What Colors Make Brown? And How Do You Make Different Shades?

By: Yara Simón  | 
Puddles of bright paint mixing together with their brushes around the edge
Do you just mix all the paint colors to get brown, and then add black to achieve a darker shade? It's a little more nuanced than that. Dimitri Otis / Getty Images

If you ever haphazardly mixed several colors from your watercolor palette, you probably ended up with a muddy shade of brown.

While that's one way to get the color brown, you might want to be more intentional if you're, say, taking up art in earnest and not just creating a spur-of-the-moment masterpiece for your parents to hang up on their fridge.


So what colors make brown? And how do you make different shades of brown? Read on to learn.

Brown and the Color Wheel

Brown does not appear on the traditional color wheel, which features primary colors (red, yellow and blue), secondary colors (orange, green and violet) and tertiary colors (red-violet, red-orange, yellow-green, yellow-green, blue-violet and blue-green).

Brown is a neutral you can make from combining primary colors or mixing secondary colors with complementary colors (which appear opposite each other on the color wheel).


Defining Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colors

When mixed in different combinations, primary colors make up the rest of the colors. (This is why you can mix several colors and end up with brown.) You cannot mix two or more colors to create a primary color.

Secondary colors are the result of mixing two primary colors. For example, yellow and blue make green. And finally, tertiary colors are a mix of primary and secondary colors, like blue-green or red-violet.


How to Make Brown Paint: 5 Different Combinations

While you can buy acrylic paint or oil paint in your preferred shade of brown, it's also helpful to understand the different ways you can make the color.

1. Red, Yellow and Blue

Combine red, yellow and blue and you will get brown. The primary colors also make gray, another neutral. The amount you use of each color and the shades will determine how your brown appears.


Mix equal parts of red, yellow and blue for a basic brown.

2. Blue and Orange

You can mix primary and secondary colors, like blue and orange, to make brown. Blue and orange are complementary colors. Orange is also a combination of red and yellow, so when mixed with blue, it makes brown.

An ultramarine blue and a medium orange paint make a light brown color with a sandy undertone. A dark blue and a neutral orange can create richer brown paint.

3. Orange and Black

You can add black to different shades of orange to create brown. Black and a red-orange color can give you reddish-brown paint. Meanwhile, a light orange mixed with black can give you a more neutral brown. If you add more black than light orange, you can create a dark brown.

4. Purple and Yellow

Purple (a combination of red and blue) and yellow create brown paint. You can find these two colors across from the other on the color wheel. A darker, green-tinged yellow and a red-blue purple will give you an earthy brown.

5. Red and Green

Mix red with green, a secondary color, and you'll also get brown. A neutral green and a red with orange tones will make a medium brown. A red with an olive green will give you a reddish-brown color.


Other Considerations When Mixing Complementary Colors

You can add white paint to your mixtures if you want a lighter brown color. You can also use pastel versions of different combinations for light brown paint. If you want a darker brown, you can add black or pick darker shades of primary and secondary colors.

If you want golden brown paint, add more yellow, which will also add more warmth. More blue will give you a cooler-toned brown.