How to Make Blue Colors

How to make blue colors? It’s easy if you know these 3 simple tricks for mixing blues.

First, let’s start with the basics.

Every color is composed of three elements: value, chroma, and hue.

Value is how light or dark a color is.

Chroma is how intense the color is.

Hue is where it lands on the color wheel – red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple.

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How to Mix Different Values of Blues

Blues can be very light and in value, like a baby blue. In order to make your blue lighter in value, you can add white. Simple enough.

Blues can also be very dark in value.

In fact, most people don’t realize that black is often just a very dark blue.

So if you need to make your blue darker, one option is to add black to it.

However, black is much more neutral than a sky blue. So not only will it darken your blue, it will also neutralize it, which we will discuss in a moment.

Another option to make your blue appear lower in value is to add a blue that is darker in value than the one you currently are using.

For example, if you are using a cerulean blue (which is medium in value), and add ultramarine blue (which is darker than cerulean blue in value), it will darken your overall blue when mixed together.

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How to Adjust the Chroma of Blues

Most blues that we observe in the natural world are not super chromatic. In other words, many blues are not very intense. They are the opposite of chromatic. They are neutralized blues.

If you look at the ocean in New England, for example, there is a lot of particulate in the water which makes it appear muddy. The ocean in New England is still decidedly blue, just not a very intense blue. We would say it is a neutralized blue.

So, if you want to paint the ocean off the coast of Maine, how would you mix that blue?

If you want to neutralize the color blue, but NOT change its value, you need to add a neutral that is the same lightness/darkness as the blue you are using.

So if you are using a medium blue paint, but it is too intense (or chromatic), then you need to find a neutral that is the also medium in value.

A true neutral is a color that is as close to NO color as you can get. It’s like a grey, except that it is not even a little bit red-grey, or blue-grey, or yellow-grey. It is a grey that has no discernible color.

If you want to adjust the intensity of your blue, but NOT change the value, then you need to add a grey that is the same value as the blue you are using.

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Chromatic neutral? How is this a thing?

One answer to your troubles is to mix what is called a chromatic neutral, and then add this neutral to your blue paint in order to diminish its chroma.

A chromatic neutral is a no-color color that is made by mixing yellow, blue, and red together.

Now, it is important to know that not all pigments are created equal. Some are stronger than others. Red, for example, is often much more potent than yellow.

So in order to make a chromatic neutral, you cannot expect to mix equal amounts of red, yellow, and blue together and get a grey that is perfectly neutral.

Instead, you will likely have to mix a lot of yellow, with a medium amount of red, and a slightly less amount of blue. (This of course, all depends exactly on what the quality of paint you are using is as well as the specific pigments in your paint.)

Mixing red, yellow, and blue together WILL get you a neutral color, however it is very difficult to determine exactly what the color is when the value of the neutral is dark. Therefore, I encourage you to ALSO add white to your mixture. This will lighten the overall color and make it easier to determine if you are getting close to a true neutral.

Keep adding small amounts of red, yellow and/or blue (and maybe more white if you can’t tell what color it is) until you have a color that doesn’t look even a little bit orange, or green.

Tada! You’ve mixed your first chromatic neutral.

If you add a small amount of this chromatic neutral to your blue, it will neutralize it. The more you add, the more “muddy” your blue will become.

If you are painting the ocean off of Maine, you will need to add a lot of neutral to get the famous murky color of the ocean there.

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The Chroma Catch

A more difficult problem artists face is how to mix a blue that is MORE chromatic than the blue you have on your palette.

The answer is YOU CAN’T.

You CANNOT make any color more chromatic than it already is UNLESS…

You add a MORE chromatic blue to the blue you already have.

This means you need a NEW BLUE. Cerulean blue, Pthalo blue – these are notoriously chromatic blues.

But if you mix white with your ultramarine blue, you are not going to be able to make that bright-clear-sky-over-the-Arizona-desert blue. It’s simply not chromatic enough. You need to add a more chromatic blue to your palette to achieve that effect. (And a cooler one – this blue has more yellow in it than ultramarine blue.)

how to mix blue chromatic
You can’t mix this blue with ultramarine blue. You need a more chromatic – and cooler – blue.

Learn more about opposites on the color wheel here.

How to Adjust the Hue of Blues to Get Exactly the Right Color

Now we come to what I believe is the trickiest element of painting the right blue for your purpose – the hue.

Did you know that blue can be either warm or cool?

It’s true.

If the blue looks like it leans closer to the green part of the color wheel than the purple part of the color wheel, we say it is a “cool blue”.

If the blue looks like it leans closer to the purple part of the color wheel more than the green part of the color wheel, we say it is a “warm blue”. This is because if it leans towards purple, it has a little bit of red in it (remember, purple is made of red + blue).

Don’t Be Blue About Blues

With this guide, try practicing mixing different blues that you see around you. Now that you know what to look for, you will be able to get closer and closer to the color of blue you are trying to make.

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Read More Color Theory Articles:

Colour Theory

How to Make Blue Colors

How to Make Purple Paint

How to Make Brown Paint

How to Make Yellow Darker

Color Theory for Beginners

Color Theory Lesson Plans

Discover more great color theory lessons here.

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