Mixing Common Paint Colours

Here is a description of the properties of many well-known proprietary paint colours that feature in standard artist ranges together with some hints on mixing:

ULTRAMARINE BLUE: A warm, transparent blue, used mainly in mixtures. Blended with browns and white, it produces a range of warm and cool grays. With yellows, it produces rich greens. Do not mix with Cadmium Reds; the result is an unattractive, muddy tone, though with Crimson, Ultramarine Blue produces attractive violets.

PHTHALOCYANINE BLUE: Usually called Thalo Blue, this colour is cool, transparent and brilliant. Mixed with transparent reds and crimsons, it produces dazzling purples. If mixed with white and browns, the result will be a blue-gray.

COBALT BLUE: A soft, cool blue, yielding delicate greens when mixed with yellows; pearly grays with browns and white.

CADMIUM RED: Available in light, medium and dark. The light, extremely intense, is the most useful of the three. With yellows, it makes strong oranges, but produces a muddy colour when mixed with most blues.

NAPTHOL RED, NAPTHOL CRIMSON: A recently developed colour replacing alizarin crimson. Makes luminous oranges when mixed with yellows.

PHTHALOCYANINE CRIMSON: Similar in effect to Napthol Red; choose one or the other.

RED OXIDE: A deep, earthy red verging on brown. Produces luminous red-brown with earth tones like Burnt Umber.

BURNT SIENNA: Combined with blues, makes warm and cool grays and a wide range of browns.

CADMIUM YELLOW: Available in light, medium and deep, the light is the most useful. Is fairly opaque. Produces vivid green with Thalo Blue, a subtle green with Ultramarine Blue and golden tones when mixed with various earth colors.

HANSA YELLOW: Available in light, medium and deep. Cooler than Cadmium Yellow and much more transparent.

YELLOW OCHRE: Reasonably opaque; with Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Red Oxide and Raw Umber, plus white and a touch of blue, it becomes the basis for a variety of flesh tones. With black or blue, yellow ochre produces olive-toned greens.

PHTHALOCYANINE GREEN Referred to as Thalo Green, it is an extremely strong colour, often needing modification with a touch of red or brown.

CHROMIUM OXIDE GREEN: An opaque green with a distinct olive flavour. Useful for toning down red or softening vivid blue.

HOOKER’S GREEN: A transparent, vivid colour, handling well in mixtures.

BURNT UMBER: A deep brown of moderate tinting strength. Combined with any blue and white, it yields a wide range of warm and cool grays, as well as cool browns. With Burnt Sienna and Red Oxide, it produces coppery tones. It deepens vivid reds, warms greens and blues, and produces golden tones with yellows.

RAW UMBER: Most useful for modifying other colors.

RAW SIENNA: Fairly opaque. Warms and restrains hot reds and makes vivid but subtle greens when mixed with blues.

PAYNE’S GRAY: A bluish-gray, useful for modifying colors because of its mild tinting strength.

Written by William S Tilton, extracted from Campaigns magazine, May 1982


Shading Common Colours – beginner’s guide.

The most important thing to remember when mixing paints is this invaluable advice from Geoff Illsley:

#Useful Tip No.1
 Always add DARK hues to LIGHT hues – not the other way around. This is because, once you have over-lightened a colour, it takes a considerable amount of paint to darken it again – which is incredibly wasteful.

Here is a beginner’s guide on what paints to add to a base colour to achieve highlights and shadows:


Base colour



White (none) Gray or blue-gray
Light gray White Dark grey
Dark Grey Light grey Black
Red Red Orange Red Brown
Red brown Orange brown Dark Brown
Dark Brown Light brown Black
Pink Pink white Red
Flesh Flesh + white or tan Red Brown
Tan Orange+ yellow + white Brown + orange
Black Black + green 0r blue none
Light blue Light blue + white Medium blue
Medium blue Medium blue+white Dark Blue
Dark blue Medium blue Dark blue+black
Purple Purple+white Purple+dark blue or black
Bright green Green+yellow+white Medium green or dark green
Medium green Green+yellow+white Dark green
Dark green Medium green Dark green+black
Yellow Yellow+white Yellow+brown
Orange Orange+yellow Orange+red-brown or red
Gold Gold+silver+yellow Orange-brown
Silver (none) Black+blue
Brass or copper base colour+gold base colour+ black


by Rick Priestley

Many otherwise competent painters seem to have trouble mixing paints – probably because they lack the confidence to do so. Be bold – if you never try you will never learn and you will be stuck with a limited selection of pre-mixed colours. Paints are made to be mixed  – it is their destiny and it is our role to help them fulfil it.

By mixing paints together you can create colours that naturally tone together or “harmonise”. This is fundamental to successful layering and blending as discussed elsewhere.

#Useful Tip No.2
Most people will mix paint at some time if only to lighten or darken the basic colours, in which case beginners will often add white or black.

Although there are some colours where this works, in most cases the result is simply to make a colour look chalky or pastel in the case of white, or dull and dirty in the case of black.

The secret to painting highlights is to use a colour that is brighter, rather than merely lighter, whilst in the case of shades the ideal colour is deeper and more intense, rather than merely darker.

Here are some basic mixing principles for common colours.

Black : Adding white to black creates a very unnatural grey. If you also add a little of any mid brown, or even a neutral mix of green and red, the grey will appear warmer and less mechanical.

White: Adding any colour to white will create a shade, but most people would add black or grey which can look unnatural. A more neutral shade can be achieved by adding a mix of grey and brown, or even a neutral mix of red and green. Shades of white and brown tend to work better with neutral or yellowish browns rather then red-based browns which will look pink.

Blue: Blues need to be shaded with deeper blues rather than black, as adding black will make the blue look very grubby. Blues can be lightened by adding white, but intense blues become chalky if you do this.  It is better to lighten strong blues with a light blue first.

Red: To darken a strong red, add a strong green. Add a tiny amount and judge the effect – a little green darkens a lot of red.  You can also darken a red using a dark red brown. In which case the result is a rather brownish red. Red can also be darkened effectively using black to produce a distinct ‘burgundy’ colour. Lightening a red is more difficult  – add yellow and you get orange, add white and you get pink. Even worse – if you add both you get a rather fleshy salmon colour. For most purposes, strong reds are best lightened with orange or yellow, but be wary of overdoing it.

Green: Greens are rather like blues in that they need to be shaded with deeper versions of the same colour rather than black. You can also deepen a strong green by adding a little red. Greens are very easy end pleasing colours to mix into lighter shades – you can add yellow, white, or even grey to make different shades without compromising the underlying colour.

Yellow Yellows need to be shaded by mixing in yellow based browns, oranges or red – basically warm colours. Adding black to yellow produces olive green – this is something to be careful of when mixing black into any yellowish browns too. To lighten yellows simply add white.

Browns – Can be quite hard to mix into toning light and dark colours. Yellow browns can be lightened by adding white, and darkened with deeper red browns. Red can be lightened by adding a light yellow brown or darkened by dark red browns, or if very dark, black.  Adding white to red browns makes them unpleasantly pinkish. Neutral browns can also lightened with grey, but beware if they are yellow based as this may make them appear green (this is especially apparent when painting horses!)

(From “How to paint Citadel Miniatures“)


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