for use in your own palette.
Along with red and blue, yellow is one of the three primary colors. There is often confusion surrounding the question of whether it’s possible to make primary colors from scratch, and many of us learned back in grade-school art class that primary colors cannot be made by blending other colors.
However, that wisdom is a bit outdated. When creating primary colors, we can use something called subtractive color mixing to actually subtract wavelengths from white. Let’s take a look at the colors that are used to make yellow.
What Colors Make Yellow?
It actually takes one primary color and one secondary color to make yellow. We can make yellow by combining red and green. Let’s talk about why this happens. When adding red and green together, the aspects of the colors that are incompatible actually balance each other out to draw out the shared “yellow” aspects that remain. The color exploration doesn’t have to end once you find your way to yellow. You can actually take the principles of color blending to create custom shades of pale, dramatic and vivid yellows.
How to Make Different Shades of Yellow
We’re really experimenting with making yellow lighter and darker when talking about making new shades of yellow. Yellow is an exciting color to tweak because yellow tones range from glittering gold to muted blonde. Here’s a look at the formulas for creating the most iconic shades of yellow:
Gold: Yellow + Black + Red
Bright Yellow: Yellow + Green
Mustard Yellow: Yellow + Red + Orange
Cadmium Yellow: Yellow + Orange
Flaxen Yellow: Yellow + Gray
Banana Yellow: Yellow + White
You can make custom shades of yellow that match up with the natural hues of bananas, lemons and canaries by following a few simple paint rules. First, it’s important to know the right way to enhance yellow to make it deeper and darker. Most people intuitively mix in black when they want to draw out the richness of yellow. While this is effective for creating gold, it may not be the best choice when making other shades of gold. Unfortunately, black can actually rob yellow of its splendor by making it dull because of the way darker colors strip lighter colors of their brightness.
However, there is still room for mixing black, navy and gray strategically when creating specific shades. When looking for a way to avoid the “dullness” trap that often occurs with darker colors, you can add shades that complement yellow. Here’s a look at the colors that can make yellow darker without using black:
It’s important to have an experimental mindset when trying to make yellow darker. A small dab will often be enough to make yellow very bold. Yellow is an interesting color to work with because it’s one of the few that can actually be enhanced very easily using alternate shades of its own color. Yes, the best way to darken yellow is often to simply add darker shades of yellow. You can also use this technique by adding lighter yellow shades to tone down stronger shades of yellow.
The tone-down method works especially nicely for yellow because the overpowering qualities of yellow actually benefit greatly from nuance. You may get a very natural, authentic shade of yellow by toning down a cadmium yellow hue with a paler hue of yellow. Again, you’ll need to focus on introducing the new color to an existing color very gradually to ensure that you don’t saturate your starting color beyond recognition.
Beyond Mixing: The Glaze Technique
Yellow is an infamously tricky color to work with for painters and designers. As a result, experts have developed quite a few hacks for taming paint that go beyond just mixing in other colors. It is actually fairly common to do one small trick after painting with yellow to give it a very finished, toned-down look that requires no color math at all.
The technique is simply to apply layers of glaze over dry yellow paint. What does this do? A layer of glaze over yellow paint helps to take the potentially overwhelming edge off of yellow. A carefully applied glaze can give yellow paint a more faded, rustic look. The results of glaze can be amplified by mixing in just a bit of white-based color with the glaze to really mute things. It often takes several layers of glaze to get a very balanced, eye-pleasing result.
Final Thoughts on Creating Yellow From Scratch
Using green and red to create yellow is really just the beginning! As you can see, it’s easy to recreate many of the hues of color found all throughout nature by adding just a dab of alternative color. However, playing with yellow really can be like playing with fire in terms of how quickly your color can grow intense once you start mixing in new elements. Yellow will quickly take on the characteristics of the colors you add to it if you’re not diligent.