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Color Theory for Painters

Updated on September 23, 2014

RYB (Red - Yellow - Blue) Primary Colors

RYB (Red - Yellow - Blue) are primary colors, from these colors and white any color can be mixed.

Mixing any of the two primary colors will give you a secondary color.

Red Yellow makes Orange.

Red Blue makes Violet.

Yellow Blue makes Greens.

These are the secondary colors.

Mixing the secondary colors with a primary color makes a tertiary colors i.e. yellow-green, Red-Orange, Blue-Green etc.

RYB (Red - Yellow - Blue) Color Wheel

Color Temperature: Warm and Cool Colors.

Red, Yellow and Orange are warms colors.

Blue, Violet and Green are cool colors.

Greys and Browns are neutral colors.

There are basically two versions of each color i.e. there are only two kinds of reds, a cooler red and a warmer red. Even though red is a warm color it will always be warm no matter what, but color is relative that is an Orange-Red Cadmium Red Light is warmer then a cooler Violet-Red Alizarin Crimson.

Complementary Colors.

Complement spelled with an "e" means opposite, unlike compliment spelled with an "i" which is used to praise.

Complement means exact opposite, that is red complements green, that is it’s the exact opposite color of red on the color wheel.

You add complementary color to darken a color e.g. to darken red you add green to it.

Red complements Green

Blue complements Orange

Yellow complement violet

Hue, Value, Saturation.

When you have to identify a color you have to follow these 3 rules.

Hue: When your painting something, the first thing you have to do is identify what hue it is i.e. when your painting something green, you have to first identify what kind of green it is, is it a blue-green or a yellow green.

Value means how light or dark the color is.

Saturation means how pure the color is. Very often you will not use pure bright colors, you will have to reduce the saturation or intensity by adding greys.

Tube Colors

It can be a little frustrating in the beginning when you first go to an art store to buy paints, there are hundreds to choose from. Basically all you need to keep in mind is there are only two kinds of each color, a warmer version and a cooler version i.e. there are only two kinds of red, a warmer orangish red and a cooler violetish red.

Then there is also saturation that is the purity of a color and value how light or dark the color is. cadmium yellow is a pure bright yellow whereas burnt umber is a desaturated and very dark yellow


Warm Orange Reds - Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Red Medium, Vermilion, Cadmium Orange

Cool Violet Red - Alizarin Crimson, Crimson Lake, Cadmium Red Deep.


Warm Orange Yellows - Cadmium Yellow Medium. Indian Yellow

Cool Greenish Yellows - Cadmium Yellow Light, Lemon Yellow.


Warm Blues - Ultramarine Blue, Prussian Blue.

Cool Blues - Phthalo Blue - Cobalt Blue


Warm Yellow Greens - Sap Green, Cadmium Green.

Cool Bluish Greens - Viridian, Phthalo Green.

Earth Colors

Yellow Ochre is a darker and duller yellow.

Burnt Umber and Raw Umber are even darker and duller version of yellow. Raw Umber has a little blue into, when you add white to Raw Umber, you can see it has a slight greenish tint.

Raw Sienna is a darker and duller orange.

Burnt Sienna is even darker and duller orange.

Indian Red is a darker and duller red.


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