what colors make gray

What Colors Make Gray? – 3 Easy Methods and 25 Gray Shades

Although often overlooked by many, gray is an essential part of any color pallet. This soothing neutral shade offers a reassuring middle ground between light and dark, bringing out the best in the colors that surround it. As artists, we cannot simply settle for gray out of a tube when we have the world of color mixing at our fingertips. In this color mixing guide, we will show you how to create new and interesting gray hues from a range of colors, and give you a deeper insight into the many wonders of the color gray.



What Colors Make Gray?

There are three main methods that you can use to create different gray shades:


Method One: Black and White Combination

  • Black paint
  • White paint


Method Two: Mix two Complementary Colors

  • Warm Gray: Mauve purple and flax yellow (or darker shades like mulberry purple and gold yellow)
  • Cool Gray: Cadmium orange with phthalo blue, cobalt blue, or ultramarine blue; or phthalo green with cadmium red or naphthol crimson


Method Three: Primary Colors Mix

  • Alizarin crimson (red)
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Yellow ochre

We will discuss each of these methods, provide our favorite color combinations, and explore how to adjust the temperature and tone of your gray shades. First, however, we need to cover some of the basic principles of color theory.



Method One: How to Make Gray With Black and White

This first method is probably the easiest and most common way to create a shade of gray. If you want to know what two colors make gray, the answer is black and white. You simply need to combine equal parts of black and white paint, to create a lovely neutral shade of gray.

black and white make gray

The 1:1 ratio of black and white is only the beginning of this method. You can alter the darkness of your gray by adding more or less black to your white paint.

If you are uncertain of how dark you want your gray paint to be, it is best to begin with your white paint and add small drops of black incrementally. As they always say, it is much easier to add more black than to take it away. Black is the stronger of the two colors, and you only need a touch of black to darken your gray significantly, but a lot of white to lighten it by a small amount.

How to Make Gray Paint


Downsides to Using This Method

The gray you get from this method is very neutral, as it is neither cool nor warm. This may be ideal for some purposes, but overall this is not the most-loved method for making gray shades. Many artists prefer to use the other methods to create richer grays with different color biases, rather than using this rather flat and lifeless gray.

Another downside of using this method is that you are typically limited to the black or white you have in your palette, again reducing the variety of gray shades that you can make. Finally, many shop-bought black shades have base colors like green which can begin to show through when mixed with white. As a result, you have little control over the final gray shade when using this method.


Method Two: How to Make Gray Paint With Complementary Colors

Combining complementing colors is one of the most popular methods for creating muted colors. When it comes to the question of what two colors make gray paints that have unique color biases and underlying hues, your best option is to use combinations of complementary colors.

Depending on the complementary colors you use, you can control the warmth of your gray shades with ease.

When it comes to mixing the perfect gray shade for your unique painting project, nothing beats experimentation. We have two different methods for you, one for creating a warm gray and one for a cool gray, but you can explore different combinations and ratios to find your perfect shade.

How to Make Gray with Complementary Colors


What Colors Make Gray Warm?

The trick to making a warm gray is to use two warm colors. We find that we can create a lovely warm mauve gray by using purple and yellow. Of course, if you were to use a cool purple and yellow shade, you can make a cooler gray shade, but we are using a warm yellow and purple. The two shades that we suggest are:

  • Mauve purple
  • Flax yellow

Both of these colors are already slightly muted and lean towards gray to begin with, which makes them ideal for creating a light and warm mauve gray. Simply combine these two shades in equal parts and marvel at your beautiful shade of gray. You can use this gray for puffs of smoke, storm clouds, or pebbles. The possibilities are endless with this stunning warm gray. This gray is quite light, and you can make a dark grayish purple shade by using darker shades of purple and yellow. For example, you can substitute your complementing shades with these darker hues:

  • Mulberry purple
  • Gold yellow


What Colors Make Gray Cool?

In contrast to making warm grays, there are a few more color combinations that you can use to make cool gray shades. The first combination we are going to discuss is orange and blue. You can experiment with using different shades of blue, but the best orange to use when making gray is cadmium orange. The best blue shades for making a cool blue with cadmium orange are:

  • Phthalo blue
  • Cobalt blue
  • Ultramarine blue

Once again, combine your orange and blue in equal parts to produce a lovely cool and quite dark gray shade. Ultramarine blue is a little warmer than the other two, so the gray you will get from it and cadmium orange will be slightly more muted. If you want your gray to be even darker, use a darker shade of blue. If you want to lighten your gray, you can add a touch of white.

How to Make Gray Cooler

The second color combination that will create a cool gray shade is red and green. The best green for making gray is phthalo green, and you can combine this shade with a few different red hues for different results. Our favorite red hues for making a cool gray shade are:

  • Cadmium red
  • Naphthol crimson

This gray is quite a dark shade, so once again, you can lighten it a little by adding a touch of white paint.


Method Three: How to Make Gray With the Primary Colors

The final, and perhaps most popular method for how to make gray paint is to use a combination of all three primary shades. This method includes a lot of room for adapting and changing your gray shade significantly throughout. We find that the best colors to use with this method are:

  • Alizarin crimson
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Yellow ochre

Begin this mixing process by combining equal parts of your red and blue paint to create a purple shade. At this stage, you can decide whether you want your gray to be warmer or cooler. If you want it to be warmer, add a touch more red, and if you want it to be cooler, add a little more blue.

The crucial part of this method is adding your yellow. It is the addition of the yellow that turns your purple into gray.

Essentially, this method is a slightly longer route to get to the same point as using purple and yellow, but you have a lot more control over the final shade because you are starting from the absolute baseline. You can create the perfect tone of gray by adjusting how much yellow you add. For a darker gray, you simply need to add less yellow, and more for a lighter gray shade.

Dark Grayish Purple



Recipe for How to Mix 25 Different Shades of Gray

Color NameHex CodeMixing Recipe (in parts)
Platinum Gray#E5E4E29 parts white, 1 part black, <1 part blue
Ash Gray#B2BEB58 parts white, 1 part black, <1 part green
Gunmetal Gray#2C35397 parts black, 3 parts white, <1 part blue
Dim Gray#6969691 part black, 1 part white
Slate Gray#7080906 parts white, 4 parts black, <1 part blue
Smoke Gray#BEBEBE11 parts white, 1 part black
Shadow Gray#8B85896 parts white, 4 parts black, <1 part purple
Pearl Gray#CECECE14 parts white, 1 part black
Thunder Gray#A9A9A98 parts white, 1 part black, <1 part blue
Steel Gray#43464B6 parts black, 4 parts white, <1 part blue
Charcoal Gray#36454F3 parts black, 1 part white
Oyster Gray#D4D4DC15 parts white, 1 part black, <1 part blue
Taupe Gray#8B85895 parts white, 5 parts black, <1 part brown
Fog Gray#D3D3D316 parts white, 1 part black
Stone Gray#928E857 parts white, 3 parts black, <1 part brown
Iron Gray#43464B5 parts black, 5 parts white, <1 part blue
Davy’s Gray#5555551 part black, 1 part white
Granite Gray#6767672 parts black, 3 parts white
Pewter Gray#96A8A16 parts white, 1 part black, <1 part green
Battleship Gray#8484823 parts white, 2 parts black
Nickel Gray#7274724 parts white, 2 parts black, <1 part blue
Dolphin Gray#828E843 parts white, 1 part black, <1 part green
Timberwolf Gray#DBD7D217 parts white, 1 part black
Anchor Gray#393B3B1 part black, 4 parts white
Cyber Gray#A9A9A97 parts white, 1 part black



The Influence of Color Bias

Many of you are certainly going to be familiar with the basic elements of color theory, like the primary colors and colors that complement each other. When it comes to creating a variety of shades of gray, it is important to understand the color bias. Color bias refers to the relative warmth or coolness of a color, with the warmest shade being bright red and the coolest being blue.

This understanding of color bias is surface level, because every color has an implicit temperature, depending on its composite colors. For example, you can have warm or cool purples, depending on the ratios of blue and red. It can get even more complicated when we consider the relative color bias of primary shades like red and blue. A red like coquelicot red is much warmer than magenta because magenta contains a touch of blue and therefore leans more towards purple. In much the same way, manganese blue is much cooler and appears greener than ultramarine blue which is more purple.

How to Make Gray Warmer


Why Is Color Bias So Important?

Color bias is not only something interesting to consider, but it has a direct effect on how you mix colors. You are probably aware of the fact that mixing all three primary shades will create a muddy shade of brown. Say we wanted to mix a purple (which is the base for one of our gray mixing methods) and we combined a warm red with a cool blue (that contains a little yellow). The result of this combination would be a muddy purple because we are inadvertently combining all three primary shades.

For a vibrant purple, the best combination would be a cool red and a warm blue, as both already lean towards purple and only contain red and blue hues.



Frequently Asked Questions


How Many Shades of Gray Are There?

Contrary to what Fifty Shades of Gray would have you believe, there are actually endless different gray hues that you can make yourself. Many of these gray shades may not have official names, but there is extensive variety and possibility within the gray spectrum.


What Two Colors Make Gray?

There are several combinations that make gray shades. The most basic color combination to create gray is black and white, but there are many other options. For warmer grays, try combining yellow and purple. You can make cooler gray shades with a combination of orange and blue, or try mixing red and green for another dark cool gray.


Cite this Article

Charlene, Lewis, “What Colors Make Gray? – 3 Easy Methods and 25 Gray Shades.” Art in Context. July 23, 2021. URL: https://artincontext.org/what-colors-make-gray/

Lewis, C. (2021, 23 July). What Colors Make Gray? – 3 Easy Methods and 25 Gray Shades. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/what-colors-make-gray/

Lewis, Charlene. “What Colors Make Gray? – 3 Easy Methods and 25 Gray Shades.” Art in Context, July 23, 2021. https://artincontext.org/what-colors-make-gray/.

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