Paint Mixing 101: Primary Pigments

Update on 3/14/2022

The following was written…….. and then I went and got educated. I was surprised to find that red and blue do NOT mix into purple! To make purple, you need cyan and magenta, not blue and red. For the most part, this article covers what needs to be said, but it a few places I just didn’t know what I was talking about. But, for the MOST PART this is still accurate information.

Let’s look at the three primary pigments. There are “three” primary pigments because color experts are not of this earth. I don’t know what kind of extremely potent hashish these guys are smoking 24/7, but it must be good stuff.

Here are some pigments that I would consider to be “primary.”

The oddball in this collection is the green. I can mix that color using the blue and the yellow, but why waste blue and yellow when you can buy the green already made up? Black and white are primary pigments in my world. But, according to the experts, there are only three primary pigments–the blue, the yellow, and the red. Try making white out of that (don’t try–it’s impossible–I’m being sarcastic).

In truth, you cannot mix up ANYTHING and get a “pure” yellow, blue or red. They are the bedrock. You need them to get started, I’d say you need black and white too, and you really can’t mix them from anything else either, for all practical purposes. So let’s make this list of colors you must have to start: blue, red, yellow, back, white.

In order to learn to mix paint, you’ll need these primary pigments. Model Master Acryl used to make a line of colors for fantasy figure painters (you know, Warcraft) but that went away. It went bye-bye at about the same time as the railroad colors from Polly Scale that also provide some “primary” pigments. Primary pigments, in my world, consist of colors that are untainted by foreign colors. No dull red. No Afrika yellow. No navy blue. The color should be “primary” in that they are “clear” of all OTHER pigments that just tend to spoil them for mixing.

What if the only salt you could buy was garlic salt? What if the only shortening you could buy was salted butter? You add salt and you get more garlic. You add shortening to your pie crust and you get salt and lactose along with it. That’s not good.

With paint, you don’t want some black or blue in your red. You don’t want black or red in your blue. A “true” primary pigment looks like the caps of the bottles in the image above. I’m not sure if this is a commonly understood concept or not–so I’ll just spell it out. You need THOSE colors.

If you have them, you can do “quickie” experiments using a dropper or mixing stick and put a drop of “this” with a drop of “that” and learn how the colors interact. Drop some red in some blue and make a “pure” purple. (See above.) Drop some yellow in some red and make a “pure” orange. Over time, you can learn how colors are “constructed” in this manner. But you need pure primary pigments to do this. Any other shades “degrade” the outcome the more they are mixed.

Now we come to the ranty part. Here are the paints that I use for primary pigments in mixing Polly Scale or Model Master Acryl.

Insignia Yellow is a nice, bright yellow and works OK. The one in the middle is “Magical Blue” from the fantasy line. The red is “Bloode Red” from the fantasy line. Since the fantasy line is no more–yeah, I’m finding that buying these particular colors is becoming more and more challenging. I just found out this morning that my supplier of this paint no longer carries Bloode Red. It’s gone.

Of course, in a logical world a company like Testors would just provide primary colors for paint mixing as a matter of course. But this world is far from logical. Do I have any suggestions on where you might go to find good primary pigments to use in brush painting? I may be able to work a miracle from time to time but this–this is just a complete mess. I can only suggest that if you can get Revell Aqua Color–they MIGHT make primary pigments. I don’t know. Badger (the airbrush people) make what appear to be primary pigments in their “Model Flex” line. The thing is, these paints are just a bit too thin for brushing–but if you’re mixing Model Master Acryl, they are compatible and the “thinness” of the paint won’t be a big issue if you are only adding a small amount.


This is a problem that should not exist. The fact that it does tells me something weird and scary about the world I’m living in. People do not mix paint–if they did, they’d sure as peanuts need the primary pigments. If people don’t mix colors, then they don’t think for themselves. They let the other guy do it. They have no independence. They are robots who follow instructions.


I know that color blindness does exist, and if you can’t tell blue from green you need to rely on somebody to make the paint for you. I get that. But having someone make the paint for you means your options are limited. You can believe that RLM 02 is green not beige–but when the time come to paint it on, you MUST use the only paint available–a beige color.

In the book 1984, the language was designed to make it IMPOSSIBLE to think in a way that was contrary to the party line. The language limited your freedom from the inside out. So does this flippin’ paint issue. It’s a symptom.

A symptom of a larger problem.

4 Replies to “Paint Mixing 101: Primary Pigments”

  1. How about Tamiya? have you checked out their primaries?

    If you were especially cynical, you could even suspect it was by design to not provide primaries. Or perhaps primaries don’t sell well amongst the modelling community, in which case your theory on nobody mixing is correct. usually I would suspect, given my own lack of attempting much mixing (until very recently), that many people just want to get the correct shade and paint. Or they don’t believe they can get the exact, proper hue of Azure Blue, or some other hotly contested ‘true’ colour.

    1. Tamiya makes primary colors in gloss. I don’t think they have a primary “blue” in a flat color, but one could add “flat base” to it, I suppose. I don’t blame anybody for not wanting to try to mix RAF colors. I have a solution for the oppressed. Don’t build RAF planes! LOL!

  2. A bit late to this party, and I know you are busy, however…

    There seem to be primaries in MM Acryl gloss colours, and I have seen on the internet that there is a testors acrylic in the old small bottles they used to sell enamel in. If they are the same paint as MM Acryl, then there seem to be primaries in those as well. If they are gloss, perhaps adding X amount of drops of MM Acryl matt varnish would make things at least satin, thus much easier to paint on (and over), while remaining fully compatible, unlike tamiya flat base mixed in with a different paint type.

    If you have tested these theories out, let me know so I don’t waste money trying them myself. My ability to get Revell has gone downhill rapidly, with UK mail prices jumping through the roof to this side of the earth (Royal Mail was recently privatised). I can get MM Acryl relatively easily here, but as you say…primaries…

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