What colors make yellow? Your guide on how to make yellow
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What colors make yellow? Your guide on how to make yellow

What Colors Make Yellow

What colors make yellow, and how can you create your own perfect yellow mix? Because it’s a primary color, learning how to make yellow can be complex. In most cases, combining different paints to create a true yellow hue is impossible. However, there is room for experimentation. 

Yellow is one of the most cheerful, vivid, and joyful colors in the spectrum. It can be bold and elegant in golden or mustard shades or vivacious and fun in bright lemon hues. Yellow is used to represent life and happiness by brand designers, decorators, and artists. 

Unfortunately for designers and artists, mixing yellows isn’t as simple as it seems. However, it is possible to create various tints, tones, and shades of yellow by experimenting with the tools in your color palette. 

Depending on how you’re approaching your color mix, you could even learn how to create yellow from scratch. 

Let’s take a closer look at the process of making yellow.

Yellow color psychology: What does yellow mean?

Before we dive into our guide on how to make yellow, let’s start by exploring the unique nature of this color. Yellow is a beautiful, vibrant shade with a lot of emotional impact. 

Some studies suggest yellow can help to increase mental activity and muscle energy, meaning it actually helps to invigorate us in some cases. This makes it a good choice for brands trying to drive action. 

Some experts believe yellow helps to stimulate the nervous system and activate the parts of our brain responsible for memory. This means many brighter yellow shades are commonly associated with confidence, enlightenment, and intellect. 

Soft yellows are often associated with the natural world, pollen color, and many flowers. Paler yellows can remind us of spring, while lemon yellows make us think of freshness and zest. Yellow is also naturally eye-catching and engaging, which is why it’s commonly used to capture attention. 

For example, yellow is used on roadways around the world because it’s one of the easiest colors for us to perceive from a distance. The shade commonly appears in traffic signs, road lines, taxis, and school buses. However, yellow’s connotations aren’t all positive. 

High levels of vibrant yellows can cause emotional stress and visual strain. Too much yellow can make our brains feel overstimulated and lead to irritation. Certain shades of yellow, particularly when mixed with green, can also convey ideas of sickness or ill health.

Can you make yellow? An introduction

To create yellow, you need to look at the color spectrum from a different angle than most people. Often, we’re taught to think of color in a certain way when we grow up, according to traditional color theory.

This concept teaches us primary shades can be combined to make all the colors in the rainbow, but the primary colors themselves can’t be created via mixing.

Alongside blue and red, yellow is one of the core “primary colors” in the RGB model. If you mix any other color in the spectrum to try and create yellow, you’ll end up with a murky brown color.

From this viewpoint, creating a true yellow isn’t possible, but it is possible to build different tones, tints, and temperatures of yellow for your palette. Adding further shades to a yellow mix, such as red, brown, white, or black, will adjust its appearance.

However, if we look at color from a more modern perspective, using the CMYK model, we learn mixing shades at specific saturations is possible using digital technology.

The CMYK methodology is used in inkjet printers. The primary shades are cyan, black, yellow, and magenta. While yellow is once again a primary shade in this landscape, it’s also possible for printers to “recreate” yellow when you run out of ink.

Similarly, it’s possible to create yellow for television and computer screens using two shades.

What Colors Make Yellow

What two colors make yellow?

Learning how to make yellow from scratch requires designers and artists to work with the light spectrum rather than existing paints and utensils. If you focus on what colors make yellow by looking at the light spectrum, you can create your shade by combining red and green. 

The two colors need to be mixed at equal levels of “intensity,” according to the science of light.

Notably, if you mix green and red on your paint palette, you’ll have a messy brown shade close to black. However, if you combine these colors in the digital world, the two colors balance each other. 

The red shade in the color spectrum cancels out the blue within the green, which leaves only the yellow remaining. 

It’s a complicated approach to mixing yellow, which won’t work for every use case. However, it’s worth knowing there is a way to make yellow from two colors if you’re working with the right mediums. 

Once you know how to mix yellow in a digital environment, you can take your experimentation even further by creating custom tones and shades. 

It’s also possible to use different combinations of green and red to make a unique shade of yellow from scratch. The key, as always, is to ensure the colors’ intensity is the same.

What Colors Make Yellow

The color mix for yellow when working with paint

If you’re working with paint, ink, and other physical mediums, the question of “what colors make yellow” becomes much more complicated. If you don’t have a tube of yellow available, you can experiment with a few shades to make a shade similar to yellow.

Cadmium Orange in large amounts mixed with white and a small amount of green creates a soft, brownish-yellow tone. The color is extremely muted, but it could be a good starting option when you’re in a pinch.

Typically, however, most artists working with yellow will already have a base shade of the primary color to work with. From there, it’s possible to transform yellow into a variety of different hues which work well alongside other color choices

To mix new tones and shades of yellow, you’ll need an understanding of color temperature. In color theory, “temperature” refers to whether a shade is warm or cold in hue. Red is the warmest color on the spectrum, while blue is the coolest. 

As a result, adding warmer shades, like red, orange, and purple to yellow will create a warmer effect. 

Alternatively, if you add cooler shades to yellow, like white and blue, you end up with a more muted, softer yellow. Cadmium Yellow has a small amount of blue in it, for example. Let’s take a closer look at how you can experiment with different shades and tones of yellow.

What Colors Make Yellow

What colors make warm yellow?

As mentioned above, most artists learning what colors make yellow will be focused on adjusting the temperature and shade of their existing palette. Yellow is already a naturally warm color, but you can make it even warmer if you want to experiment with Mustard Yellows and gold.

Ideally, you’d start with a neutral or warm base like Cadmium Yellow or Yellow Ochre.

Once you have your base yellow shade, you can add various shades like Cadmium Red, Burnt Sienna, scarlet, and Cadmium Orange. Adding a small dab of Cadmium Red to Cadmium Yellow creates a lovely orange-yellow hue.

Combining scarlet with Cadmium Yellow builds a much more vibrant, fiery yellow with golden undertones.

If you want to mute your yellow slightly and reduce some of its saturation, opt for a browner shade, like Yellow Ochre, mixed with red. You can also add a little Burnt Sienna to a Cadmium Yellow, as Burnt Sienna is a much cooler and darker shade of red with slight traces of blue.

Make sure you only add small amounts of color to your mix, as you can end up with an intense shade of brown when you’re mixing with warm colors.

What Colors Make Yellow

What colors make yellow paint cooler?

Cooling your yellow shades can be quite complicated. The easiest way to reduce the color temperature of a hue is to add another cooler color, such as blue or green. Unfortunately, as soon as you add even the smallest amount of blue to yellow, you can create green.

Start with a cool yellow shade, like Cadmium Yellow, if you want something relatively soft. If your base yellow is too warm, the red elements will react with the blue to create a muted brown shade.

If you’re looking for an earthier tone, you can always lean into this by combining Yellow Ochre with something like Cadmium Green or Ultramarine Blue.

Most of the time, mixing any yellow with blue or green will lead to either a brownish or greenish hue. A slow-adding process is crucial here, just as when making your yellow mix warmer.

If you’re creating a cool yellow that leans towards the green spectrum, you can try using Cobalt Teal Blue, similar to Turquoise. This leads to quite a vibrant color, but it can be too close to green for some.

Adding slight amounts of yellow to your mixture can also lighten your shade, which may bring out some blue or green undertones.

What Colors Make Yellow

How to make yellow shades

If you want to make a specific shade of yellow, there are a lot of options available for mixing your primary yellow into something more impactful. In all cases, creating yellow tones will require you to start with a base of yellow.

The temperature of the yellow will impact the result you get, so stick with cool yellows if you want a remarkable result and warm for warmer tones.

Here are some useful color combinations you can try:

  • Yellow and green: Bright yellow.
  • Yellow, black and red: Gold.
  • Yellow and orange: Cadmium Yellow.
  • Yellow and grey: Flaxen Yellow.
  • Yellow and white: Banana Yellow.

What colors make Yellow Orange?

Using only primary colors for a warm Yellow Orange shade, you can start with simple yellow paint and mix it with a slight amount of red. Crucially, you’ll need to ensure the quantity of yellow significantly outweighs the red unless you want a true orange.

Start with a lot of vibrant yellow paint, and add just the slightest dab of Crimson or Burnt Sienna.

The brighter the colors you mix into your paint, the more vibrant your mixture will be. If you want to reduce the impact of saturation, you can mix in small amounts of white or grey. For example, a soft golden yellow can be made using black, red, and plenty of yellow. 

What colors make Muted Yellow?

Bright yellow shades are fantastic for a lot of purposes. Bright yellow is a good choice if you want to capture attention with a bold branding strategy or make your interior design stand out. However, it’s not the right choice for every use case.

Sometimes, you need a more muted, natural shade of yellow. This means adding specific shades to your mix.

The best way to mute colors is by adding contrasting colors to your existing hue. If you start with yellow paint, adding a minimal amount of purple will subdue the yellow and create a brownish tone.

You can also experiment with adding small amounts of brown, Cobalt Blue, or grey to your yellow to create different results.

What colors make Mustard Yellow?

Mustard Yellow is a popular hue used in the fashion and décor industry. It’s one of the warmer shades of yellow, typically created by adding various warm shades to a base yellow mix.

Once again, you’ll need to ensure your yellow paint or material significantly outweighs the quantity of any other shades. Start with a bright yellow like Cadmium Yellow, and add small amounts of orange.

You can also use a bit of red to make your Mustard Yellow a little browner and warmer. Once you have a base brown-mustard shade, you can add extra yellow and orange according to your needs to get the right shade. Mix in a little white to make the color paler or a little black to deepen the shade.

What Colors Make Yellow

What colors make Deep Yellow?

For the most part, when artists explore how to make deep yellow, they’re really looking for darker yellow shades. Making yellow paint darker is relatively simple, depending on your desired results.

You can add complementary colors like purple and blue if you want to mute or subdue the yellow, giving it a darker, browner texture.

If you’re trying to maintain some of the vibrancy of your yellow while still making it appear as dark and deep as possible, pick orange over red. Orange will help to darken your shade without making it too subdued.

Since most dark yellows look very similar to brown, it’s crucial to get the balance just right. Here are some excellent options for creating golden yellow shades:

As you can see, mixing a combination of three colors together gives you even more variety with your dark yellow hues. Cadmium Yellow mixed with a tiny touch of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber creates an almost khaki shade.

Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, and Ultramarine Blue create a warmer, brownish-gold color.

What Colors Make Yellow

What colors make bright yellow lighter?

If you’re starting with bright yellow paint or color, you have several options for lightening the shade. Yellow is one of the colors artists frequently use to lighten other shades like green and orange, so it’s a wonderfully bright shade on its own.

If you’re lightening an initial yellow shade, you’ll need to use white, grey, light green, or even other yellow shades.

When figuring out what colors make yellow lighter, it’s worth noting that most shades will also mute your color and lighten it. Yellow reduces some of the saturation of yellow, which could mean you have a much paler shade.

If you want to mute your yellow more than white will typically allow, you can experiment with soft greys to create a brownish hue.

The best colors to use for lightening yellow while ensuring you don’t lose the vibrant effect are either green or another form of yellow.

Consider Cadmium Lemon Yellow. Adding Cadmium Lemon Yellow to Ochre or Cadmium Yellow will lighten the hue without reducing its vibrancy. Adding a small amount of lime green to a yellow can also lighten it. However, the blue hues in the green can also make the result cooler.

What Colors Make Yellow

What colors mix to make yellow muted?

As mentioned above, mixing virtually any color with yellow will mute some of its saturation. Even adding a little white or grey can subdue the shade significantly.

However, the best way to mute any color aggressively is to use its complementary shade. For yellow, this color is purple. When you mix purple with yellow, it will create a soft brown or green hue.

If your yellow is too bright or saturated, even the slightest dab of purple will dissipate the vibrancy and create something more natural and somber.

For example, blending cadmium level with the tiniest dab of Provence Violet Blush delivers an excellent pale-yellow shade.

The darker and cooler the color of purple you add to your yellow shade, the more muted the hue will become. However, you can use colors with a slightly warm undertone to maintain some of the temperatures.

Cadmium Yellow and Dioxazine Purple lead to quite a warm yellow finish, though it’s still much cooler than most hues, thanks to the blue content.

When experimenting with what colors make yellow more muted, ensure you’re very cautious with the amount of extra paint you add to your mix. The heavier-handed you are, the more likely you are to end up with a brownish shade.

Creating your own yellow mix

As you can see, answering the question “what colors make yellow?” can be a little complex.

If you’re trying to figure out how to make yellow from scratch, your options are pretty limited depending on the materials you’re working with. As a primary color, yellow is extremely difficult to make using existing paints, oils, and other materials.

However, there are ways to make yellow using the concept of light on digital screens.

If you simply want to experiment with a diverse yellow mix, there are various ways to build a comprehensive palette of hues. You can add or detract from the warmth of your yellow paint with different shades or make your hues brighter, lighter, or darker.

Considering experimenting with your yellow options to see what kind of unique shades you can create.

Fabrik: A branding agency for our times.

Now read these:
Your guide to colors that complement yellow
The ultimate guide to the many shades of yellow
Your guide to using yellow in packaging design
The psychology of yellow and what it represents 
What does yellow signify in branding and design
Should you choose yellow for logo design?
Exploring the colors of the rainbow

Stephen Peate
Creative director
Stephen Peate
Creative director
As Fabrik’s creative director, Stephen oversees complex branding programmes. He advises our clients on their tone of voice, creates logos and visual identities and crafts names for companies, products and services. Writing for Brand Fabrik Stephen reflects his love for logo design and visual identity.

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