Color Mixing Hack

One of the most important parts of creating an acrylic painting takes place before you even put brush to canvas: mixing the paints. Learning how to mix acrylic paint perfectly — including some tips and tricks — will help you create beautiful colors that will make your artwork more vibrant and realistic.

Mixing Acrylic Paint on Palette

How to mix acrylic paint

This collection of 11 hacks, tips, and helpful tricks for mixing acrylic paint teaches you some simple lessons — so you don’t have to learn them the hard way! Read on, then fast forward to creating awesome colors and painting up a storm.

1. Add white or a lighter version of a color to add complexity

Have you ever noticed that acrylic paint used directly from the tube sometimes looks flat and hard on your painting surface? Consider adding a touch of white or a lighter version of the color you are using to add complexity to the color. Just this small change can add a lot more dimension to your art. 

2. Don’t use black to darken colors

You use white to lighten colors, so it makes sense to use black paint to darken them, right? Not so fast.

Yellow Paint on Its Own Mixed with Brown and Mixed with Black

Black paint tends to make colors muddy and murky, so it’s best used in compositions where this effect will work to your advantage. To create a darker color that’s still vibrant, try adding brown or dark blue. While this might seem unusual, the painted effect will be more vibrant and natural-looking.

For example, look at the yellow mixtures above. On the far left, you see yellow paint straight out of the tube. The mixture in the middle combined yellow and brown, creating a pleasing burnt mustard color. On the far right, I mixed yellow with black — not the deep amber tone I was going for.

3. Make a basic skin tone using primary colors

Variety of Skin Tones in Acrylic Paint

The secret to making a great skin tone base? Combine all of the primary colors.

4. Add a touch of green or blue color to skin tones

Skin Tones Mixed With Primary Colors

Adding a touch of green or blue to a skin tone might make it sound like you’re painting an alien portrait, but have faith! A tiny (tiny!) touch of blue or green paint added to a skin tone can add depth and complexity to the color, making it look more realistic. Really study the skin tone you’re trying to match to see if this might be a valuable tip for you. 

5. Make blues deeper with…red?

Blue paint from the tube next to blue paint mixed with a touch of red

The secret to making deep blue oceans, luminous skies, and vibrant blue blossoms? A touch of red paint. The swatch on the right, above, has just a bit of red mixed in.

The trick is not to add too much — otherwise, your beautiful blue will become a deep purple. But a small amount of red can add a richness to blues that keeps them from feeling too flat. 

6. Make brown paint in seconds with primary colors

Mixing Primary Colors in Acrylic Paint

Here’s the easiest way to make brown paint: Combine equal (or roughly equal) quantities of the primary colors. Yellow, red, and blue — combining these will yield brown paint in a snap. Then, you can refine your shade of brown by adding more of one color or adding white.