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What Two Colors Make Orange

May 01 2011
{Articles >> Art History - Theory}
What Two Colors Make Orange
The primary colors yellow and red make orange

The short answer: yellow and red make orange. Yellow and red are two of the three primary colors on the color wheel chart (blue is the third). But if you've ever tried to make a beautiful pumpkin orange from the red and yellow in your paintbox, and ended up with something more like terracotta, you might have wondered how to get orange. The problem isn't with the theory, it's with those primary colors, which might not be as pure as they seem.

When you use yellow or red paint straight from the tube (or box or jar), you don't necessarily have a pure yellow or a pure red. Many reds have other colored pigments in them. Yellows especially can be tricky. Some have a greenish hue. And some are quite transparent when you brush them over a surface. It depends partly on the purity of the paint, and the color name. A cadmium red, for example, is a brilliant warm red. It mixes well with yellow for great oranges. 

So, let's say you've got your red and yellow all ready to go. You take a blob of each, mix it together, and voila! Red. Hmm. You add some more yellow. And voila, you've made red-orange. The trick to making orange? Add very small amounts of red, gradually, to the yellow. It has to do with the relative "power" of hues. Red is much darker than yellow and overtakes it quickly. The same mixing rules apply to making green out of yellow and blue. Add small amounts of blue to the yellow, gradually.

How do you know what kind of red or yellow you have? Is it a pink-red, a brown-red, an orange red? Primary colors can be tricky to analyze. The trick? Take a little bit of your paint and add white. Colors reveal their secondary characteristics (ie, is this yellow a little greenish?) when mixed with white.

For more on mixing colors, check out these books on color theory.



Tags: Color Theory