Hello, and welcome to another color mixing adventure! Today, we will be exploring: What colors make brown when mixed together in paint, ink, or pigments?
First, we will address the basic three colors that yield brown, then learn how to make it with a whole bunch of two-color combinations — some of which are quite surprising! As background, I am a teacher and artist named Lillie who in enraptured by hands-on illustrations and experiments to learn how to make every color of the rainbow — and beyond. (Chartreuse and vermilion, anyone?) Let’s dive right in.
Which Three Colors Make Brown?
Though there are several models of color theory (RGB and CMYK being two), the model we will use in this article is the classic RYB pigment mixing framework — the one you likely learned since childhood — in which the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. These primary colors are the pigments that are the foundation to create all the other colors, and cannot be mixed from others.
In the RYB model, the answer to how to make brown is to mix all three primary colors. In other words, Red + Yellow + Blue = Brown.
As you can see in my painting below, three other colors that combine to form brown are the secondary colors, meaning, Orange + Green + Purple = Brown, because they’re simply remixed configurations of all three primaries, when taken all together. Just be careful, because in certain ratios, all three primary colors together make black!
What TWO Colors Make Brown?
Now that we know the foundational concept that the three primary colors together (red, yellow, and blue) make brown color, we can extrapolate to realize that any color combinations that contain every primary color has the potential to form brown. What do I mean? Let’s break it down.
For example (as demonstrated in my drawing, below), purple and yellow can make brown, because purple is red plus blue, meaning this combination is actually red plus blue plus yellow — all three primaries!
Orange and Red Mixed with Black
As shown above, one of the easiest and most effective ways of creating brown is to mix orange and black. Red and black make brown sometimes, too, but you may need to use a less saturated red so it’s less of a rust color. This black plus orange or red combination is particularly useful in trying to create different shades of skin tones in art prompts about painting people.
Let’s now undertake a deeper exploration of the many different color combinations that can yield brown — from terracotta color to a rich russet. Each blurb in my list below leads to a longer article, in which I’ve compiled many other illustrations to explain each color mix, so feel free to click through to learn even more. It’s a rainbow rabbit-hole!
Mixing Brown with Other Colors
Now that we know how to make brown by combining certain colors, what happens when we mix brown, itself, with various pigments? Check out “Purple and brown make what color?” for a surprising answer, and “Blue and brown make what color?” as well.
What Colors Make Brown?
The three primary colors in the RYB color system, red, yellow, and blue, form brown when mixed. So which colors make brown when combining only two? Secondary colors help give many options!
Red and Green
Mixing red and green paints or pigments together is an excellent way to get brown. Green is yellow plus blue, so paired with red, this combination hits all three primary colors, and thus can form brown. Just be careful, because certain shades of green added to red can actually yield black!
Orange and Blue
Because orange is red plus yellow, mixing orange and blue can yield browns. This combination can veer towards greens or even purples, however, so tread carefully with which ingredient shades you use.
Yellow and Purple
Purple equals red plus blue, so mixing it with yellow forms brown. Depending on ratios added, you can also get a dusty purple-brown called mauve.
Orange and Green
Orange and green are both secondary colors (red plus yellow, and yellow plus blue, respectively), so when they're mixed, some people call this combination a "tertiary color." Though the resulting blend is often a greenish brown called "olive," it can definitely also produce browns -- just usually with a green flavor.
Purple and Green
The secondary colors, purple and green, combine to form red plus blue, plus blue, plus yellow, which yield a blue-gray called "slate." Depending on the incoming ratios, however, this combination makes forms of brown -- albeit more gray ones.
Orange and Purple
When you mix the secondary colors, orange and purple, you're combining yellow and red, plus red and blue, so the brown that results is a reddish brown, sometimes called "russet." This rich color is often used in skin tones and beautiful animal fur shading.
Pink and Green
Since pink is a lighter version of red, and since red and green make brown, it's logical that pink and green make a lighter brown -- even tan!
There are two definitions of tertiary colors, but the second is relevant to our discussion of how to make brown: the combination of two secondary colors. Because two secondary colors will always have a mix of yellow, red, and blue, this means that tertiary colors -- by this definition -- will be in the brown and gray family.
Curious to see my full range of color mixing articles, including the bright secondary and intermediate colors that are not like browns or grays at all? Check out this round-up, here. You'll notice the pattern: Mixes that contain all three primary colors create neutrals like browns, grays, and even blacks. Combinations with just two primary colors (or even one) are bright and clear.
What Colors Make Brown, in Sum
Congratulations: You now have the knowledge and tools to create all different shades of brown, using either two or three “ingredient” colors of paint, ink, or pigments! This neutral color is key for any drawing prompts that call for natural skin tones, hair color (or colour, if you’re British), animal fur, or earth tones. In other words, there isn’t much art you can create without the wonderful color, brown! Enjoy it well.
Want more? Check out the bright, clear, and bold hues called intermediate colors, the confusing double tertiary colors definition.
Want to learn how to make another useful and lovely hue? Go ahead and read “What Colors Make Pink?”
The author and artist, Lillie Marshall, is a National Board Certified Teacher of English who has been a public school educator since 2003, and an experienced Reiki practitioner since 2018. All art on this site is original and hand-drawn by Lillie. She launched DrawingsOf.com Educational Cartoons in 2020, building upon the success of her other two sites, AroundTheWorldL.com (established 2009) and TeachingTraveling.com (founded 2010). Subscribe to Lillie’s monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media to stay connected!