What are Secondary Colors? How to Mix Them and More!

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how to distinguish secondary colors from primaries

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Secondary colors are a vital part of learning how color works together. By understanding what secondary colors are, how to mix them and what colors you can mix using them. It will allow you to create an endless array of beautiful shades and color combinations!

In this article, we’ll explore what you need to know about secondary colors. What they are, their relationship with primary colors, and how to mix them. As well as look at some of the stunning color combinations you can create from them. So let’s get started!

What are secondary colors in art?

In the world of art and painting, secondary colors are very important. You can create a wide variety of color combinations and shades with them, that you can use to create color harmonious paintings.

painting that demonstrates the colors green, orange and purple secondary scheme of colors
In the painting here by Paul Cezanne, you can see examples of this scheme in action with subtle shades of green, orange and purple highlights.

3 secondary colors

The 3 secondary colors − orange, green, and purple, are made by mixing (any 2 of the 3) primary colors together.

Learn what the 3 secondary colors are and how to make them

When it comes to mixing secondaries, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

– The ratio of the two primary colors you are mixing together will affect the shade of secondary color you create. For example, if you mix equal parts of both primary colors together, you will create a shade that is closer to the center of the color wheel (a 50/50 split). However, if you want to create a secondary color that is more towards one end or the other of the color wheel, then you will need to use more of the color you wish the shade to represent the most.

The difference between primary and secondary colors

Now that we know what secondary colors are, let’s explore the difference between them and primary colors.

secondary and primary colors on a palette with paint brush
How to differentiate between secondary and primary colors on your palette.

Primary colors, are colors that can’t be created by mixing any other colors together. Whereas secondary colors are created by mixing two primary colors together. In the context of a color wheel. You will find the secondary color within the color wheel in-between the two primaries you go to mix.

How to make the three secondary colors

three secondary color wheel
How we go about making the three secondary colors (orange, green and purple)?

As we learned above, the 3 secondary colors are green, purple and orange. To make these three colors, you will need to mix the two primary colors that sit beside each other on the color wheel.

how to make the secondary color green

How to make the color green using yellow and blue.

For example, to make secondary color green, you would mix blue and yellow together; while to make purple, you would mix red and blue.

Diagram how to make the secondary purple
Mixing the secondary purple using red and blue.

Then lastly, the secondary color orange is made by mixing the primary colors red and yellow together.

Diagram how to make the orange with primaries red and yellow
Mix the primary red and yellow, to make orange.

Secondary color wheel example

To help show the difference between secondary and primary colors, let’s look at an example of a secondary color wheel.

Secondary color wheel diagram
Orange, Green and Purple comprise the three secondary colors in the wheel

Above, you can see that there are three primary colors (yellow, blue and red) making a triangle, with yellow at the top of the wheel. And then there are three secondary colors (orange, green, purple) located in-between each of those primaries.

color wheel diagram
Secondary and primary colors in the color wheel

As we mentioned before, to mix any of the three secondary colors together. You will need to use two of the primary colors that sit beside each other on the color wheel. For example:

– To make the secondary color green, you would mix blue and yellow together; while to make purple, you would mix red and blue. Lastly, you will mix the primary colors red and yellow together to make the color orange.

Colors you can mix from the secondaries

Now that we know how to mix secondary colors, let’s explore some of the different shades and color combinations you can create from them!

Mixing Shades of Green

When it comes to secondaries, green is one of the most popular and there are a variety of different shades of green you can create.

Here is an article I created, that will show you all the different greens you can create:

Creating Different Shades of Purple

Another of the secondaries that is widely used and loved by artists is purple. And like green, there are a variety of shades of purple you can create depending on the colors you mix together.

To read more about the different shades of purple you can create, check out this article:

How to Mix Shades of Orange

And last but not least, we have the secondary orange and it’s variety of useful shades you can mix for your painting.

To see all the different shades of orange you can create, check out this article:

Benefits of knowing how to create secondary colors

One of the biggest benefits to understanding how to make secondary colors, is that it allows you to better understand color in general.

For example, when mixing colors on your palette and you want to create a certain shade of color. Having knowledge about secondaries (what primaries created them, as well as what the secondaries’ complementary colors are…) will help you to know what color you need to add into your mixture.

Saving Time and Money!

Also being able to mix your own secondary colors can save you time and money. 

For example: 

  • Saving Time. If you are painting on the go and realize you forgot your – green, orange or purple paints… Or you run out of one those colors (in tube form), while in the midst of a painting project. You won’t be stuck and have to give up on what you’re trying to create. Rather, you will now know how to create the color you need on your own!
  • Saving Money. Again because you can create your own shades of secondaries − you don’t always have to purchase them from the store.

Now, you want to have purchased tubes of these colors on hand. As if you’re painting a lot, it would be a bit annoying to have to mix orange, green and purple every-time you needed them. Also, I personally really like having Cadmium Orange on hand, because the pigment from it, is just a bit more vibrant when mixing it with other colors − such as a blue for example.

Helpful color mixing resource

To go even deeper into learning about all the different color schemes and combinations in the color wheel. Along with how to mix hundreds of different shades…

Get all the help you need with my Color Mixing Master Guide:

Color mixing master guide ebook cover
The Master Guide comes with over 100 pages of content, color mixing recipes (with detailed color charts), exercises and more!

I hope you enjoyed this article and feel inspired to start creating your own secondary colors! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below and I’ll answer them as best as I can:)

Until next time, happy painting!​


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    8 thoughts on “What are Secondary Colors? How to Mix Them and More!”

    1. How can you be sure to have the same amount of colors when mixing two primary colors (50/50). Or let’s say one-third, two-thirds. There is no exact method. In the culinary arts there are exact measurements like Cups, Half cup… and the same for the spoonfuls. We would have to invent a similar system in order to obtain the same result with each mixture we make.
      Elisabeth it is only now that you are revealing the treasures of the color mixtures that I have been waiting for since the beginning. While researching for different color tones on the Internet, I came across some of your topics. I understood that what you sent us in the first lessons was only the tip of the iceberg. You fill me with the latest revelations. I will print your articles, cut the vital parts to stick them on a small reference book, compartmentalized in GREEN, ORANGE, PURPLE, SKY etc… which I will name Elisabeth color Bible!
      Paul Salmé

      1. Hello Paul, Thank you for your kind words – I very much appreciate it! Am very glad to hear that the information has been helpful for you and that you are printing out the material to aid you while you paint! Honored to know that you will use the Elisabeth Color Bible! 🙂

        Unfortunately we can’t have a formula of exact amounts of two primary colors to create secondary colors. As the amounts we use varies quite widely in terms of what brand of paint was being used and which shade of a particular color. However, what remains the same and is constant is that the darker colors (and or stronger pigments) tend to be more dominant. For example, when mixing a darker blue with yellow – blue can often overpower yellow because of how dark it is. So, usually you use a little bit more yellow than blue when mixing a green. However, if you use a strong cadmium yellow you will not need to use as much yellow as when you use a regular yellow HUE color – this is because the cadmium color contains more pigment.

    2. Hi Elisabeth.
      As a new comer to watercolour I have been busy just mixing and not painting to try to get things right. I am so grateful to you for all your kind support in helping me to get to better paintings in the future.

      Again thank you so much.
      Kind regards. Mike.

      1. Hi Mike,

        I am so glad to hear that the color mixing information here has been helping you in working with watercolor paints! Thank you for your kind words and for sharing that. I would encourage you to also start painting while learning how to mix – as often colors look so different in a painting than they do on the mixing palette. The way the color looks changes depending on the context it is placed in.

        Kind Regards, Elisabeth

    3. Thank you for your generosity in sharing this article. Little by little I’ll get the hang of colour mixing. Thank you too for the free colour mixing guide.

    4. This time of your Gren is my favorite secondary color. The Season starts with the chartreuse green if the weeping willows to break the gray dullness of melted snow & colorless sky.
      Then the bursting to fullness of all kinds and shapes of trees straightening up from their wintry bends to Earth.

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