Preschool Mixologist: What Two Colors make Red, Blue, or Brown….?

Can two colors make red? Every preschooler knows that Red, Blue, and Green are primary colors. And since Red is a primary color that means it can not be made from either Green or Blue.

But surprise! Red can be made by mixing the other set of primary colors. Give a child some Magenta and Yellow paint, and Voila!, they can make Red.


Wait!  There are TWO Sets of Primary Colors?

Yes. A primary color is a color that cannot be made from a combination of any other colors.  There are the well-known primary colors of red, green, and blue (RGB) that we teach in preschool, but there is a secondary set of primary colors called cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (CMYK).

Key is equivalent to black, which really isn’t a primary color obviously, but is needed for printing. For CMYK, think of the colors used in an Inkjet Printer!

So, the primary colors of pigment (also known as subtractive primaries) are magenta, yellow, and cyan.

So What Two Colors Make Red?  Mix Magenta and Yellow.

If you want Red, mix Magenta and Yellow paint. Magenta would absorb Green, and Yellow would absorb Blue, leaving only Red to be reflected back to the eye.

  • Magenta and Yellow make Red.

What Two Colors Make Blue?  Mix Cyan and Magenta.

Can you mix Blue from two CMYK colors?  Yes!!

  • Magenta and Cyan make Blue.  

And everyone already knows that, blue and yellow make green, but surprise, so does mixing cyan and yellow!

  • Yellow and Blue make Green.
  • Cyan and Yellow make Green.

Are There Two Colors That Mix To Make Yellow?

Yes and no; you cannot mix two primary colors to make Yellow with paint.  But you can mix Green and Red to make Yellow with light.  This works by the Additive color synthesis (See How does Subtractive Color Mixing Work? below. Many artists get Additive and Subtractive coloring mixed-up!).

What Two Colors Make Brown? Lots!

Every preschooler knows all the water (and all the paint palette) eventually turns to Brown when painting.  There are LOTS of combinations to mix and make the color Brown.

  • Blue and Orange = Brown
  • Red and Green = Brown
  • Yellow and Purple = Brown

How does Subtractive Color Mixing Work?

When you mix colors using paint, or through the printing process, you are using the subtractive color method.

Subtractive color synthesis is the creation of color by mixing colors of pigment, such as paint or ink in your computer’s printer — like CMYK ink jets. This type of color is what is used in the art and design world. When learning basic color theory, art students typically use familiar colors like Red, Yellow, and Blue.

In contrast, Additive color synthesis is the creation of color by mixing colors of light.  Many folks get this confused, and think CMYK inkjets are an additive color system — but actually, inkjets are mixing colors of pigment, hence a Subtractive color method. (Yes, it’s confusing because you are adding ink, but you are not adding light!)

A good way to think about this is that if you add all colors of light together you get white — hence, additive color synthesis. But if you added all your paint together, you’d only get black with all that pigment!

How Can Preschoolers Mix Red Paint at School?

Buy them the right CMYK shades of paints.  Crayola makes a washable Magenta paint that works well.

However, teaching preschoolers (and adults) that there are TWO sets of primary colors is a LOT more complicated.  Enjoy some science and color theory!

Here’s a video demonstrating how mixing two colors make red:

Read More…