How to Mix Colors for Painting?

The very best way of learning how to mix colours is to mix colours in a systematic way and create a colour chart.

You can mix colours using any media – dry media works just as well as paint. I’d always suggest you use the type of paper or support that you normally work on as the support has a major influence on how a colour reads.

There are a number of approaches to mixing colour. The two main ways are:



This is when the paint is actually mixed with a brush or palette knife (or pastel or pencil) into another colour to create a completely new colour. The mix is determined by the power of each brand/pigment and the relative percentages used eg 75:25 50:50. Such mixes are typically done away from the support.



This is when one colour is laid over and/or mixed with another colour. Such mixes are typically created on the support (e.g. when working “wet in wet” in watercolour where colours are allowed to mix in a less controlled fashion). The resulting effect in part depends on the nature of the ground/support, the relative strength of the underpaint and covering paint, the control exercised over the mixing and the extent to which a colour is opaque or transparent. When using dry media there is a potential for all mixes to be optical since all mixing MUST be done on the support.

Here are some examples of Mixing colours for Painting.

APPROACH #1 The normal approach is to create a grid of squares with the same set of colours in the same order on the x and y axis.
* create a column of paint for each of the colours – and let it dry
* repeat the exercise and create a row of paint for each colour – and see what results when one colour is painted over another as a glaze

APPROACH #2 Repeat – but this time create a fresh mix for each square on the palette before bringing it to the chart. Complete one cube at a time. (This will use a lot of paint)

APPROACH #3 To test the possible mixes of two colours on the paper/support you need to have a column (or a row) with a lot of space in between. Have a pure square of the two colours to be mixed at either end and then either develop a continuous strip of colour or fill boxes in between the two colours (see a chart completed in this way below – I used different complementary colours to identify a range of coloured neutrals).

APPROACH #4 Certain artists like to puddle a colour and then drag some colour into a puddle of another colour to see how it mixes. This tends to be done in a haphazard way and works better for artists who have got very good brush control and know how wet the brush needs to be with paint and medium or water. It’s fine as a method for testing paint while working but it lacks structure and data for a systematic review. I also very often find such experiments are not labelled with the paints which were mixed – and hence learning after the event can be limited. If you use this method don’t forget to label the paints being mixed!


Alternatively file them in a folder and use them as a reference guide for colour mixing. You could try developing charts based on different colour groups.

* You can create colour charts for different projects or environments
* You can determine whether you want to test out different mixes of the same two colours and/or additions of white or black and/or dilutions and/or variations on which colour is the underpaint and which is the glaze.

* you can spend a lot of money mixing paint to create charts of colours you may never use. Sometimes it’s best to start with a guide from another source – and then focus in on the colours which you want to use.

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