handprint : watercolor mixing complements
 

watercolor mixing complements

 
Subtractive complementary colors or mixing complements are two paints, from roughly opposite sides of the color wheel, that can mix to make a pure gray or achromatic color. These paint pairs are invaluable for mixing dark neutrals, and as signposts to color design decisions. This page presents the watercolor mixing complements I identified by extensive testing.

Method. As there are many fewer pigments in the blue or green side of the artist's color wheel than on the red or yellow side, I first selected the 21 most important "cool" single pigment paints (including two shades of phthalo and cerulean blue, and two convenience greens). I then chose a comprehensive selection of 50 "warm" mixing complement paints, from magenta to light yellow, to mix with them.

For each "cool" (blue or green) target paint, I first selected 6 to 10 of the "warm" (red or yellow) paints that were opposite the target paint on the color wheel and therefore most likely to be mixing complements for the paint. I made four or five mixtures with each warm/cool pair, varying the proportions of the mixtures to bracket both sides of a visual gray, and applied the mixtures to a "bright white" watercolor paper (Cheap Joe's Kilimanjaro).

These mixtures (over 700 in all) were measured with a Spectrolino spectrophotometer, and the results plotted (using Excel) on the CIELAB a*b* plane. Points from the same pigment pair were connected with a line, and these mixing lines were used to judge whether a mixing pair passed through the achromatic point (and were therefore true mixing complements) or missed it on either side (near mixing complements).

Using these charts as a guide, I then mixed and measured all additional "warm" pigments from the set of 50 that were located on the artist's color wheeel next to the true mixing complements I had already identified, to ensure I tested all possible mixing complements. (This resulted in another 800 paint mixtures, over 1500 in all.) The example at right shows the final plot for ultramarine blue, PB29 (with the a+a/- dimension reversed left to right to match the artist's color wheel). Note that 19 mixing complements were tested, though only 7 are listed in the table below.

Any mixing line that passed within a minimum chroma of 5 or less (light gray circle) is a "near gray" neutral that most viewers would find visually equivalent to a pure gray. Any mixture with a minimum chroma of 2 or less (dark gray circle) is considered a pure gray. In the diagram (above), there are 4 near gray neutrals and 3 pure gray neutrals with ultramarine blue; all the other paint mixtures stray too far from the achromatic point. Over 170 unique pigment pairs produced pure gray or near gray mixtures.

Results. Why have I presented the results as a big list rather than as a color wheel? Because it is not possible to make a consistent mixing color wheel, for reasons explained here.

To demonstrate the basic problem, I've made a visual table of my mixing results by listing warm hues, in order of hue angle (from cadmium lemon to ultramarine violet), in the rows down the left side, and the 21 target cool hues (from ultramarine violet through sap green) in the columns across top. Each cell in the table represents the unique mixture of a par of warm and cool paints. Then I used a black rectangle to mark the paint combinations making "pure gray" mixtures, and a gray rectangle to mark the "near gray" mixtures (as defined above).

The black and gray cells do not form a solid, straight diagonal through the table, but are broken up and scattered irregularly by substance uncertainty. This should help convince you that subtractive color mixing is really messy! In fact, you can't reduce material color mixtures to a color wheel. Mixing complements have to be defined in terms of specific pigment pairs, not abstract "color" contrasts.

The measurements are summarized in the table below as follows:

• A listing of all "cool" anchor pigments, including color index name and manufacturer. (Some paints, such as cerulean blue, vary widely across manufacturers.) Convenience green paints are listed in italics.

• A listing of all the "warm" mixing complements for each anchor pigments, with the manufacturer and color index name. The "pure gray" complements (minimum chroma of 2 or less) are shown in boldface type; the "near gray" (minimum chroma of 5 or less) below them in regular type.

• The hue bias for the "near gray" mixtures, as a deflection toward the yellow, magenta, blue or green sides of the hue circle.

• The approximate value range of the neutral color, averaged across all test mixtures. The higher the value range, the darker the color (carbon black watercolor pigments reach a value range of 70 to 75).

These complements may or may not apply in other media, such as acrylics or oils, which use a different vehicle that can change the reflectance attributes of the pigments. For the pigments or paints footnoted (b), the mixing behavior in watercolors may vary by manufacturer.

A thumbnail image of an artist's color wheel shows the location of each cool anchor pigment and all the warm neutralizing pigments listed for it. These suggest the wide range of warm pigments that can neutralize a single cool pigment color.

I haven't indicated the mixing complements that show significant drying shifts in hue or lightness, or that quickly separate when mixed in diluted concentrations, and are therefore harder to mix to a true gray. These shifts are noticeable in the pigment pairs with very different drying shifts, and in pairs having different tinting strengths (imbalanced mixing proportions).

Two comments. The liquid mixtures of cadmium and phthalo pigments are deceptive, as the cadmiums tend to sink quickly in the mixture, making it appear cooler than it actually is. This is a general mixing hazard with any combination of a synthetic organic and inorganic (mineral) pigment. In addition, many mixtures of cobalt pigments with synthetic organic or "earth" (iron oxide) pigments will separate if applied as a juicy brushstroke, which will look like a complex or mottled patch of two distinct colors, even though the table indicates the colors average to a near or pure gray. Sometimes these separations are a nuisance, but often they can be used to produce beautiful textural effects. Always stir vigorously to judge the color when mixing, and evaluate the mixture as a test swatch on scrap paper before painting.

 

watercolor mixing complements
anchor pigmentmixing complementshue biasvalue range
ultramarine violet [blue hue]a
(MG, PV15)

quinacridone gold 
(W&N, PO49)
yellow ochre
(W&N, PY43)
raw siennab
(DS, PBr7)
chrome titanate
(W&N, PBr24)
cadmium yellow deepb
(W&N, PY35)
hansa yellow deep
(DS, PY65)
nickel dioxine yellow
(DS, PY153)
raw umberb
(MG, PBr7)
gold ochre
(W&N, PY42)
. 
 
.
 
. 
 
.
 
. 
 
magenta
 
green
 
magenta 
 
magenta
55 
 
45
 
50 
 
50
 
40 
 
45
 
50
 
50 
 
50
ultramarine blue 
(MG, PB29)

raw umberb
(MG, PBr7)
quinacridone orange
(DS, PO48)
benzimidazolone orange
(W&N, PO62)
burnt siennab
(MG, W&N, PBr7)
burnt umber
(DS, PBr7)
gold ochre
(W&N, PY42)
raw siennab
(DS, PBr7)
. 
 
.
 
.
 
magenta 
 
magenta
 
green
 
green 
65 
 
70
 
45
 
45 
 
55
 
45
 
70 
indanthrone blue 
(DS, PB60)

raw umberb
(MG, PBr7)
raw siennab
(DS, PBr7)
gold ochre
(W&N, PY42)
benzimidazolone orange
(W&N, PO62)
hansa yellow deep
(DS, PY65)
quinacridone orange
(DS, PO48)
burnt siennab
(MG, W&N, PBr7)
burnt umber
(DS, PBr7)
yellow ochre
(W&N, PY43)
chrome titanate
(W&N, PBr24)
quinacridone gold
(W&N, PO49)
cadmium yellow deepb
(W&N, PY35)
. 
 
. 
 
.
 
.
 
.
 
green
 
magenta 
 
magenta
 
green
 
green
 
green
 
green 
65 
 
65 
 
70
 
60
 
55
 
50
 
50 
 
55
 
60
 
65
 
70
 
50 
cobalt blue deep 
(W&N, PB72)

raw umberb
(MG, PBr7)
raw siennab
(DS, PBr7)
quinacridone orange
(DS, PO48)
hansa yellow deep
(DS, PO65)
benzimidazolone orange
(W&N, PO62)
burnt umber
(DS, PBr7)
gold ochre
(W&N, PY42)
yellow ochre
(W&N, PY43)
. 
 
. 
 
.
 
.
 
magenta
 
magenta
 
green
 
green
65 
 
65 
 
70
 
45
 
45
 
55
 
45
 
70
cobalt blue 
(MG, PB28)

raw umberb
(MG, PBr7)
benzimidazolone orange
(W&N, PO62)
burnt siennab
(MG, W&N, PBr7)
burnt umber
(DS, PBr7)
hansa yellow deepb
(DS, PY65)
raw siennab
(DS, PBr7)
gold ochre
(W&N, PY42)
. 
 
.
 
magenta 
 
magenta
 
green 
 
green 
 
green
60 
 
50
 
50 
 
50
 
40 
 
55 
 
45
iron (prussian) blue 
(W&N, PB27)

venetian redb
(W&N, PR101)
quinacridone orange
(DS, PO48)
perinone orange
(DS, PO43)
cadmium scarletb
(W&N, PR108)
quinacridone maroon
(DS, PR206)
cadmium orangeb
(DS, PO20)
burnt siennab
(MG, PBr7)
. 
 
.
 
magenta
 
magenta 
 
magenta
 
green 
 
green 
50 
 
75
 
50
 
60 
 
60
 
35 
 
60 
phthalo blueb
(MG, PB15)

venetian redb
(W&N, PR101)
cadmium orangeb
(DS, PO20)
perinone orange
(DS, PO43)
cadmium scarletb
(W&N, PR108)
pyrrole orange
(RA, PO73)
burnt umberb
(DS, PBr7)
burnt siennab
(MG, PBr7)
. 
 
. 
 
.
 
magenta 
 
magenta
 
green 
 
green 
65 
 
70 
 
70
 
60 
 
70
 
70 
 
65 
phthalo blue GSb
(W&N, PB15:3)

venetian redb
(W&N, PR101)
gold ochre
(W&N, PY42)
perinone orange
(DS, PO43)
cadmium scarletb
(W&N, PR108)
cadmium orangeb
(DS, PO20)
cadmium redb
(W&N, PR108)
pyrrole orange
(RA, PO73)
quinacridone maroon
(DS, PR206)
burnt umberb
(DS, PBr7)
burnt siennab
(MG, PBr7)
. 
 
.
 
.
 
magenta 
 
green 
 
magenta 
 
magenta
 
magenta
 
green 
 
green 
65 
 
65
 
65
 
70 
 
60 
 
65 
 
70
 
70 
 
65 
 
60
cerulean blue [red shade]b
(MG, Ma, PB36)

burnt siennab
(MG, PBr7)
burnt umberb
(DS, PBr7)
raw umberb
(MG, PBr7)
cadmium orangeb
(DS, PO20)
benzimidazolone orange
(W&N, PO62)
. 
 
. 
 
green 
 
magenta 
 
green
45 
 
45 
 
50 
 
45 
 
40
phthalo cyan / manganese blue 
(Hb, PB17 / Bx, PB33)

cadmium scarletb
(W&N, PR108)
quinacridone maroon
(DS, PR206)
cadmium redb
(W&N, PR108)
pyrrole orange
(RA, PO73)
venetian redb
(W&N, PR101)
perinone orange
(DS, PO43)
pyrrole scarlet
(DS, PR255)
. 
 
magenta
 
magenta 
 
magenta
 
green 
 
green
 
magenta
60 
 
55
 
65 
 
65
 
65 
 
65
 
60
cerulean blue [green shade]b
(W&N, PB35)

venetian redb
(W&N, PR101)
cadmium scarletb
(W&N, PR108)
cadmium orangeb
(DS, PO20)
perinone orange
(DS, PO43)
. 
 
magenta 
 
green 
 
magenta
45 
 
45 
 
40 
 
50
phthalo turquoise
(Ma, PB16)

perinone orange
(DS, PO43)
cadmium scarletb
(W&N, PR108)
venetian redb
(W&N, PR101)
cadmium redb
(W&N, PR108)
quinacridone maroon
(DS, PR206)
perylene scarlet
(DS, PR149)
naphthol red
(DS, PR170)
pyrrole scarlet
(DS, PR255)
pyrrole orange
(RA, PO73)
.
 
. 
 
green 
 
magenta 
 
magenta
 
magenta
 
magenta
 
magenta
 
magenta
55
 
55 
 
55 
 
65 
 
65
 
70
 
65
 
50
 
55
cobalt turquoise
(DS, PB36)

quinacridone maroon
(DS, PR206)
pyrrole orange
(RA, PO73)
cadmium redb
(W&N, PR108)
cadmium red deepb
(W&N, PR108)
pyrrole scarlet
(DS, PR255)
perylene maroon
(DS, PR179)
perylene scarlet
(DS, PR149)
venetian redb
(W&N, PR101)
cadmium scarletb
(W&N, PR108)
perinone orange
(DS, PO43)
naphthol scarlet
(DS, PR188)
pyrrole red
(W&N, PR254)
.
 
.
 
. 
 
. 
 
.
 
.
 
blue
 
yellow 
 
yellow 
 
yellow
 
blue
 
blue
45
 
55
 
45 
 
65 
 
55
 
55
 
70
 
55 
 
60 
 
55
 
60
 
50
cobalt teal blue
(DS, PG50)

pyrrole orange
(RA, PO73)
pyrrole scarlet
(DS, PR255)
perylene scarlet
(DS, PR149)
quinacridone maroon
(DS, PR206)
perylene maroon
(DS, PR179)
cadmium red deepb
(W&N, PR108)
cadmium scarletb
(W&N, PR108)
pyrrole red
(W&N, PR254)
naphthol scarlet
(DS, PR188)
cadmium redb
(W&N, PR108)
.
 
.
 
.
 
.
 
.
 
. 
 
yellow 
 
blue
 
blue
 
yellow 
45
 
50
 
45
 
45
 
40 
 
45
 
35 
 
40
 
40
 
40 
phthalo green BS
(MG, PG7)

pyrrole scarlet
(DS, PR255)
quinacridone maroon
(DS, PR206)
perylene maroon
(DS, PR179)
cadmium redb
(W&N, PR108)
pyrrole red
(W&N, PR254)
naphthol red
(DS, PR170)
naphthol red
(MG, PR112)
quinacridone carmine
(W&N, PR N/A)
perylene scarlet
(DS, PR149)
cadmium red deepb
(Ma, PR108)
quinacridone redb
(MG, PR209)
benzimidazolone maroon
(DS, PR171)
naphthol scarlet
(DS, PR188)
anthraquinone red
(DS, PR177)
.
 
.
 
.
 
. 
 
.
 
yellow
 
blue
 
blue
 
yellow
 
yellow 
 
blue 
 
blue
 
yellow
 
blue
75
 
70
 
75
 
70 
 
70
 
70
 
60
 
75
 
75
 
60 
 
70 
 
60
 
65
 
70
viridian
(W&N, PG18)

pyrrole red
(W&N, PR254)
naphthol scarlet
(DS, PR188)
quinacridone maroon
(DS, PR206)
naphthol red
(DS, PR170)
naphthol red
(MG, PR112)
perylene maroon
(DS, PR179)
pyrrole scarlet
(DS, PR255)
quinacridone carmine
(W&N, PR N/A)
perylene scarlet
(DS, PR149)
quinacridone red
(MG, PR209)
cadmium redb
(W&N, PR108)
cadmium red deepb
(Ma, PR108)
pyrrole orange
(RA, PO73)
anthraquinone red
(DS, PR177)
benzimidazolone maroon
(DS, PR171)
.
 
.
 
.
 
.
 
.
 
.
 
yellow
 
blue
 
yellow
 
blue
 
yellow 
 
yellow 
 
yellow
 
blue
 
blue
65
 
60
 
65
 
60
 
60
 
65
 
70
 
65
 
65
 
55
 
65 
 
65 
 
60
 
60
 
55
phthalo green YS 
(W&N, PG36)

quinacridone rose [rose hue]b
(W&N, PV19)
quinacridone rose [red hue]b
(MG, PV19)
benzimidazolone maroon
(DS, PR171)
quinacridone carmine
(W&N, PR N/A)
anthraquinone red
(DS, PR177)
. 
 
. 
 
.
 
yellow
 
yellow 
70 
 
70 
 
65
 
65
 
65
cobalt green YSb
(W&N, PG50)

quinacridone magentab
(W&N, PR122)
manganese violet
(DS, PV16)
thioindigo violet
(DS, PR88)
cobalt violetb
(RA, PV14)
quinacridone roseb
(W&N, PV19)
quinacridone violetb
(MG, PV19)
.  
 
.
 
.
 
. 
 
yellow 
 
blue 
40 
 
50
 
50
 
40 
 
60 
 
50 
hooker's greenb
(MG, W&N)

dioxazine violet 
(W&N, PV23)
ultramarine violet [red hue]
(W&N, PV15)
cobalt violet deep
(DS, PV14)
cobalt violet
(RA, PV14)
manganese violet
(DS, PV16)
thioindigo violet
(DS, PR88)
quinacridone violet
(MG, PV19)
. 
 
blue
 
blue
 
yellow
 
yellow
 
yellow
 
yellow
65 
 
65
 
55
 
55
 
65
 
60
 
60
chromium oxide green
(W&N, PG17)

dioxazine violet
(W&N, PV23)
ultramarine violet [red hue]
(W&N, PV15)
cobalt violet deepb
(DS, PV14)
manganese violet
(DS, PV16)
.
 
.
 
. 
 
yellow
60
 
55
 
55 
 
55
sap greenb
(MG, W&N)

dioxazine violet 
(W&N, PV23)
ultramarine violet [red hue]
(W&N, PV15)
cobalt violet deepb
(DS, PV14)
. 
 
yellow
 
blue 
70 
 
55
 
55 
aCurrently (Dec. 2001) this "blue" shade is only made by M. Graham and Blockx.

bPigment hue (and hue bias of mixed neutrals) may vary significantly by manufacturer; see the guide to watercolor pigments for the hue angle of paints using each pigment.

Manufacturers: Bx Blockx; DS Daniel Smith; Hb Holbein; Ma MaimeriBlu; MG M. Graham; RA Rowney Artists; W&N Winsor & Newton. The accuracy of this table may change as manufacturers change pigment suppliers or pigment suppliers change their manufacturing standards. Manufacturer quality control is the only guarantee of paint color consistency over time.

 

Last revised 08.01.2005 • © 2005 Bruce MacEvoy