11 Hacks for Mixing Acrylic Paint Perfectly

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We know you're dying to get started on a painting, but one of the most important parts of working in acrylic takes place before you ever put brush to canvas: mixing the paints. You have to get this right if you want your work to turn out as beautiful as you imagined. But, don't worry, we figured out all the hacks and tricks for properly prepping your colors, so you don't have to learn the hard way. (You're welcome.)

1. Add white or a lighter version of a color to lend complexity

Have you ever noticed that acrylic paint used directly from the tube sometimes looks flat and hard on your painting surface? Consider adding a touch of white or a lighter version of the color you are using to add complexity to the shade. Just this small change can bring a lot more dimension to your art. Easy-peasy!

2. Add white to reinforce colors

Here's another reason we love white paint. If you've painted with different acrylic colors, you may have noticed that some are more opaque than others. Adding a touch of white paint to any color will boost opacity, giving the hue more impact. Case in point: The red paint above on the left is straight out of the tube, while the one on the right has a bit of white added.

3. Don't use black to darken colors

You use white to lighten colors, so it makes sense to use black paint to darken them, right? Not so fast.

Black paint tends to make colors muddy and murky, so it's best used in compositions where this effect will work to your advantage. To create a darker color that's still vibrant, try adding brown or dark blue . While this might seem risky, we promise the painted effect will be more natural looking. Experiment and you'll see!

Look at the yellow mixtures above. On the far left, you see yellow paint straight out of the tube. The mixture in the middle combined yellow and brown, creating a burnt mustard color that's still in the yellow family. On the far right, yellow was mixed with black — and things got weird pretty fast.

4. Mix your colors a shade or two lighter than your desired outcome

You might already know this, but it bears repeating: Your paint will dry slightly darker than it looks on your palette. Keep this in mind when mixing colors, and try to make your shades a bit lighter than you really want them. To test the finished color, just smudge a bit on paper to see how it dries. 

5. Make brown paint in seconds with primary colors

Here's the easiest way to make brown paint: Combine equal (or roughly equal) quantities of the primary colors. These will yield brown paint in a snap, and then you can adjust it from there.

6. Make blues deeper with...red

Pro tip: luminous skies and vibrant blue blossoms get their glow from a touch of red paint. The swatch on the right, above, has just a bit of red mixed in. The trick is not to add too much — otherwise your beautiful blue will become a deep purple.

7. Expect to fiddle around a bit to reach the right hue 

Mixing colors doesn't have to be stressful, because you don't have to nail it on the first try. Here's the way I go about it: Make a very basic version of the color you're going for, and then refine from there.

For instance, if you want to make a tangerine orange, start by combining equal parts of red and yellow paint. Chances are, this will yield more of an orange orange. So try adding some white. Add colors little by little, refining it to suit your needs. 

8. Create a family of colors

Once you've mixed a color for a key component in your painting, create a "family" of tones around it. For instance, say you've created a perfect blue for a the vase of flowers you want to paint. Create another version of that blue color with a little bit of yellow added, another version with a little bit of red, etc. This will help you create the shadows and highlights in various parts of the painting with a natural color progression.

9. Make a basic skin tone using primary colors

The secret to making a great skin tone base is going to surprise you: Combine all of the primary colors, and then adjust as needed.

10. Add a touch of green or blue to refine skin tones

Adding a touch of extra green or blue to a skin tone might make it sound like you're painting an alien portrait, but have faith. A tiny (tiny!) touch of these shades adds depth and complexity, making the skin color look more realistic.

11. Store mixed colors in old film canisters

Once you've mixed the perfect color, be sure to save it! Since acrylics will dry if left out, store the extra stuff in airtight containers such as film canisters. (Yes, you can still buy them!) This will help maintain the color if you need to take a break or want to continue your painting another day.

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11 Hacks for Mixing Acrylic Paint Perfectly