Acrylic Painting

11 Hacks for Mixing Acrylic Paint Perfectly

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 — 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. Add white to reinforce colors.

Red Paint From the Tube and Red Paint Mixed With White

If you’ve painted with different colors of acrylic paint, you may have noticed that some colors are more opaque than others. Adding a touch of white paint to any color will add opacity in addition to making it a more well-rounded color.

Above, the red paint on the left is straight out of the tube, while the one on the right has a bit of white added.

Personally, I add a touch of white to just about every color I paint so that it has an increased opacity. Go ahead and buy a large tube of white acrylic paint — it is so valuable in this way. 

3. 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.

4. 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. The easy, fail-proof method described in this post offers a fantastic way for beginners to attain skin tones of all sorts starting from one simple color mixture.

5. 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. 

6. 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. 

7. 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.

8. Make a basic version of your color, then refine. 

Mixing colors doesn’t have to be stressful. Here’s the way I go about it: Make a very basic version of the color you’re going for, and then refine from there.

Orange Acrylic Paint Made with YEllow and Red

For instance, if you want to make a tangerine orange, start by combining equal parts of red and yellow paint. Chances are, this will yield more of a orange orange, so evaluate what the color needs to become what you want it to be. In this case, adding more yellow and a touch of white helps. Add colors little by little, refining a color to suit your needs. 

9. Mix your colors a shade or two lighter than your desired final outcome. 

You probably already know this, but it bears repeating: Your paint will dry slightly darker than it looks on your palette. Keep this in mind when mixing colors, and try to mix colors a shade or two lighter than you want for the final outcome.

To test the finished color, you can use the same trick they do on top of room paint: Smudge a bit on paper to see how it dries. 

10. Create a family of colors. 

Family of Colors Made with Acrylic Paints

Once you’ve mixed a color for a key component in your painting, create a “family” of tones around it.

For instance, say you’ve created a perfect blue for a the vase of flowers you want to paint. Create another version of that blue color with a little bit of yellow added, another version with a little bit of red, etc.

This will help you create the shadows and highlights in various parts of the painting with a natural color progression. It will look more natural than adding a blot of red paint to the surface!

11. Store mixed colors in old film canisters.

Once you’ve mixed the perfect color, be sure to save it! Since acrylic will dry if left out, store the remainders of that perfect color in airtight containers such as film canisters (which can be readily purchased in bulk on sites like eBay or Amazon. This will help maintain the color if you need to take a break or want to continue your painting another day.

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20 Comments

Somerset Gallmeyer

I love the tips! One thing I would suggest is about storing custom colors; instead of old film canisters (which are difficult to find these days) I use stackable screw on medication holders I get at the Dollar tree (7 containers for $1)

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Mary

That is a great tip to share! Thank you.

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Eddy

Great idea ! Thanks

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Doina

I am storing my mixed paints in stackable screw on holders as mention above. In plus of that I add some acrylic matte medium to the mixture. Once is in the container I spray a mist of water. This way I have been able to keep the paints up to 3 weeks. If I spray every 4-5 day the mixture and keep iy in the refrigerator, I was able to use the paint for 1.5 months! I do this for hard to mix color like greens and skin colors.

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Ayda Sanver

I use a sponge-based wet palette with a lid. Colors last forever..spritz from a water bottle after removing the lid makes them like new.
Aydasartstore.etsy.com

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carole

When using your acrylic colour, mix with a bit of matte medium before painting on your canvas. The paint goes on so smoothly. Use this instead of water.

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Gustavo Woltmann

Wow, really useful tips. Been having a hard time mixing colors. Gustavo Woltmann

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cuzinaddie

When I need to take a break in the middle of painting, I make a puddle of the individual paint colors and cover them with the condiment cups you get from restaurants. Like the kind you fill with salsa or ketchup. First dip the rim in water so it makes a seal with your pallet when you cover the paint. I was taking classes and did this to keep my paints over the weekend. This lasts about 3 or 4 days if you wet the rim enough……….

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Jean Barber

Thank you so much for this helpful article! My first painting teacher made me so nervous about mixing colors – she kept getting mad that I couldn’t get the right color for a rose we were supposed to paint. I just couldn’t see the difference between her color and mine. Thankfully I quit taking lessons from her (she was my girlfriend’s girlfriend who just liked to paint) and started taking lessons from a more understanding, patient teacher. This will help tremendously! Thanks for stating everything so clearly!

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Kelley Davis

I’m glad to hear you got a different teacher! We don’t all learn the same and we don’t all see colors the same – either of which will be helped by yelling at someone, she should have known better! I hope you find your happy place painting with no anger from crazy people:). Good luck! 👍

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Beth

Great tips! I’m new to painting and found this very helpful!

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Jeanne LaPensee

This was so helpful. I’ve been struggling with mixing problem after switching from water color to acrylics.

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Janice Caruana

Thank you for the information, what a great and creative site. Love it !!!

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Lalay Atilano

Thank you sooo much!! I learn so much with you. Altho’ I attend painting classes regularly, there are always many other helpful lessons, tips and techniques one gets from great artists here!🎨

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Joy

Very helpful, I ordered some paints to paint doll faces and cant wait to start with these great tips

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Marilyn

I’m trying to recover after dying seven or eight times in December of 16 and bought acrylics to help express myself artistically to illustrate some children’s books I’ve written. Because I have NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING I had a hard time grasping these ideas but I found them all helpfull, as well as the comments, and look forward to trying them out. Question: what is matt and what affect is it supposed to add to a picture?

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Cate

Marilyn, Matte (flat) is the opposite of Gloss (shiny); a matte finish can push objects back/ into background , can use to contrast with a gloss focal point, can imply mood , can give depth, can ‘quiet ‘ a work, can be more ‘natural’ , can use for contrast eg matte leaves against glossy leaves .. or can just be personal preference..some like shiny and some don’t . Play !!

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Sharon

Something that was left out of this article is that there are more than one type of white acrylic paint. The 2 main ones are Titanium White and Zinc White. Titanium White is the more common of the whites used for painting. It’s known for being bright white, almost bluish, and has excellent opacity and high tinting strength. When mixed with another color, it rapidly lightens the color. Zinc White is very transparent, and has 1/10th the tinting strength of Titanium White.

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Noor

Thank you for all the helpful notes. I’m trying to paint with acrilics
People keep encouraging me and saying that I’m doing a great job , though I didn’t have any lessons, all what I know is through Pinterest and YouTube so I find your comments of a great help to me as a beginner.

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