Gray is a neutral color or what is called an ‘achromatic color’. Which literally means that it is a color without color. The color gray is considered to be so because it can technically be composed of just black and white.
However, there are many other gray tones and shades of gray you can create by using different color mixtures. So, this article will show you how to make grey that you can use to add wonderful context in your paintings!
What colors to mix to make gray
To mix the color gray you can simply mix black with white. To make a lighter gray you would mix more white into the black or the reverse for a dark gray color.
You can also create your own black (dark mixture) to mix with white. In the first line of the color chart below, Ultramarine Blue is mixed with Cadmium Orange to create a dark color combination. This is then mixed with white to create a cool grey.
In the second color mixture above, you’ll see Pthalo Green and Alizarin Crimson mixed together to create a rich black. And then when mixed with white, again creates a more cool gray color. However the kind of gray you get will also depend a lot on whether you have more Alizarin Crimson or Pthalo Green in your mixture.
Then the third line in the color chart above, shows Ultramarine Blue mixed with Burnt Umber. This color combination creates a dark brown/ black. The resulting color when mixed with white is a warmer grey that almost has a hint of purple.
How to make dark gray colors
As mentioned earlier, to make a dark gray color you can do so by simply not adding as much white to a black color. However to create more interesting shades of dark gray… You can do so by mixing your own gray colors with the colors below.
Color mixtures to make dark gray
On the first line of the color chart above, you’ll see burnt umber mixed with your gray color mixture. As an earth tone color, burnt umber is a muted color that will both help you to darken your grey as well as keep it a muted grey color. It works very well to create a darker grey, especially if you are wanting to have a grey with a bit of a brownish hue to it.
Next color option (on the second line of the chart above) is to mix burnt umber with ultramarine blue and use this to create a darker grey. This color combination will not be nearly as brownish as when mixing pure burnt umber with grey. On the contrary, it will be turn into a dark bluish grey.
Last option listed in the above color chart, is to mix Alizarin Crimson and Pthalo Green with grey to create a dark grey. As mentioned before, Alizarin Crimson and Pthalo Green make for a rich color, and therefore create a rich dark grey color. Just be careful to not add too much Pthalo Green to the mixture as this will make your grey VERY green. Pthalo Green is one of the strongest colors on a painter’s palette.
What colors make light gray
Now that you know how to make grey colours that are darker in tone, the next most important thing is to learn how to mix a light grey. As might be obvious, the easiest way to make a light gray color, is to add white to your gray mixture. However, you can also add Cadmium Lemon Yellow to grey to lighten it.
You’ll get a very different grey depending on whether you mix white or Cadmium Lemon Yellow to it. Cadmium Lemon Yellow will make a warmer grey color than just mixing white with grey.
How to mix light grayish-white colors
When lightening a gray with white it can often turn into a light blue or light green – like the colors on the far left side of the color chart below. However, there is a way to combat that situation. You do so by mixing your mixture’s complementary color into it, so that it will be more muted.
Mixing off-whites or grayish whites can be tricky because you are dealing with very subtle (and light) colors. However, it is very much a matter of simply working with complementary colors in order to properly mute them. This will ensure that the color will indeed look off-white, rather than a very light version of blue or green.
Begin by mixing in the smallest amounts at a time, if you need more you can always mix in more. However, if you put in too much it is much more difficult to go back and fix the issue of having too much orange or purple in your mixture. Lastly, you will probably want to add more white to your mixture, so as to create a real light off white. Unless, of course you need a darker off-white!
How to make warm and cool gray colors
A lot of grays you mix will likely look like cool grays, as blue is such a common color to use for mixing up a gray color. However, there are moments when you will need to mix very cool shades of gray…
You can learn more about how to make grey cool and warm in temperature inside my comprehensive Color Mixing Master Guide, here.