How to Mix Red Paint: Yes It’s Possible!

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Did you know that you can mix red paint? Learn how to mix red paint from 2 colors. This will allow you to keep a limited color palette or to save money when you start painting!

You might also like this post on color theory.

paint swatches by paint palette

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Fun with Color Mixing

One of the first things that you learn in school is the primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. We are taught that these are primary colors because no other colors can make them.

Did you know that this isn’t true for red? It is possible to make red paint from other colors.

As I learn more about painting, I’m learning that everything we were taught in school is pretty much wrong.

Paint mixing is way more complicated than those simple rules. (Yesterday I mixed green and red and it made purple! What!?!)

Playing with color mixing is one of my favorite things to do. It’s a great thing to play with when you want to paint, but don’t know what to paint.

Mix colors that aren’t supposed to go together and you will be shocked at the results!

Mixing Red Paint

If you have a cool red (magenta or pinkish color) and a yellow, you can make red! It will never be the super bright red of cadmium, but I rarely use that color anyways.

Why does this work?

The “primary color” method is based on mixing additive colors, like ink or opaque paints.

cmyk vs primary mixing chart

Using magenta and yellow to make red is based on mixing subtractive colors, similar to how light works. This is also how your printer makes colors.

Have you ever looked at the color names: magenta, yellow, and cyan?

Those 3 colors plus black can make millions of colors. There’s no red or blue because those colors can be made from magenta, yellow, and cyan.

Watercolor is transparent, so it has properties similar to light. Some acrylics are also pretty transparent, so this works to some degree.

This is great to know if you want to work with a very limited palette.

Buy a cool red, a cool yellow, and blues. For blue, I would probably go with a warm blue and a cool blue. If you are using watercolors, add a Paynes Gray or neutral tint (vs black.)

I have a larger list of watercolor color essentials to get started with.

If you are working with acrylics, add white and a black or Payne’s gray.

How to Mix Red Paint

I have not tested this theory with gouache or oil paint (I don’t paint with oils.) But it works really well with watercolor paint and it works okay with acrylics.

acrylic paint swatches mixing red paint

The pinker (or more magenta) the color, the better it works.

I tried it with alizarin crimson, which is a cool red, but it didn’t work as well. (It did produce a muted red, which might be what you’re looking for…)

Supplies Needed:

I used a warm yellow (DS nickel azo yellow) and a cool yellow (DS Hansa yellow light) in this experiment.

It’s possible to only use one if you want. In general, cool yellows (lemon-colored) make brighter mixes and warm yellows make more muted colors.

Nickel Azo Yellow Blick link | Hansa Yellow Blick link

watercolor swatches making red paint


  1. Mix the cool red with the yellow.
  2. More yellow will result in a color that leans more orange, like a tomato.
  3. More cool red results in a color that is redder.
  4. Dilute with water, as usual, to produce tints for the color.
  5. Warm and cool yellows produce different results, but they are pretty similar. The warm yellow can make a pretty brick red color.
hand-lettered watercolor "red"

Keep in mind that some pigments are stronger than others, so the ratios will vary depending on what brand of paint you use. Some yellows are incredibly strong, but for the most part, you will need to add more yellow than pink (cool red.)

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