An Easy Method for Mixing Skin Tones with Acrylic Paint

Whether you’re a new painter or a seasoned professional, painting skin tones in acrylic can be a daunting task. It can be tricky to achieve tones that are lifelike and dimensional rather than dull and flat. Keep reading to learn an easy method for mixing acrylic paint for skin tones.

Varying Shades of skin tone on acrylic paint palettes

By using the simple method detailed in this tutorial, you’ll learn how to mix skin tones using different ratios of the primary colors. This easy method requires a little work to refine, but it is a fantastic and accessible method for artists of any level. With a little practice, you’ll be creating skin tones like a pro.

Getting Started with Skin Tones

Determining Skin Color

The colors you select depend a great deal on the skin tone of the person you are painting. While on one level it is easy to determine if the skin is dark, medium or light, you’ll also need to consider the undertones of the skin.

For instance, you might not think of many skin tones as containing the color blue, but many do, to some degree. By really looking at the tone you’re trying to attain, you can make informed decisions about creating a skin tone in acrylic paint.

Creating a Family of Tones

Family of Skin Tones on Acrylic Paint Palette

It’s good to create a “family” of tones around your chosen skin tone so that you can add accents. As you can see here, the same skin tone is mixed with a little bit of blue, yellow and red in each spot of color. Save these accent colors for attaining details on the skin.

Tips for Mixing Acrylic Paint

  • Acrylic paint looks a little bit darker dry than when it is wet. So make the paint color slightly lighter than you’d like the final outcome to be.
  • It can be tough to mix a specific color using acrylic paint, so if you are looking for the perfect tone for a large piece or an ongoing series, make notes of the colors that went into the mixture. Better yet, mix up a large batch of the tone in question so that you will have plenty on hand.
  • While white paint is helpful to attain skin tones, use black paint very sparingly. Black paint can react with the yellow in skin tones to create a greenish, muddy look. If you need to make a skin tone darker, use a small amount of each primary color in equal quantity rather than adding black paint to the mix.

How to Paint Skin Tones in Acrylic

Step 1:

Create a palette with the primary colors: yellow, blue, red. White and black are optional. Have a photograph or reference image handy for the tone you are trying to attain.

Dots of Primary Color and White Acrylic Paint

Note: Remember to be very sparing with black paint.

Step 2:

Mix together equal parts of each primary color.

Mixing Primary Colors of Acrylic Paint Brown Acrylic Paint Created With Primary Colors

Just about every skin tone contains a little yellow, blue and red, but in different ratios. Once you’ve done this a few times, you might start with more of one color or another. But to start, go ahead and mix equal parts of each color with a palette knife. Your outcome will likely be somewhat dark. This is a good thing, because in general, it’s easier to make skin tones lighter with acrylic than darker.

Step 3:

Now, it’s time to refine your color. As noted above, if you’ve mixed equal parts of each color, the blue in particular has probably made the color mix quite dark. Initial adjustments will be clear: if you need to make the skin lighter, add white and/or yellow. If you need to make it more reddish, add more red.

Refine Skin Tone Paints With Primary Colors

Once you make these obvious tweaks, you’ll have the opportunity to refine, adding a little bit of this color, a little bit of that, until you’ve attained the exact tone you’re looking for. All of the below skin tones were attained by making refinements to the initial primary color mix.

Advanced for Painting Flesh Tones

Once you’ve mastered this method of creating skin tones, you can set yourself up like a professional painter.

Mix Shadows and Highlights

Once you’ve gotten the exact right skin tone, create a “family” of tones around your chosen tone. This is a time when you can use black paint to your advantage. Mix a gradient of variations on your final skin tone with black or white paint so that you have paint in various related tones ready to create shadows or highlights in your work.

Blush Tones

Shades of Brown Mixed with Red Paint

If you want to create a blush tone for your skin, don’t simply use pink or red paint on top of your skin tone. Create a custom tone by creating a mixture of your skin tone plus red for a color that will look natural as a “blush” tone.

Painting Skin Tones in Tinted Light

Take the above concept a step further and create a mixture of the skin tone with each of the primary colors. While some of them might look funny on the palette, the fact is that skin you are painting may reflect the colors of the painting’s scene.

Acrylic Skin Tones Mixed with Primary Colors

For instance, if a character is standing near blue drapes, a sliver of blue may appear on the highlights or shadows on the skin. By creating these variations, you’ll be able to capture these details, which will make your final painting more lifelike.

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60 Responses to “An Easy Method for Mixing Skin Tones with Acrylic Paint”

  1. Tara

    Hi Jessie. This is a great blog/article. Do you demonstrate this on video somewhere? I’d love to follow along in person. Although your written instructions are very easy to follow. Thanks!

  2. Tafiya

    I am a beginner at reborning dolls and this mixing explanation for painting skintones will be very helpful now I understand the basics of mixing variation better. Will let you know how it turn out.

  3. Randy Schuman

    I’ve learned more reading about acrylic blending for skin tones. Thank you, I’m fairly new artist painter but have read a lot about artistic creative expression using different media. I have completed a few acrylics so would like to continue in that direction.
    Thanks for the knowledge to enable me to physically
    Push forward with confidence 🇺🇸🫡

    • Amber Scott

      This is the first time I’ve ever successfully mixed a proper skin tone!! Thank you so much!!

    • Afuma Eukeria

      Waooo great, I was wondering how to achieve colors for cake and I have just seen the secret, thank you

  4. kathleen hagen

    I have never been good with skin tones. I hope this will give me some help. Can’t wait to try

  5. Pamela Faulkner

    I am a beginner, about to start painting portraits and this has been a great help, thank you

  6. Stephanie king

    I have just started painting and the mixing of colours is all new to me . This has been very helpful Thank you

  7. Linda S Suitor

    Really appreciate you sharing this information. So helpful and easy to understand. Thank you.

  8. Frank Penny

    Thank you for the tips on skin tone, it’s amazin’ how going back to basics works so well. I’m sure that taking the time to create skin tone charts will work for me.

  9. JOANNA bayles

    This is a very useful article. It is not easy to mix skin tones and this lays it out clearly.
    It also makes people learn how to mix colors, which sadly many do not, they just buy a tube of a color and that is it. No technique.

    • Jasazii

      Painting is nearly done and I been putting off the face because I didn’t know how to get realistic, lively akintone and you have given me the key. Bless you. I am a
      so ready to explore…

  10. Sunil N L

    I would like to learn how to easily mix any skin tone and I’m unable to join craftsy to learn more as I’m not able to join because none of my cards get approved. All my transaction get declined.

  11. Preeti shaw

    I need help to make indian skin tone color by using acrylic color… Please help oit

  12. Wendy Mockett

    I’m trying to get the skin tone for a native Canadian/American? Anyone help?

    • Robert

      Trying to establish the same, without making a serious error, I don’t want to needlessly destroy the drum.

  13. Bill Ryan

    Thanks for the tips .I am new to painting. Fantastic art medium, have wanted to paint for yrs.Am painting 2 pieces with female faces. So I’m looking forward to being able to being able to create flesh tones .I also need blush tone so 🤞🤞🤞 I can do it. Thanks again Bill.

  14. Nan

    Wonderful! I can’t wait to try this method. Thank you for sharing this his technique. Can you tell I’m somewhat of an amateur 🥴🥴

    • Darryl Romeo

      Thanks for the advice, I was getting so frustrated trying to get skin tones. I am going to try your advice as soon as I am through with this.

  15. Chris Hughes

    I am desperately trying to paint a portrait of an asian friend who appears to have wonderful burnt sienna based skin tones. and reflects light in a golden way. Can I achieve this using these colours?

    • Elle

      You’d get gray only when mixing exact complements of one another. Try starting with equal amounts of pure yellow, pure blue and pure red. Like cad red, phthalocyanine blue or cobalt blue and cad yellow pale. You might need less of the cadmiums or the pthalo blue as they tend to be very strongly pigmented and highly staining or opaque

  16. Janet Schoentrup

    It is good to know that I can make skin tones by using colors that I already have. I am looking forward to trying this technique.

  17. Janet Schoentrup

    It is good to know that I can make skin tones by using colors that I already have. I am to try this technique.

  18. Jim Cavallini

    These instructions are very helpful. I am new to painting but enjoyed it since I attended a paint and sip class two years ago and now I want to learn more as time passes I want to test myself and try more and more difficult subjects such as people and animals.

  19. Lisa Carter

    I’d like to know which red, blue and yellow you are using. That would help me lots with the painting I am starting at the moment. I currently use cadmium reds, phthalo blue (green tone) and cadmium yellow (medium). Thanks in advance for any help.

    • Anne

      Hi, I notice no one seems to be replying to this or anything here. Just in case anyone ever has this question, too; the blue used here doesn’t tint out like a pthalo. Looks more like cobalt, or possibly ultramarine.

    • Robert

      I read this in the comments:
      You’d get gray only when mixing exact complements of one another. Try starting with equal amounts of pure yellow, pure blue and pure red. Like cad red, phthalocyanine blue or cobalt blue and cad yellow pale. You might need less of the cadmiums or the pthalo blue as they tend to be very strongly pigmented and highly staining or opaque