In this post, I provide 11 different ways to mix black paint. I also include a YouTube video that demonstrates all of the color mixing formulas for black.
While it’s convenient to buy a tube of black and squeeze it out on your palette, there are a number of benefits of mixing your own. Aside from learning more about color theory, you can free up an extra spot on your palette. The black that you can mix from other colors is more interesting than the black you find in a tube. If you run out of black unexpectedly, you can confidently mix up a batch of your own.
How do you mix black paint? The most popular recipe is to mix Burnt Sienna or Burnt Umber with Ultramarine Blue. You can also mix all of the primary colors together but you have to get the proportions right, which I demonstrate in the video.
I use acrylics for the demonstrations but these recipes will also work with oils, watercolors, and gouache. The final results may vary slightly depending upon which brand of paint you use. This is because the same color can vary slightly depending on the brand.
Each recipe in this post includes a color sample with three swatches. The first swatch is the darkest black that I could achieve. I then dilute some of the black with water and paint a wash of gray next to it. The third swatch is the black mixed with white. If there is any color bias in the black it will show up in the gray swatches.
I wrote the names of the colors on the right side of the sample. There’s a small swatch of the color next to the name for reference. The black in the photos may look like pure black. However, if you mix them yourself you will notice subtle differences in color.
In the video below, I just mix black from each of the 11 formulas and test it out on a piece of paper. I also add white to the black to test how neutral it is.
The Benefits of Mixing Your Own Black
Chromatic Black Is Less Likely to Dull Colors
When you mix black from other colors it’s often referred to as chromatic black. Chromatic black has different characteristics than black pigment.
Adding black pigments, such as Ivory Black, to a color mixture has a way of making the colors appear less vibrant. Artists often advise beginners to not use black in their paintings because it may cause the colors to become “muddy.”
I wouldn’t go as far to say you shouldn’t use black in your paintings. You can, it just takes some experience to get it right. Another way to prevent black from overpowering your colors is to mix your own black and use that instead.
The colors that you use to make black can have an influence on the appearance of the dark areas in your paintings. For example, if you use transparent colors to mix black, then the black will also be transparent.
You Can Mix Your Own Transparent Black
When you mix black from two transparent colors, the resulting black will also have transparent qualities.
You can dilute it with water and use it in washes in a manner similar to transparent drawing ink. All of the photos below include a wash of gray in the middle. Notice how these gray washes have a warm appearance similar to drawing ink.
Adding white to black has a tendency to make a “cool” gray. It loses the warmth and it has a flat, uniform appearance.
Transparent black is also useful when glazing, you can darken a color while maintaining the transparency of it.
Chromatic Black Can Be Darker Than Regular Black Pigments
Something that I notice when I mix my own black is that it often turns out darker than the black pigments that I have in my studio.
In my acrylic color matching video below, I demonstrate how to mix black. The result is darker than the Ivory Black that I’m trying to match. I actually have to add white to it to make it match the paint sample.
Some tubes of black are more like dark grays. A darker black will allow you to create more contrast in your paintings. This is something you can use to your advantage.
Another point to keep in mind is that matte black will look lighter than a gloss black. So, if you want to achieve very dark black you will have better luck with a gloss black than a matte black. I believe it’s the matting agents that make it appear lighter.
Use Chromatic Black to Create Lively Shadows
The tube of black that you buy from the art supply store is rather neutral. This may be what you’re looking for. However, some of the colors that you think are dark black actually have subtle colors in them.
If you mix your own black then you can add a hint of color to it. This will help you to create interesting dark shadow areas in your paintings. For example, a blueish black will create a different mood in your painting than a flat neutral black.
You can also alternate blueish black with a reddish black to create subtle contrasts. This is much more interesting than using straight black from a tube.
One Less Color to Buy
When you can confidently mix black from a variety of different colors, you can eliminate black and free up a spot on your palette. That’s one less color to buy and store with your supplies.
This is a benefit for plein air painters who want to travel light. If you’re trying to reduce the amount of supplies that you have to carry, try using a limited palette of three primaries and a tube of white. It’s lighter and takes up less space than a full palette of colors.
Use Mixing Complements as a Limited Palette
Mixing complements are two colors that create a neutral when you mix them. Many artists use mixing complements along with white as a limited palette.
It’s is not as limiting as you imagine.
A common example of a limited palette made up of mixing complements is Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, and Titanium White. You can create a painting with just these colors. Aside from being able to mix warm and cool colors, you can mix a variety of neutrals too.
This approach can greatly simplify the color mixing you have to do in a painting because there are only three variables. It’s much simpler than working with a larger palette of 10 or more colors.
You can use mixing complements to create gradients that transition from a warm color, to gray, and then to a cool color. It will look as though there are three colors, when it only requires two. The gray in the middle is the natural result of combining two mixing complements.
Recipes for Mixing Your Own Black
Below are the recipes I use for mixing black from different colors. I’m sure there are more. The limit I set for myself was to only use the colors that I have in my studio. If you have some recipes of your own for mixing black that you would like to share, feel free to add them to the comments.
Phthalo Blue, Quinacridone Magenta, and Hansa Yellow Medium
These three colors are what I consider to be the primary colors. They’re very close to the printing primaries. I demonstrate how to mix black from these colors in the video below. It should start playing at the section where I demonstrate how to mix black. If you want to skip watching the video, the basic instructions are below.
The way that I mix black from these three colors is to start with a blob of Phthalo Blue and mix in some Quinacridone Magenta until I get a blue purple.
The next step is to add a little bit of Hansa Yellow Medium to neutralize it. Yellow is the mixing complement of blue purple. I start by adding a small amount of yellow. Then I spread it out on the palette to see if it needs more. When you use the palette knife to drag out a thin layer of paint, you can get a better sense of what color it is. For example, in the video I notice it has a blue tint when I spread a thin layer of it across the white palette.
If it looks too purple, then add more yellow.
You can achieve a perfectly neutral black or gray with these three colors. In the video, I add red to the mixture. This was a shortcut that I used in place of adding more magenta and yellow. Contrary to popular opinion, you can mix your own red.
Since this recipe includes three colors, it takes a little more fine tuning because of the extra color. In other words, you have to adjust of the proportions of three colors instead of just two. Most of the other recipes below only require two colors so it’s easier to achieve a neutral with them.
Phthalo Blue and Van Dyke Red
Since Phthalo Blue is such a potent color, you may be afraid to use it because it can quickly overpower your painting. One strategy you can use is to learn how to neutralize Phthalo Blue with a complementary color.
Van Dyke Red is the perfect color for this. You can use it to make a darker and duller version of Phthalo Blue. If you continue to add more Van Dyke Red, it makes a dark black.
I’ve only found Van Dyke Red in the Liquitex line of heavy body acrylics. Vat Orange and Pyrrole Orange will also work, but the results are slightly different. I think that the Van Dyke Red works best with Phthalo Blue. The other oranges create a black that’s not as dark. It may have a slightly brown appearance to it too.
Phthalo Blue and Vat Orange
Vat Orange works as a mixing complement of Phthalo Blue but the black that it makes isn’t quite as dark and it has a slightly brown appearance. It’s made by Golden but you can also try Pyrrole Orange as shown below.
Pyrrole Orange and Phthalo Blue
Pyrrole Orange will also neutralize Phthalo Blue. The black is also somewhat brownish. Mixing Phthalo Blue with a warm color can create interesting gradients that contain a neutral color in the middle.
Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber
This is probably the most popular set of mixing complements that painters use. You can also use Burnt Sienna in place of the Burnt Umber.
Most artists have Ultramarine Blue and an earth color on their palette so that’s part of what makes this a popular formula. The other reason is that it creates a dark black and the grays are neutral.
Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna
The benefit of using Burnt Sienna in place of Burnt Umber is it has a much stronger orange appearance. The Burnt Sienna has a much warmer appearance than Burnt Umber. It’s more like a muted orange, and it creates a nice contrast against the blue. Try using Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, and Titanium White as a limited palette.
Dioxazine Purple and Light Green Permanent
It may surprise you that green and purple are mixing complements. The traditional color wheel has yellow as the complement of Purple. However, the placements of complements on the color wheel aren’t based upon mixing complements.
These are interesting complements to use in a painting of purple flowers. You can use them along with white to make a variety of greens, purples and neutrals. They also make a relatively decent black.
Phthalo Green and Naphthol Red Light
Phthalo Green is a very potent and transparent color. You can neutralize it with Naphthol Red Light or Quinacridone Red.
Phthalo Green and Quinacridone Red
These are the two colors that Gamblin uses to make their Chromatic Black. They’re both transparent colors but it’s difficult to achieve a perfectly neutral gray with them. If you’re looking for a very dark transparent black, then try mixing Phthalo Blue, Quinacridone Magenta, and Hansa Yellow Medium.
Ultramarine Blue, Pyrrole Red, and Hansa Yellow Medium
You can mix all three colors to achieve a black. I start by mixing the Ultramarine Blue with Pyrrole Red. If you’re expecting a clean purple you may be surprised that it makes a very dull purple.
Use the Hansa Yellow Medium to neutralize it. Try adding a small touch of the yellow to gauge how much of it you need to add to neutralize the purple.
Ultramarine Blue, Pyrrole Red, and Cadmium Yellow light
These are the three pigments that you can use as the red, yellow, and blue primary colors. There are some limitations in using these colors as the primaries. Basically, this color palette is missing magenta and cyan. So, you won’t be able to mix brilliant pinks, purples, or greens. I discuss this at length in The 7 Colors You Need to Start Painting with Acrylics.
This is the same mixture as the one above, except I use Cadmium Yellow Light for the yellow. It produces a lighter black because of the opacity of the yellow. Use Hansa Yellow Medium if you want to achieve a dark black. It will neutralize the blue purple without making it lighter.
The benefit of Cadmium Yellow Light as a primary yellow is that it’s very opaque. You can use it to cover over mistakes, whereas the Hansa Yellow Medium is too transparent.
Eleven recipes for mixing black may seem a little excessive, but my goal was to demonstrate that there’s more than one way to mix a color.
I also wanted to give you the opportunity to experiment with mixing black without having to go to the store to buy more colors. It’s very likely that you’ll have some of these colors on hand.
Once you become familiar with how to mix your own black, start using this technique when you’re painting. When you need to darken a color, figure out which color you can use to make it darker instead of reaching for the tube of black.