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What Colors Make Black? How to Mix Shades of Black

What Colors Make Black? How to Mix Shades of Black

What colors make black? While you can buy black from a tube, many artists recommend mixing your own black paint out of other colors, to give it more dimension and to have more control of its underlying hue. 

That’s why I’m going over a few different methods of how to mix black paint. 

In order to give a better understanding of how to mix a large variety of blacks, ranging from warm to cold blacks and all the shades between.

In this post, I’ll talk about what colors make black, different methods to make black paint, what colors you can make with black, and more.

what colors make black

What color is black?

paintbrush and palette with colored oils

In many times and in many places, it has been said that black is not a color, but a shade. 

That black is merely the absence of color. 

But the true answer is a little harder to grasp.

When you are considering what color makes black, it depends on whether you are talking about additive or subtractive color mixing. 

In additive color mixing, you get black in the absence of all light. 

As an absence, black is truthfully not considered a ‘color’ carried by any specific light beam as an absence. Instead, it is what is lacking when no light is present.

In painting, almost the exact opposite is true. 

This is because painting uses subtractive color mixing, where you get black when you mix all the primary colors in equal parts.

Black is what you get when many pigments are concentrated in one place. 

Only in this case is enough light absorbed to ‘see’ the color black, appearing as the relative absence of light coming back to our eyes. 

On a brightly light painting, black can only be perceived if there is a material that absorbs a relatively larger amount of the light being reflected on it.

In painting, the black paints used by most artists are not a true black but colors on the darkest end of their value scale without much perceivable color left. 

However, it is always the value of some specific color, which gives it its relationship to the rest of the painting. 

Therefore, black doesn’t need to be devoid of all color in the painting to work. 

In fact, it is better most of the time if it is not a true black of this kind. 

Finally, mixing just any three tubes of primary colors might not get you to a true black. 

They can often end up brown if the pigments aren’t deep enough. 

To get a black, you’ll need deeply pigmented primary colors. 

A good selection for this is Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, and Yellow Ochre, but others will work as well.

How to make black paint?

female painter with paintbrush and paint

What colors make black paint?

There are three main ways how to make black paint. 

Each method has different subtleties, giving you a different base value for your black.

If you can learn the differences in each, you’ll be able to manipulate different kinds of transition shades. 

That means you’ll know what to do to get a dark green, blue, red, or otherwise for the specific painting you’re working on.

Method 1

Perhaps the easiest way on how to make the color black is to mix all three primary colors in equal parts. 

You’ll eventually get a deep black by mixing blue, yellow, and red in equal parts. If you are still looking for more methods for how to make black, continue reading.

You can either use a palette knife or a brush to mix the three colors on your palette. 

They should blend into a black within about 15 seconds of mixing. 

If the black is leaning too much towards any particular color, add more of its complementary colors. 

If it’s becoming gray, there may be too much tint in the primary colors you are using. 

You’ll have to try others.

Method 2

Start from a blue base, then add other colors to reach what makes black. 

This method tends toward a cooler black the more blue paint used. 

You can mix Ultramarine Blue with Cadmium Orange to reach a deep black. 

The bluer the mix, the cooler the black, whereas the more orange, the warmer the black. 

This gives you a relatively tight range of control over the exact black you’ll get.

Method 3

Start from a green base, then add other colors to make black. 

Green is made from yellow and blue, so you’ll get a black by adding red. 

This black tends to be warmer the more red is used, and cooler the more green is used, giving a similar control range as the blue-based method.

Why make your own black?

The main reason is that black is the absence of all color, whereas most artists are representational, painting what they see. 

Therefore, for black to work in harmony with other colors, it should have an underlying color that expresses some relation to the other colors on the canvas.

The subtleties of each of these methods give a different range of values to your black. 

For example, depending on what you are using the black for, a blue hue is often great for the night sky, while a green hue is perfect for a pine tree at night. 

In addition, adding a yellow hue is perfect for a piece of gold glinting in the dark. 

Experiment with different values of each for a great range of blacks with their own distinct character.

What two colors make black?

what colors make black

We’ve already discussed what colors make black: starting with a green base and adding red or with a blue base and adding orange. 

These are the two most common methods for producing black in the commercial paint mixing industry, as they tend to produce the most consistent, darkest blacks.

But the question, “What 2 colors make black?”

Has many more answers, as almost any two complementary colors can make black.

Generally, any two paint colors on opposite ends of the color wheel can create a black when mixed in equal portions.

However, you need precise opposites for this to work. 

In addition, you also need a highly concentrated amount of pigment in both colors, as some base colors begin with too much tint and turn gray.  

Finally, the amount of cool and warm tones need to balance out to create a deep black or tilt on the side of cool tones.

Let’s go over some of the most common combinations to get black:

  1. Red and Green

Naphthol Red and Phthalo Green are precise enough opposites to get a great black. Each of them is deeply pigmented enough to move towards a true black. 

Another great red to try is Alizarin Crimson for an even deeper black, if Naphthol was too warm.

  1. Blue and Orange

Two great choices are Cobalt Blue and Translucent Orange, so you can begin with those. 

Blue and orange is a classic combination to make black, and many variations will work.

  1. Yellow and Purple

Yellow and purple is a less popular, third potential color combination. 

The yellow tends to overpower the purple, so you will often need more of the purple. 

If you compare to the two above, each only has ¼ part yellow if you think of it as four pieces of color, since green can be split into half blue and half yellow, and orange can be split into half red and half yellow.

  1. Green and Purple

For further experimentation, you can try Pthalo Green and Dioxazine Purple. 

This gives a deep black from the powerful pigmentation value of each of these base colors. 

How to make black with primary colors?

tubes of paint

What primary colors make black? 

Equal amounts of blue, yellow, and red can get you black paint. 

This method works with any paint medium, including oil, watercolor, and acrylic, but requires specific shades of each primary color to work correctly. 

If any of them are too tinted or low saturation, you will end up with a brown or a gray rather than a black. 

Often, this will come down to experimentation more than anything else.

In addition, warmer blacks can be made with more red, and colder blacks with more blue. 

Generally speaking, colder blacks tend to read more as black to the human eye, whereas warmer blacks quickly read as a dark brown. 

For a solid starting mixture of primary colors, try Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson, and Ultramarine Blue. 

These three have a nice harmony and enough deep pigmentation to get to a proper black rather than a brown.

Generally, mixing three primary colors is not the preferred method for commercially making black paint, as you can get a deeper black if you focus on a blue or green base, focusing on their cooler tones.

What does black and yellow make?

what colors make black

If you add yellow to a black made from the three primary colors, you’ll get a particular spectrum of greens. 

If you wonder what color does yellow and black make: it begins as a dark forest green and evolves into an olive the more yellow is added, then into a dull gold. 

You can see this transition on a subtractive color wheel, beginning from the black in the center and transitioning to a pure yellow on its outer edge. 

Yellow is not usually directly discussed as much in the colors that make black paint. 

It is often directly used the least in making a commercial black paint, focusing instead on an intensely pigmented green to get the yellow part.

Blue and red tend to better ‘dark’ pigmentation to get a true black, and so the more yellow added to a black, the more quickly it becomes a non-black color.

What color does black and red make?

female artist mixing paints in small palette

Like with black and yellow, we can find out what color black and red make by starting from the center of the subtractive color wheel and going towards the pure red on the outer rim. 

The color transitions we see there go from a deep crimson into a bright red.

Black and red make for some warmer blacks. 

Since warm colors tend to come forward in a painting, warm blacks stand out more. 

One preferred base color for mixing a warm black is Alizarin Crimson, because it starts closest to black of the base reds with lots of pigmentation.

This may seem counterintuitive because Alizarin Crimson is quite a cool red, but that coolness is what keeps the black within shades of black instead of brown. 

Quinacridone Red works well if you’d like a warmer black to start. 

When considering what colors to mix to make black, using red directly isn’t often at the top of the list because it tends towards a warmer black that verges on brown. 

Beginning with a blue or green base is often a much easier starting point, but there’s no harm in experimenting.

Generally, red is the least present color in most commercial blacks, as adding more red directly to a black tends to muddy it towards a spectrum of browns. 

Of course, red does appear in the underlying orange or other colors used, so it is always an essential component.

What color does black and blue make?

paints on wooden palette

Where mixing black with red gets you a warmer black, mixing it with blue gets you a cooler black. 

As I mentioned earlier, starting from a blue base is one of the standard ways to mix black paint, as blue provides an excellent starting point.

Like with both yellow and red, the colors you’ll get by mixing black with blue can be seen on a subtractive color wheel. 

So, what does black and blue make when mixed together?

It transitions from a deep ocean blue to a pure blue. 

Phthalo Blue and Ultramarine Blue are good candidates for mixing to get nice, cool shades of black. 

Dioxazine Purple also works for even more unique cool black shades if you are willing to step a little outside the blue box. 

As with all color mixing, you only want to mix the least amount of blue possible to keep the black in the range of blacks at first.

How to make brown paint black?

children drawing on easel

If you are wondering how you make black paint from brown paint, brown paint can usually be made black by adding more blue. 

Blue is the coolest and darkest of the primary colors, bringing the warmth of brown down to black.

This creates the deepest, coolest blacks to the human eye.

Two of the best blues you can try for this purpose are UItramarine Blue and Prussian Blue. 

A mixture of about half Ultramarine Blue and Brown should create a good black. 

Half Prussian Blue and Brown should do the trick for an even deeper black.

You can also bring a Burnt Umber Brown and add almost any blue for a similar effect. 

Burnt Umber Brown is deep enough to begin with that it will turn black with the addition of most blues.

What does orange and black make?

colored oil painting brush strokes

Black and orange powerfully contrast each other when paired. 

That’s why they look so vibrant when used together during Halloween. 

If you ask yourself what color does orange and black make and mix the two, you get a certain type of brown. 

The more black you add, the darker the brown. 

The more orange you add, the lighter the brown.

Adding orange to black also adds the two warmer primary colors, meaning your black will overall get warmed up naturally. 

That’s what leads it to be brown. It’s also adding direct contrast to the blue or green base most black paints have.

What does green and black make?

paintbrush blends multicolored watercolors

We’ve already mentioned that you can create black from a green base. 

Adding green to black simply does the same process backward, creating an overall cooling effect on the black towards a dark forest then olive range of colors. 

That’s what you get if you are wondering what color does black and green make.

Phthalo Green is an excellent choice to mix with black. It is a deep, dark shade of green with lots of pigmentation. 

In combination with purple, it makes a great black. 

Adding more green than purple will lead to a natural transition of dark greens.

Dioxazine Purple and Phthalo Green are probably the best two choices to do this with. 

Each has deep pigmentations and darker coloration. 

Alizarin Crimson is another possibility if you’d like a slightly warmer black or just another option to try out.


If you’re wondering what colors make black, then know there are many colors that make black when mixed. 

It is all about the deepness of the pigment and the right amounts of complementary colors to get how to make black color of the exact shade you want.

However, the other reason to mix your black paint yourself is to understand better the transition colors you are using. 

You can warm or cool your blacks much easier when you have better color knowledge, and you can create better gradients of black to another color.