design education technology

Mix Colors in Photoshop as if they were Paint

Color Mixture
Color Mixture
Photoshop uses light rather than paint to create color. Because of this, mixing colors of light is a slightly different animal from mixing paint. However in many cases, we get something similar to mixed paint when mixing two colors of light. In other cases, we get something a bit…off. I’m going to show you a technique for experimenting with color mixing in Photoshop. I’ll also show you the results of my color mixing experiments.

Before you begin, you might want to check out my article on the RGB color wheel. The primary colors of light are red, green and blue (hence “RGB”), not red, blue and yellow as in paint. Let’s try mixing RGB those primaries together. Then let’s try a few other combinations.


The Mixing Technique

  1. Create a new Photoshop document.
  2. Use the Rectangular Marquee tool to select the left half of the image window.
Use Rectangular Marquee tool to select left half
Select the left half
  1. Pick a foreground color. I chose pure red (R:255, G:0, B:0).
  2. Pick a background color. I chose pure blue (R:0, G:0, B:255).
red and blue
Red and blue
  1. Press Alt+Backspace (Mac: Opt+Backspace) to fill the selection with your foreground color.
Left half filled with red
Left half filled with red
  1. Select > Inverse to invert the selection.
  2. Press Ctrl+Backspace (Mac: Cmd+Backspace) to fill the selection with your background color.
Right half filled with blue
Right half filled with blue
  1. Use the Rectangular Marquee tool to make a selection through the middle somewhere so that it includes both colors. Mine is covering approximately the center one-third.
rectangular selection in the center
Rectangular selection in the center
  1. Filter > Gaussian Blur. Set the Radius all the way up to 250.0 pixels and click OK.
Gaussian Blur
Gaussian Blur
  1. Press Ctrl+D (Mac: Cmd+D) to deselect. What you will have in the middle is a nice blend mixing the two colors.

In my case, right in the middle is a rich purple (R: 129, G: 0, B: 126). This is close to the result we would get with paint.

Mixture of pure red and pure blue
Mixture of pure red and pure blue

Rich purple
Rich purple


Note: A similar blending effect can be made using a Foreground-to-Background gradient. However, the result of the gradient contains more of the source colors, and less of the mixed colors, than when we use the mixing method above.

Mixing method versus gradient method
Mixing method versus gradient method


Next: Color Mixing Experiments

9 replies on “Mix Colors in Photoshop as if they were Paint”

Dawn you are an angel for putting together this tutorial. I’m going to have *so* much fun with this – but only once I stop work and start playing (in about 10 hours). x

I really came here to see if you were using the author highlight plugin, but having come here, this site is fantastic.

Do you design logos for other sites?

Found your site/blog looking for ideas in 5 huge graphics classes that I teach with high school kids at all learning levels and grades. You’ve got some really well written tutorials that are fresh and more importantly, tight. Many, Many Thanks!!

This is a good article and I realize It was written a while ago so I don’t expect and answer back but I had a question about one of your examples. Based upon the additive color wheel adding red and green together should give you yellow. The complement to Red in the additive wheel is cyan. In your example of red and green being mixed together the result is brown. Thats where I start getting confused. That would happen in a subtractive color mode but I thought photoshop used additive color mixing to get its results. Could you further clarify what you meant by they are complements in this mode.

Nice articled thanks!

If you have Adobe illustrator you can also try using the blend tool. Just make two rectangles of the chosen colours you would like to blend then go Object>blend>make (in adobe cs4)
you can then adjust the settings with the blend options, such as smooth colour, specified steps, etc.

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