Pro Tips to Help You Learn How to Mix Paints

Mixing paint is a complex process due to a number of factors such as color theory and painting medium. This article will help simplify the basics for you.

For any artist, knowing how to mix paint to create various colors is one of the most basic yet essential skills to have. The paints you may have in your kit aren’t always going to be exactly the same as the subject of your painting. This is why you need to mix various shades until you achieve a color that’s the closest to what your eyes are perceiving. Aside from producing realistic-looking paintings, you would need to mix paint for many reasons. When painting portraits of people, getting their skin tone as accurate as possible can be a very challenging task, especially because everyone’s skin has a unique color and undertone.

You might even be someone who is looking to work as a painting conservator in the future. In that case, you will have to master the art of paint mixing so that you don’t end up changing the whole look of a painting when you’re restoring it.

Don’t fret: Mixing paint gets easier with practice. After you go through this article, you’ll be equipped with the basics that will help you understand mixing a little bit better. If you’re ever in need of more guidance, however, you can always check out the artincontext color mixing guide for more detailed instructions on paint mixing.

What is Color Theory?

In order for you to grasp the concept of mixing, you must first understand what color theory is. In art, it is often defined as the science of working with colors. Not only is it an explanation of how we humans perceive colors, but it also is a set of rules that tells artists how to mix colors.

If you’re going to try and understand color theory, you need to use a color wheel. The color wheel organizes colors into a spectrum in regard to how one color relates to the other. When using the wheel, you will be faced with the following terms:

  • Primary Colors: red, blue, and yellow are called primary colors as they cannot be created through mixing. They are stand-alone.
  • Secondary Colors: orange, green, and purple are secondary colors as they are made when you mix the primary colors.
  • Tertiary colors: when you mix primary and secondary colors, you get tertiary colors. Cyan, pink, and violet are examples of such colors.

Some other terms you might have to learn to include complementary and analogous colors. Complementary colors are opposites, but when used together, they make each other appear brighter and more vibrant. Analogous colors are usually sided by side on the color wheel.

Now that I’ve explained a little bit about color theory, let’s move on to the actual mixing process.

Understanding Basic Mixtures

When you get a hold of how the color wheel works, you can take a look at it to get a better idea of what you can mix together to get the shade you want. Here are some basic examples of mixtures to get you started.

As I said before, to make a secondary color you have to mix two primary colors. Let’s say you mix blue and red to make purple. But what dictates the shade of purple that you will get? Well, this is where ratios come into play. You want to remember what ratio of blue or red you’re using—your mixture won’t always have an exact 50/50 ratio, and depending on what hue of purple you want, you will play around with the ratios all the time.

Once you have your desired secondary colors, you can move on to mixing them with your primary colors to produce tertiary colors.

Mixing to Create Brown

Brown is one of the more complicated colors to mix, especially because so many different combinations exist. This, of course, can be said about other colors, but brown in particular can be hard to get right.

You will have to start by mixing all three primary colors. This will result in a deep brown shade. If you want something a little lighter, consider mixing secondary colors with primary ones. For example, purple and yellow can be combined to produce light brown.

Mixing with Different Paint Mediums

Color combination isn’t the only thing you need to know in order to mix colors. The type of medium or kind of paint you’re using is also important. Depending on the base of the paint (what the paint is made of) and the consistency, the mixtures will always be different. You will also have to use different solvents or surfaces in some cases, as we will see.


I’m sure everyone has used watercolor before. We all know that it’s water-activated, is very transparent, and can get a little runny. Its consistency is what makes it particularly difficult to handle.

When you are mixing your watercolors, mix it on a surface that won’t soak up the paint (or accelerate evaporation) or a palette with a lot of wells in it. As for the material of the palette, a plastic one will do. You should also clean brushes in between each and every color. If you find that rinsing the brushes isn’t helping, use different brushes, even though that might slightly complicate the process. Don’t worry about getting too much water on the paint. A tissue can be used to carefully control the water content when you are mixing.


Acrylic paints are much easier to use and are perfect for beginners. All you need to do is squeeze out your primary colors on the edge of the palette and start your mixing in the middle.

There are two things you have to keep in mind. Firstly, if you want a smooth, workable mixture, control the amount of water in your brush. Slightly dip the tip of your brush into water before mixing, but make sure you dab off excess liquid.

Secondly, acrylics appear darker when they are dry, so don’t be alarmed if your mixture appears darker than what you originally created. To avoid this problem, you can just work with the ratio of the combinations or just add white before you lay it out on paper.

Oil Paints

Oil paints are more difficult to mix and work with than other mediums. It’s of a thicker consistency, so it’s harder to mix and will have the tendency to ruin your brushes—which, you shouldn’t be using to mix in the first place. When you plan on mixing oil paints, use paint spatulas or palette knives. It’ll be like mixing creams or foundations (very satisfying).

If you feel your oil paints are a little too thick, don’t use water. Oil and water don’t mix, so you will have to use solvents like turpentine or linseed oil to thin the paint.

That concludes my guide for how to properly master the art of mixing paint. I do hope you find this helpful and use it to practice your skills. Good luck!