online guide for art history students and art lovers

What Two Colors Make Purple?

Mar 27 2011
{Articles >> Art History - Theory}
What Two Colors Make Purple?
The primary colors blue and red make purple

The short answer: blue and red make purple. Blue and red are two of the three primary colors on the color wheel chart (yellow is the third). And in color wheel terminology, purple is called violet. But, have you ever tried to mix blue and red together in your paintbox, and instead of a beautiful purple you get a muddy burgundy? It's not because you got the theory wrong; it's because not all colors are created equal.

When you use blue or red paint straight from the tube (or box or jar), you don't necessarily have a pure blue or a pure red. Many reds have other colored pigments in them. If you were able to look at those primary blue and red paints under a microscope and see the individual particles of pigment, you would see bits of yellow, rust, blue, green, white and black. 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. But, since that cadmium red leans toward the orange side of red, when you mix it with blue (trying to get purple) you are actually mixing red, orange and blue. At best, you'll get a muddy purple.

So which reds and blues make the best purple? You need a blue that contains no yellow, green or red. And a red that contains no yellow, and that leans towards dark pink.

How do you know what kind of red or blue you have? Dark 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 blue a purplish blue or a greenish blue?) when mixed with white.

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

 

 

Tags: Color Theory