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Neutral Colours: A Definition and Colour Combinations for Chromatic Greys in Acrylic Paints.

In a previous post about the most important definitions of colour theory, I defined achromatic colours (also called non-colours or neutral colours) as unsaturated colours with no particular hue that can be divided into two different cathegories: pure neutrals or near neutrals.

In this post I will try to give you a deeper insight about this particular colour category and suggest some combinations in acrylic paints to create them.

What are neutral colours?

Whilst the "pure neutrals" include black, white and all shades of (achromatic) grey, the "near-neutrals" can include

  • some browns (such as coffee, caramel, camel, beige, mocha, taupe),

  • tans,

  • pastels (some pink shades such as nude, dusty pink),

  • ivory, eggshell, cream, sand etc.,

  • darker colours (f.e. some olive greens, khaki, etc.),

  • some blue shades,

which have following characteristics:

  • low saturation,

  • a sort of hue undertone, that prevent them to be considered "pure neutrals" ;

  • they are obtained by mixing either chromatic colours with white, black or grey or two complementary colours.

Due to the way near-neutral colours are obtained, they are also known under the name of "chromatic greys".

Why are neutral colours important?

Due to the low saturation, neutral colours are perceived as more natural and therefore more suitable to paint landscapes compared to high saturated colours.

Furthermore neutral colours are often used together with chromatic colours in order to improve their brightness by contrast.

One of the disadvantages by creating neutral greys is the fact that it is a long process and sometimes you will need a lot of paint to be mixed until you get the desired neutral grey.

What are neutral greys? A definition.

Neutral Greys are near-neutral colours obtained by mixing all the primary colours (or the complementary colours to each other) together with white in a subtractive colour mixing model RYB or CMY.

The resulting black compound, containing all colour hues and called "chromatic black", is then mixed with white (a pure neutral) to get a grey which can resemble the achromatic grey but, in reality, contains all the chromatic colours.

For this reason the resulting near-neutral colour is also known under the name "chromatic grey".

A wonderful aspect of this particular colour is the fact that, according to the quantity of each colour contained in the original chromatic black and the tinting strength of each of them, a chromatic grey can have a bias towards a particular hue. In order to neutralize this tendency and pass from a broken neutral to a pure neutral, you have to add the complementary colour as long as the mixture becomes a chromatic black that, mixed separately with white as a test, gives back a pure grey.

Pure vs Broken Neutral Greys.

A pure neutral grey is a chromatic grey that, even though obtained through complementary colours, is very much similar to the achromatic grey obtained from the union of black and white pigments.

On the contrary, neutral greys, whose chromatic component is strong, are called broken colours. Examples of neutral broken greys are blue grey, lavender grey, brownish grey, etc.

How to create chromatic greys using acrylic paints.

In case of acrylic paints, which are pigment based colours, an helpful tool to understand which pigments are complementary to each other is the Artist’s Colour Wheel by B. MacAvoy.

Once you decide which colours you would like to use to create your black base, you can use the artist colour wheel to have an idea of where the pigments which composed the chosen acrylics are. If the pigments are opposite to each other and if the line that unites them passes through or near the centre of the wheel, there is a stronger possibility you can get a chromatic grey.

Best results are obtained when mixing acrylic paints made of one single pigment.

Below I listed some of the combinations I could find, together with a picture and the related combination number. I hope you will find them inspiring and useful for your next projects.

Combination Ideas for “PURE” neutral greys

  • Burnt Umber (PR101/PBk11) + Ultramarine Blue (PB29).  (3)

  • Burnt Umber (PR101/PBk11) + Violet (Arteza) (PV23) + Phthalo Green (PG7) + Cadmium Red Deep (Liquitex Basic 311) (PR170/PV19). (5)

  • Phthalo Blue (PB15:3) + Orange Red (Arteza) (PO34). (13)

  • Transparent Red (Liquitex) (PR209) + Viridian Green (Arteza) (PG7/PY3).  (16)

  • Naphthol Crimson (Liquitex) (PR170) + Viridian Green (Arteza) (PG7/PY3). (17)

  • Crimson Alizarin (Winsor&Newton) (PR170/PV19) + Viridian Green (Arteza) (PG7/PY3).  (18)

  • Cadmium Red Deep (PR170/PV19) + Viridian Green (Arteza) (PG7/PY3). (19)

  • Rose Madder (PR146) + Viridian Green (Arteza) (PG7/PY3). (20)

  • Burnt Umber (PR101/PBk11) + Prussian Blue Hue (Liquitex) (PB15:3, PV23, PBk7). (21)

  • Permanent Crimson Alizarin (Winsor&Newton) + Phthalo Blue (PB15:3) + Yellow Oxide (Arteza) (PY42) (30)

  • Crimson Alizarin (Winsor&Newton) (PR170/PV19) + Chrome Oxide Green (Arteza) (PG17). (31)

Combination Ideas for “BROKEN” neutral greys

  • Cadmium Red Deep (Liquitex Basic 311) (PR170/PV19) + Phthalo Blue (PB15:3). This combination can give back a dark blue-violet grey. (2)

  • Cadmium Red Deep (Liquitex Basic 311) (PR170/PV19) + Ultramarine Blue (PB29) + Mid Yellow (Arteza) (PY1). This combination can give back a olive-greenish grey. (4)

  • Orange Yellow (Arteza) (PO13) + Phthalo Blue (PB15:3). Even though the colours orange and blue are complementary, this combination gives back a greenish grey. (6)

  • Cadmium Orange Hue (Liquitex) (PO73) + Phthalo Blue (PB15:3). Even though the colours orange and blue are complementary, this combination gives back a bluish grey. (7)

  • Ultramarine Blue (PB29) + Orange Yellow (Arteza) (PO13). Due to the red bias of ultramarine blue and orange, this combination will result in a warm grey with a red-purplish bias. (9)

  • Ultramarine Blue (PB29) + Red Orange (Arteza) (PO34). Due to the red bias of both ultramarine blue and orange, this combination will result in a warm grey with a slightly (more greyish) red-purplish bias. (10)

  • Ultramarine Blue (PB29) + Lemon Yellow (Arteza) (PY3) + Transparent Red (PR209). Even though we are mixing all primary colours, this combination will result in a purplish warm grey. (11)

  • Ultramarine Blue (PB29) + Lemon Yellow (PY3) + Naphthol Crimson (Liquitex Basic)(PR170). Even though we are mixing all primary colours, this combination will result in a violet grey because of the bluish bias of Naphthol Crimson. (12)

  • Violet (Arteza) (PV23) + Yellow Pale (Arteza) (PY1). This combination will result in a brownish grey. (14)

  • Magenta (Liquitex) (PR122) + Viridian Green (Arteza) (PG7/PY3). This combination will result in a bluish grey, due to the strong blue bias of both the pigments PR122 and PG7. (15)

  • Prussian Blue Hue (Liquitex) (PB15:3, PV23, PBk7) + Raw Umber (Arteza). This combination can give back a greenish grey.  (22)

  • Blue Turquoise (Amsterdam Acrylics) (PB15:3/PG7) + Naphthol Crimson (Liquitex Basic) (PR170). (26)

  • Quinacridone Magenta (Liquitex Basic) (PR122) + Phthalo Green (PG7). (27)

  • Permanent Crimson Alizarin (Winsor&Newton) + Phthalo Green (PG7).(28)

Examples of Chromatic Greys
Examples of Chromatic Greys

Final words.

This was my post dedicated to the discovery of the neutral colours and how we can create our own chromatic greys from very few other colours.

Thank you for reading. If you like the post, leave a like, a comment and don't forget to follow my blog, Instagram and Threads and share the content on your social media.

I hope you enjoyed and until my next post I wish you a great and creative day!



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