How to Mix Paints (and Love the Color)

How to Mix Paints (and Love the Color)

Maybe you can’t find a color you absolutely love at the paint store. Maybe you have plenty of paints lying around after other projects in your house, and you want to use them again — but in a new way. Maybe you just like to create. There’s no wrong reason to mix paints, and doing so can be a lot of fun. However, because the end result is never fully guaranteed, you do run the risk of hating your final color (and wasting a lot of paint in the process). Follow these tips for mixing paint so you can love the end result.

Supplies and Setup

White paint will come in very handy when you’re mixing your own paints as it helps to lighten colors, and fortunately, it’s often inexpensive. You’ll also need some buckets where you’ll mix your paints. 5-gallon buckets with lids are a good option. Once you begin, make sure you have these items with you:

  • A stick for stirring the paint — it needs to reach down to the bottom of the bucket
  • Absorbent paper towels
  • Something to protect the floor (like a dropcloth, newspaper, etc.)
  • All the paints you intend to use for mixing
  • A paint can opener
  • Paint brushes

Color Wheel

paint color wheelBefore you begin, get a basic understanding of the color wheel. This will help you get a good idea of how certain colors are derived. Remember that all colors start from one of the three primary colors — red, yellow, and blue. From these colors, you create secondary colors. For example, red and blue will make purple. When you have secondary colors, you can make intermediate paint colors by mixing a primary color with a secondary color (red and violet will be red violet).

When mixing your own paint, you may not begin with true primary colors, but if you understand how colors on the color wheel interact, you’ll be better equipped to work with what you have.

How to Lighten, Darken, Intensify, and More

Use these tips to lighten, darken, intensify, and tone down the paints you’re mixing.


Remember when we said you’d want some white paint? That’s because white is the way to lighten colors. If you add white to a color, you’ll need quite a bit of white. It’s smarter to begin with white and add your color to it. A few cups is a safe starting point. You can always add more if you want the color to be darker.


Black or gray are your friends when you want to go darker. In this case, add the black or gray to the color, rather than adding the color to the black or gray. Black is better when the color is already a deep color, and gray is ideal when you’re beginning with a lighter color. It’s best if you don’t try to go more than two shades darker than the starting color.


Hoping for a more vivid look to your color? Add more of the base color.

Tone Down

Here’s where the color wheel comes into play again. If you want to tone down a color, add a complementary color to the paint. This means using the color that is found directly across your paint color on the color wheel.

Types of Paint

Keep in mind that you must only mix the same types of paint with each other. Oil-based should only be mixed with oil-based, and water-based should only be mixed with water-based. However, you can mix different sheens. Flat paint and glossy paint are fine to mix together. Your end result will be more flat if you use more flat paint, and more glossy if you use more glossy paint.

Mix, Mix, Mix

Remember that you need to have a stick that reaches all the way to the bottom. Use it to thoroughly mix any paint you intend to use. If the paint has been sitting around for a while, the pigments may have become separated. Mix it well before you add it to another paint.

Always remember to start with your lightest color first because it’s harder to lighten a dark color than it is to darken a light color. Work slowly, and add your color in increments until you get the color you want.

And most importantly — have fun! Creating your own color is a lot of fun and can give you a one-of-a-kind look.


Guest Post by Josh Abramson. The chief solutionist of ALLBRiGHT 1-800-PAINTING, a residential and commercial painting company serving the Greater Los Angeles Area.


  1. If you want a really good mix you can always bring the can to Lowe’s or Home Depot and they’ll put it in their shaker machines for free. Do it all the time!

  2. Great tips! Do these apply to latex paints as well?

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