Color Theory: Understanding How To Mix Colors

Jan 14, 2023

Most people learn the basics of color theory in their elementary art classes. Since those elementary art classes were a long time ago for most of us, we need a refresher before we can start confidently making art and mixing colors as adults. We’re passionate about colors here at Eye Candy Pigments, which is why we specialize in pigments and are happy to help you on your artistic journey. Keep reading to learn more about color theory basics and understand how to mix colors.

Basic Color Theory

Basic color theory teaches us that there are three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. Mixing these colors together creates secondary colors. Red and yellow make orange, red and blue make purple, and yellow and blue make green. When you mix a primary color with a secondary color, you create tertiary colors. While some art supply companies call these tertiary colors fancy names, their formal names are simply their hyphenated combination. For example, mixing blue and purple together makes blue-purple, and mixing red and orange together creates red-orange.

The color wheel is vertically split in half to create warm and cool colors. Warm colors are reds, yellows, and oranges, while cool colors are blues, greens, and purples. Psychologically, we often think of warm colors as energetic and passionate and cool colors as calm and peaceful.

All the colors we listed above are known as pure hues. They are the colors we see when we see certain light wavelengths without changes to shade, tint, or tone. To successfully mix these colors to create a larger color wheel, though, we must change shade, tint, and tone.


Changing the shade of a color requires us to mix any primary, secondary, or tertiary colors with black. Adding black creates a darker version of the color which we refer to as shade. Think of how adding shades, or sunglasses, over your eyes makes colors appear darker. You’re viewing the color hues through a black filter, so they appear a shade darker.

We can do the same when we mix colors. Pick out any color, such as blue, and then mix in black. It’s still blue but a shade darker, and we often assign specific color names to these shade changes, such as navy.


When we want to change the tint of a color, we add white, making the original color lighter. We often think of tinted colors as pastels since they’re lighter versions of the other colors we know. However, there’s not always a direct correlation between tints and pastels. You can add white to red and make pink. Pink is a tinted version of red.

However, pink on its own isn’t pale enough to qualify as a pastel. Pastels are described as pale and delicate, with high value and low saturation. You can create a pastel from any tint once you add more white so it’s even paler.


Changing the tone of a color combines the effects of shade and tint. You add the color gray, which is a combination of black and white, to one of the colors from the color wheel to change the tone of a color. Since gray is more subtle than both white and black on their own, this dulls the color you mix in. The color itself doesn’t change much, and we often don’t assign new color names to changes in tone as we do with shade and tint. However, that change is still obvious to the naked eye and is important to keep in mind when you’re mixing colors. If you like a color but want it to look less intense without making it darker or lighter, add gray and change the tone.

Color Scheme Options

Now that we understand basic color theory and how to mix colors into different shades, tints, and tones, we can examine color scheme options. Color schemes refer to color groupings we choose off the color wheel. While you can choose any group of colors you want for your art, different groupings will create different visual effects. You can choose between complementary, analogous, and triadic groupings.


Complementary color schemes use two colors from opposite sides of the color wheel. The color wheel is composed of all primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, so you have lots of opposing options to choose from. They create a sharp contrast with each other since one is often a warm color while the other is a cool color. If you want to create contrast in your art, use these colors together.


An analogous color scheme is almost the exact opposite of a complementary one. Analogous uses at least two colors that are side by side on the color wheel. Each is still its own color, such as blue and purple, but they are far more similar than the opposing colors we mentioned above. Many people enjoy these color similarities in their art, especially since placing them side by side can create a gradient effect. If you want a visually gentle but still powerful color combination, you should use these colors together.


A triadic color scheme is similar to a complementary color scheme. Draw a traditional triangle in the color wheel and then use the colors from each point. The wide spread of these colors often creates a bright, dynamic combination that many people enjoy. They contrast enough to pop, but with the addition of a third color, there’s more visual harmony, such as what we see in an analogous color scheme.

Mixing Colors

Understanding how to mix colors is easy once you understand basic color theory and color schemes. You can mix colors together to create secondary and tertiary colors, as well as change the shade, tint, and tone of one particular color. You can mix colors when you create art, placing certain color schemes together to create your desired visual effect. Whatever combination you use, you can create something incredible with whatever colors you have available.

If you want to add more colors to your artistic arsenal, Eye Candy Pigments can help. We offer beautiful pastel powders as well as other colored mica powders that will look great in any creative project. You can mix them with each other to create a unique color, change their shade, tint, or tone, or use them as they are. All our colors are nontoxic, so you can even use them in cosmetic art.

Color Theory: Understanding How To Mix Colors