What Colors Make Orange? Red & Yellow Are Just the Beginning!

What colors make orange?

The quick answer is: red and yellow make orange. 

However, the quick answer misses a lot of nuance.  Not all oranges are the same. Sure, if you want a brilliant, perfect orange, mix the primary colors red and yellow. You will create the perfect secondary color orange.

However, this method completely ignores the vast playground of color, which includes hundreds of shades of oranges. From cool red oranges to warm yellow oranges, subdued oranges to brilliant oranges, here are the colors that make orange. 

What the video for some examples of the different shades of oranges you can get!


Exploring Color Theory

Color theory isn’t just about mixing two colors to get another color, it’s actually a system that lets you predict how your color scheme will harmonize with itself, and plan out that harmony in advance. This will help you set yourself up for a successful image before ever making that first brushstroke.

If you’re serious about turning your passion for painting into a viable side hustle, learning what color theory is extremely important and underrated. Here we explore color theory using orange as an example and fully answer the question “what colors make orange?”. 

How to Mix a Variety of Oranges

What Colors Make Orange
A Variety of Oranges

Every yellow and red pigment you can get will have different qualities, allowing an endless variety of orange mixtures. The best way to experiment with these mixtures is to mix your red and orange in a variety of ways. Try adding more red to one, and more yellow to another. See the spectrum of red oranges and yellow oranges that you can create with just these two colors. 

Next, add a little bit of white to all of your mixtures, to test how the color behaves as it cools and grows lighter. You created a wonderful array of oranges with just three colors. 

Using Tinting to Get the Perfect Orange

Now that you have the basics down, use tinting and different shades to create an even greater spectrum of oranges. 


Some pigments are transparent, and some are opaque. If you want the brightest orange, choose something opaque like Cadmium yellow or Lemon yellow. If you combine this with a transparent red, like Alizarin Crimson, or Transparent Red Oxide, you will create a bright, brilliant shade of orange. 

If you’re working on a natural painting, substitute the bright reds and yellows for earth tones. The Venetian Red by Winston & Newer is an earthy, warm red, and the yellow ochre is an earthy, orangish-yellow.  Earthtones can make brilliant colors that fit more in a landscape or portrait. they might have trouble reaching the brilliance of sunset orange, but you don’t always need a brilliant color for a perfect painting. 

Remember that you don’t have to mix every color from the brilliant primary colors red, yellow, and blue. Different pre-made mixes are available and you should consider using them depending on what you are painting. 

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What Colors Make Orange Neutral? 

Have you noticed this phenomenon, that sometimes it’s difficult to tell what color you’re looking at? It might be orangish grey, or bluish-grey, or greyish blue. This is a neutral color situation. Neutrals are what make brilliant color even possible, and though you can paint without them, you might find that when you create color-neutral combinations in your paintings by accident, they add a sense of atmosphere that bright colors just can’t create on their own.

What Colors Make Orange - Color Wheel jm

You can create a neutral color by adding its opposite on the color wheel. This is known as a complementary color. Red and green are complementary, yellow and purple are complimentary, and blue and orange are complimentary. When you mix complementary colors together, they become neutralized. 

For instance, the reason you can combine blue and brown to make a chromatic black is because brown is actually a very dark shade of orange. When you mix the dark orange and dark blue together, they neutralize each other, and the end result is the absence of color, which appears black. 


Painters learn to make black from Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber. They then combine various parts of their black mixture with various amounts of white, to create a gray tonal scale. The cool thing about using blue and brown for your black is the fact that you can use a little more brown to make the resulting mixtures warmer or add more blue to make the resulting mixtures cooler.

This same process works to create a dull orange as well. If you add blue to orange, but not enough to completely neutralize it, you will still be able to tell that it was orange, but it won’t be as vibrant. This is an excellent way to tone down certain aspects of a piece.  

What Colors Make Orange Look Good?

Say you’re painting an actual orange.  Your orange is sitting on the table, with the light from the window coming in from one side, giving the orange sphere a crescent-shaped shadowed side, and then an elongated shadow on the table caused by the sphere blocking the light. 

On the light side obviously, you’re going to see a brilliant orange color, but what about the shadows? It might vary a little based on What Colors Make Orange - Picture of an Orangeyour light source, or the color of the table your orange is sitting on. But there’s one method that will make your orange look like a cohesive and color-true spherical orange: add some blue. A little bit of blue will neutralize the bright orange, in the same way that the color appears to be neutralized in the orange’s shadow area.

Cool right? It takes some tweaking to get your neutral mixture JUST right, but the results are well worth it. The truth is that most of the oranges in nature aren’t the perfect, bright orange that you get when you mix red and yellow. Most have been toned down with shades of blue. 

If you’re using a blood orange, which is more of a red-orange, you will want to shift your compliment.  Since your light color shifts toward red, your compliment will shift naturally toward green. Memorizing the color wheel is important, but until you do, it’s nice to have one nearby to check your intuitions.

Using Color Harmonies to Establish a Solid Foundation

You can easily pre-plan your color harmonies by looking at the color of your subject(s), and finding that color’s complement. You have to treat each object a little differently. 

If you’re painting a girl with red hair, wearing a blue hat, all three main color masses must be treated a little differently, but it will always be the color opposite your main color on the color wheel. There are only a few to memorize: Blue-Orange, Yellow-Purple, and Red-Green. 


color theory infographic

So, that was pretty easy, are you a master painter yet? Ok, not quite, there’s a little more intricacy to color that we need to look more closely at.

Color and Value Are Both Relative

Orange will seem more orange when your image has blue in it, and this applies to the other color harmonies as well. The most tried and true way of establishing this complementary relationship in a painting is to use your overall light color to establish a unified shadow with the light color’s complement.


What this means is, anywhere you have shadows, block them in with a nice dark complement color, even if that means neutralizing a little bit of your light color to turn the form. The thing is, your paint is capable of a lot more subtly, letting you use this knowledge of your light/shadow relationships, and build up to that saturated orange with a gradient of value-based neutrals. 

To further simplify, if you paint your whole orange in slightly neutralized colors, but leave a spot with pure orange, the eye will be drawn to that point. This is a little bit like your natural reaction to a ripe fruit when hungry; your eye is drawn to the thing you crave, and in the same way, the eye craves that saturated, lush color, and the rest of the painting will create a tension which can only be satisfied by feeding the eye what it wants. 

Understanding Color Theory

Color theory isn’t as simple as asking “what colors make orange” then mixing the two primary colors. There are millions of shades of orange, and understanding color theory will help you mix the perfect tone for your piece. 

This brief introduction is enough to get you started, but if you are serious about becoming a professional artist, you might want to look into a full course on color theory. Udemy offers an amazing course that will help beginners fully understand the color wheel and the theory behind mixing colors. 

Whether you want to be a professional artist or just paint as a hobby, a basic understanding of color theory will help you craft the perfect piece!

source https://partnersinfire.com/passion-fire-2/art/what-colors-make-orange/

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