How to Mix Primary Colors to Make Others

You've perused the paint sample cards at the hardware store until you are half-blind, but that exact shade you imagined for the kitchen doesn't exist. You could mix your own paint, with some careful attention to basic color theory and a light hand. DIY paint colors are also a clever and economical way to use up leftover paint, as long as you keep oil-based with oil-based and water-based with water-based. Test your new colors on large pieces of cardboard to see how the mix works in different lights.

Paint brush color samples
credit: Paul/F1online/Getty Images
Mix your own custom colors with variations on basic red, yellow and blue.

Basic Paintbox

Kindergarten kids learn their colors: Red, yellow and blue are primary hues; green orange and violet are secondary shades. Budding artists experiment to get six tertiary colors: red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet and red-violet. Primary colors just exist -- you can't create them by mixing any other colors. Secondary colors are created by mixing two primaries: Red and yellow make orange; blue and yellow make green; red and blue make violet or purple. A combination of a primary and a secondary color gives you a tertiary -- blue and green mixed becomes blue-green. Tertiary colors formed from two adjacent hues on the color wheel are a hyphenated shade. But mixing opposites -- color complements -- results in brown or mud.

From Dynamic to Dirt

In home decor, colors that are opposite on the color wheel provide both energy and harmony in a room. Red is the complement to green, and different intensities of the two create majestic and dramatic presence in a drawing room or master bedroom or fragile, romantic beauty in their pastel incarnations. Blue and orange are opposites and complements; they will clash when used at full intensity, unless limited to accents. But apricot and sky blue can be light and lovely anywhere in the house. Violet and yellow are strongly contrasting complements -- the deeper shades are distinctive, and pale versions are mysterious and magical. Blending those colors into paint form is another story. In every case, mixing primary and secondary colors together cancels them out. This is good to know if you are experimenting to find the right shade of chocolate, tobacco or earth.

50 Shades of Black and White

All color and no color makes a trendy color. White, in every shimmering incarnation -- from dazzling snow to yellowed antique -- contains all light and every color. Black, the expanse of inky nothingness, absorbs all the light until it is no color at all. But that absence of color, when mixed with copious amounts of white, gives you every shade of gray and limitless design possibilities for sleek, sophisticated interiors. Just a drop of black in white paint creates a smoky haze, almost white but with a hint of shadow. More black deepens the tone; you can mix the full range of intensities from dove to charcoal. The best way to mix your own gray is to work in small batches, carefully noting ratios of white to black, until you find the perfect balance.

A Little Cool, A Lot of Heat

Warm colors are in the red and yellow spectrums, and blue inhabits the cool side of the rainbow. In general, mixing warm colors adds heat or warmth to a room. Opting for cool shades means some blue in the mix -- add yellow, and cool green happens; add a bit of red, and you have a lilac or lavender. But there are warmer blues, greens and purples, cooler reds and yellows. When balancing colors in a room, the decor will harmonize best if you respect the "coolness" or "warmth" of the shades that dominate the space -- lemon-yellow with blue-violet, tangerine with warm white. Placing a bright hue next to a neutral will change its appearance. So, allow for the fact that red will be richer next to a neutral like gray; yellow or orange will seem brighter and more intense next to sand.