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 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. 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.

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. Then, you can refine your shade of brown by adding more of one color or adding white.

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

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 an 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 might 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 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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26 Responses to “11 Hacks for Mixing Acrylic Paint Perfectly”

  1. Deb White

    I use black – IVORY not Mars – to mix shades (darker colors) often. But not with colors like Primary yellow or Med. Orange – to darken orange add a touch of Primary Red (not Ivory Black) to darken yellow add a touch of Cad Orange – not black. Yellow and Ivory black gives you nice kakhi and olive greens. Use tiny touches of Ivory Black to darken some shades – such as Primary red. Don’t use Mars Black, which is a black hole devouring all colors – even if using a tiny bit of it.

  2. Terrylou

    Video would be great showing mixing colors. How did you get those uniform color blobs?

  3. Catherine Hackenbruch

    I keep struggling weird the texture of the paint before I put it on The canvas, I messed up so many right now I’m just Discouraged. I buy the pre-mix and it still doesn’t work what am I doing wrong?
    and it always comes out to thin or to stick

    • Jeremy Allen

      It is easy to discouraged in the begining, when trying to get mixture and texture of paint right for painting, I have messed up many canvas. but I keep a notebook on my paint mixing scheme, How many drops of each color to make a certain color and remember to take a picture of the color, From there you will begin to learn tints and highlights when mixing. Just dont give up, take a break and come back and work on it when your ready to try again. P.s. Always use proper techiniques ,

    • Lori

      Too Thin: be careful not to add more than a drop or two of water to acrylic paints.
      Too sticky: add a drop or two of water carefully so as to not thin it out too much.
      Acrylic paint dries very quickly, unlike oil paint. Therefore, never leave the paint exposed to air for long. If you need the paint to stay moist for longer periods (typically 10-15 mins) then get a wet-palette. It’s a palette designed to keep acrylic paints moist for far longer.

  4. Nefertiti Habib

    The article is very beneficial and informative specially for a beginner like me. But I have a question, my gold color is rather dark or has a touch of bronze, how can I make it lighter without losing its shine? Thank you for your help.

    • Barbara

      I guess I’m a dummy but if it says 1part paint to 2part medium ok how much is 1 part (we talking ounces) sorry

      • Daya

        Hey Barbara,
        1 part to 2 part is basically 1:2, which means that the amount of medium you take (it’s up to you as it depends on what you’re painting, the canvas size…and other factors) should just be double the amount of paint you’re using.

  5. Mike F

    Spent many a year buying tinlets, pre-selected colours, i.e FS, Humbrol to name a few.

  6. David

    I’ve been struggling with making colors the way I want them. This is great information. Thank you.