What Colors Make Brown? A Guide on Mixing Brown Tones

Even though it’s ubiquitous in the natural world, brown isn’t a color you’d usually hear artists claim to be their favorite one to work with. Yet, from people’s eyes and skin tones to tree trunks and the sand in a beach scene–it’s impossible to complete a still life, portrait, or landscape painting without using this color somewhere in the composition.

Therefore, to grow as an artist, you’ll have to reckon with how to mix this oft-overlooked hue on your artistic journey. Many color combinations make this hue.

So, what colors make brown?

Short Answer

When mixed, the primary colors red, yellow, and blue make brown. The amount and individual hue (intensity) of each color used in the combination determine the shade of brown you’ll make.

See also: 25 Cool Things to Draw When You’re Bored

Color Vocabulary Recap

You can mix brown using many other colors. However, before we get into how, we need to touch on color theory concepts. So let’s start with a refresher on the most common types of colors:


The primary colors (blue, yellow, and red) can’t be created from other colors. Instead, they’re the source for a variety of colors.


You get secondary colors by mixing two primary colors. They’re green, purple, and orange. The color combinations for getting these colors are as follows:

  • Blue and red make purple
  • Yellow and blue make green
  • Red and yellow make orange


Complementary colors are opposites on the color wheel. These colors make their opposite appear more intense when placed side by side. Equally, when mixed, they seem to cancel each other out. So you’ll get different shades of brown when you combine complementary colors.

Read also: What Colors Make Purple?

Hue, Intensity, and Value

The primary, secondary, and complementary colors can be further examined as having three aspects:

  • Hue: This describes a top-level color from which other colors are derived. The primary colors are hues.
  • Intensity or Saturation: This describes how bright or dull a color appears. Colors with high saturation or intensity are more vivid and have a high temperature (below).
  • Value: This describes how light or dark a color is. In the case of brown, you can get a light brown or a dark brown.

Color Temperature

Colors can be further divided into “warm” and “cool” colors, which describe the sensory feeling you get when you look at the color. For example, red and orange are warm, while green and blue are cool.

Mixing Brown

Now that we’re up to speed with some common color theory concepts, let’s see how we can mix brown.

Three-Color Mix

To arrive at the color brown with three colors, mix equal quantities of the primary or secondary colors. Additionally, mixing unequal amounts of each color will give you even more shades of brown.

Two-Color Mix

Alternatively, you can mix brown using two secondary or complementary colors. The complementary pairs for making brown are:

  • Blue and orange
  • Yellow and purple
  • Red and green

Making Light and Dark Browns

To lighten or darken the shade of brown you get from mixing primaries or complementary colors, apply a little bit of white or black to the mix. For light browns, only a tiny bit of white paint is all that’s needed.

However, making dark browns is a little more challenging to get right on the first try, so gauge your results by adding black to the mix a little at a time. Alternatively, you can use a darker color in place of black. So, for example, when mixing blue and orange, applying more blue to the mix will result in a darker brown.

Achieving Warm and Cool Browns

When you add yellow, red, or orange to a mix of brown, the color has more warmth to it. The opposite is the case when higher quantities of blue, purple, or green are added to a mix. Don’t go too crazy when applying the colors, as it’s easier to change the temperature of color than it is to reverse it.

Read also: What Colors Make Black?

Common Shades of Brown

Here are a few standard shades of brown you’ll probably want to mix when creating art:


Tan is a light shade of brown, so making it requires heavier use of yellow than the other two primary colors. While you can add some white to lighten your color mix to make it tan, it’ll mean doing away with red to avoid getting a pink shade.


Creating beige requires the use of white to lighten a mixture. However, when making beige, you don’t add white to brown. Instead, you add brown to white. The purpose of doing it the latter way is to go slowly and start over if you end up with a shade that’s too light.


Adding yellow and red to brown creates chestnut. Ensure not to add the two primaries in equal proportions.


Whether brown is your favorite color or not, there’s no denying that it’s an integral part of our everyday lives. Therefore, it’s important to know what colors make brown when combined for achieving more realistic results with your art.

You can make brown with a three-color or two-color mix of primaries or complementary colors on the color wheel. Meanwhile, you can achieve lighter or darker shades by adding white or black, while temperature adjustment is simple as adding higher quantities of warmer hues like red.

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