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What Do Yellow and Purple Make When Mixed?

I’m a little embarrassed that as a lifelong artist, and a huge fan of seeing purple and yellow together, I never before paused to ask the question: What do yellow and purple make when the colors are mixed? Today I finally whipped out my trusty iPad Procreate art app to find out the answer, firsthand. The results of my drawing investigation may shock you as much as they shocked me!

What do yellow and purple make?
What does yellow and purple make? Here’s my investigation.

Purple Plus Yellow Is…

Gaze above at the result of my first test in the color combination, and let your jaw drop. First, I used the “Airbrush” tool to add a blotch of bold purple to my black background, then sprayed in a chunk of bright yellow, and put the two colors (or colours, if you’re British) on top of each other. Next, I used the “Smudge” tool to mix the purple and yellow together.

As you can see, the answer in this experiment to “What color does yellow and purple make?” was… MAUVE! Yes, that’s right, mauve: the dusty gray-violet hue often seen in grandmothers’ drapery. Oh my! I did not expect that color mixing result at all. To verify my results, I decided to conduct two more investigations. To my surprise, they yielded an utterly different conclusion.

Purple and yellow combination
Another version of the purple and yellow combination, illustrated.

Is the Mix Brown or Mauve?

For my next experiment on what yellow and purple make when mixed, I used the same technique as previously explained, but this time used the “Marker” brush in the Procreate app — a brush that produces much bolder and more saturated color layering. Because the Marker brush is translucent, layering already creates a mix, so I simply drew a swath of yellow, then colored the purple directly on top without smudging to combine the two hues.

This layering technique provided a totally different answer to the question. The result this time was: BROWN! Specifically, a reddish, rusty brown. But how can it be that there were TWO possible yellow plus purple outcomes that are correct? My last experiment reveals why it all makes sense.

What color does purple and yellow make
Yellow and purple can make mauve OR brown.

Understanding the Purple and Yellow Combo

For my last test, I split the page into half purple and half yellow background coloring. I then used the “Wet Sponge” brush to dollop the other color on top, then progressively blend it together more. Upon mixing the purple and yellow in this experiment, you can see that the resulting color of the blend was somewhere between mauve (gray-violet) and brown — grayer than the reddish russet brown yielded by my experiment, “What Do Orange and Purple Make?”

This therefore provides an answer to what yellow and purple make when mixed: it all depends on the saturation levels of each hue. If your technique has less saturation, you’ll end up with mauve as the result. If you have more saturation, purple and yellow combine into brown. Anything in the middle will be somewhere in the middle: dusty brown mauve, like the lower right blob in my drawing, above. (Side note: You can also surprisingly yield a mauve color from what brown and blue make when mixed.)

Can These Complimentary Colors form Black?

Because purple and yellow are complimentary colors, you can technically form black by adding them together — but I was not able to get the shades right to do that in my experiments. For more on color theory and the color circle or wheel, plus many words about the science of complimentary colors, see the Brittanica article here.

Yellow Plus Purple, in Sum

I hope this helps answer your question about what purple and yellow make when they dance together into a delicious mix! Mostly the colors make brown or dusty purple — but because they are complimentary colors, if you get the right shades of them together, you can form black.

If you’d prefer to juxtapose the two hues in fashion instead of mixed in paint or ink, do check out my colorful clothing line, which heartily features this combination. Are there other art experiments you’d like me to conduct? I’d be happy to — just let me know in the comments section below. Happy color cartwheeling!

Want more? Check out “What Does Purple and Green Make?” and “What Does Red and Green Make?” and “How to Make Purpleor What do Orange and Green Make?” plus my full color mixing chart!