Pastels: lovely soft and calming colors that remind us of spring. But what are they exactly and how do we create pastel paint colors?
You create pastel paint colors by lowering the saturation of any hue and by increasing its value (lightness). You do this by adding the opposite color on the color wheel or by adding grey. If you want to increase the value of a color you simply add white.
Keep reading to find out how to easily mix pastel colors of your own through a step by step tutorial!
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What are pastel colors?
Pastel colors are any colors that are light in value and low in saturation. Pastel colors are often associated with Easter and young children, due to their soft and calm appearance.
As you know, colors exist out of 3 components:
- Saturation (chroma)
If you’d like to learn more about what each component stands for, go read this short article: Hue, value and saturation explained in 3 steps. If you really want to learn more about colors I recommend my full guide to color theory for beginners!
So what about pastels?
Pastels can be any hue: red, orange, blue, yellow, purple or green. It’s the saturation and value that we have to adjust in order to get pastels.
Pastel colors are always low in chroma (also known as saturation). This means that the color leans more towards grey, rather than its pure color. The chroma percentage lies typically between 10-25%.
Pastels are usually colors that are high in value. This means that pastels are light colors. The value percentage lies typically between 90-100%.
If we combine any hue with low saturation and a light value we get pastels!
So know that we know the technique on how to make pastels… How do we create pastels with paints?
How to make pastel colors with primary colors
To start making pastel colors with primary colors, we first need to decide on which primary colors we use. Most people learn that red, yellow and blue are the correct primaries. Others argue that cyan, magenta and yellow are the correct primaries.
It doesn’t really matter which ones you choose but CMY primaries produce the most vivid secondary and tertiary colors. In this article, I explain the difference between CMY and RYB primaries.
But for this example, I assume you’re using blue yellow and red.
Let’s say we want to create a pastel orange.
Let’s make orange by mixing red and yellow.
Now that we have an orange we need to desaturate it. You desaturate a color by adding the opposite color on the color wheel to it or by adding grey.
The opposite color of orange is blue. Let’s now add a tiny amount of blue to our orange. The more blue you add the greyer your mixture becomes. You don’t want your mixture to be fully grey. If you added too much blue, counteract it by adding more orange (yellow and red).
This created a dark brown. Now that we’ve got the correct hue and saturation, we need to lighten the value. The only way to do this is by adding white.
Done! Here you have an orange pastel! Do you notice that an orange pastel is basically a light skin color?
Tip: Instead of desaturating first, lighten the value first. White slightly desaturates a color, so you might not need as much of the opposite color as you think.
Pastel color mixing chart
I created a pastel color mixing chart for you to download and print. I recommend printing this on watercolor paper.
First, swatch your three primaries on the color wheel. Place the Yellow color on top, the blue or cyan on the right side and the red or magenta on the left. Make sure to have 3 empty spaces between each color.
After this, create your secondaries. You do this by mixing your primaries with one another. The secondary mixture you place in between your primaries.
Finally, create your tertiary colors. You do this by mixing 1 primary with 1 secondary. Place them in the correct slot.
How to make pastel colors with watercolor
You make pastel colors with watercolors by desaturating any hue with the opposite color, to which you add water. The technique is the exact same as with regular paints. The only thing that differs, is that with watercolors, you use water to lighten the value instead of white paint.
To lighten a value you just add more water. The white of the paper acts as a white.
If you buy pastel watercolors they tend to not be as translucent as other watercolors because they are made with white pigment.
What colors are considered pastels?
Pink and lilac are two colors that are considered pastels. They both are low in chroma and high in saturation.
There are universal color names. They are based on specific naming schemes. These names are often used for paints such as watercolors, gouache, and other art supplies like colored pencils and markers.
The following list shows colors that are considered pastels:
Tip: Rotate your phone if you can’t fully see the table
|Swatch||Color name||Hue||Hex value|
|Misty Rose||Red (pink)||#FFE4E1|
|Pale Spring Bud||Yellow||#ECEBBD|
The hex value is a code that you paste within your color editor in your digital software. It automatically grabs the correct color.
How to create certain pastel colors
When mixing (pastel) colors it’s all about balance. More often than not you need to adjust your mixture by adding more white or the opposite color of your pastel. Keep on adjusting until you are satisfied with the result.
Tip: Make sure when desaturating to start with a tiny amount of the opposite color. Add extra if needed.
Tip #2: White paint automatically slightly desaturates a color. Decide whether desaturating the pastel color, even more, is necessary.
How to create red pastel color (pink pastel color)
You create a red pastel color by adding white to red, followed by adding a small amount of green.
Red + White + Green = Pastel Red (Pastel Pink)
How to create an orange pastel color
You create an orange pastel color by adding white to orange, followed by adding a small amount of blue.
Orange + White + Green = Pastel Orange
How to create a yellow pastel color
You create a yellow pastel color by adding white to yellow + a small amount of purple. Another way to make a yellow pastel color is to add white to a yellow ochre.
Yellow + White + purple = Pastel Yellow
Yellow Ochre + White = Pastel Yellow
How to create a green pastel color
You create a green pastel color by adding white to green, followed by adding a small amount of red.
Green + White + Red = Pastel Green
How to create a blue pastel color
You create a blue pastel color by adding white to blue, followed by adding a small amount of orange.
Blue + White + Orange = Pastel Blue
How to create a purple pastel color
You create a purple pastel color by adding white to purple, followed by adding a small amount of yellow.
Purple + White + yellow = Pastel Purple
How to make pastel colors digital
To easily create digital pastel colors you change the individual HSB sliders. You do this by adjusting the slider or by typing in any number from 0-100. Another way to create pastel colors is to input the hexadecimal color value of a pastel color in the color panel.
In the universal name list I included the hex value of each pastel. Each color has a hexadecimal color value. This code exists out of a number sign (hashtag) + a combination of 6 numbers and letters.
Example: the hex value of Misty Rose is #FFE4E1. This is the number you use to let your digital color software know which color you need.
Creating pastel colors in Procreate
Here’s how to create a pastel color in Procreate:
- Open the color menu
- Pick any hue you like
- Adjust the saturation anywhere towards 10-20 %
- Up the value in the 90-100% range
There you have it! Balance the saturation and value until you have a pastel that you like. Do this with any color you need.
Creating pastel colors in photoshop
Here’s how to create a pastel color in Photoshop
- Open the color panel
- Pick any hue
- Adjust the saturation anywhere towards 10-20 %
- Up the value in the 90-100% range
Now you have a pastel color.
How to mix holographic paint colors
Holo, or holographic colors, are all of the colors that appear on the color spectrum but are displayed as very shiny pastels. The key characterization of holo is that the colors change when viewed from different angles.
If we don’t have access to holo paint, we can totally fake it.
We just need to create 6 pastel hues + its shine.
We create shine by either:
- Adding a glossy top coat when we finish our painting
- Using a pearlescent medium to mix with our pastels before applying it to our canvas
- Faking it by painting highlights with thinned white paint
When studying the holo image shown earlier I notice that there’s a lack of contrast. We can see the contrast when we turn the image to greyscale.
Also, notice how it seemed that a few colors ”disappeared?” If I count the different shades of grey, I get about 4 shades instead of the expected 6. This means that the colors are all very close, if not match, in saturation.
When creating our pastels we must try to match our colors in saturation and value.
Also important: Notice how the holo colors above are all cool colors? Keep this in mind when picking your hues. Read here how to figure out the difference between cool and warm colors.
How to create holo paint colors:
- Create a red pastel (pink)
- red + white + tiny amount of green to desaturate
- Create an orange pastel
- Orange + white + tiny amount of blue to desaturate
- Create a yellow pastel
- Yellow + white + tiny amount of purple to desaturate
- Or use yellow ochre + white
- Create a green pastel
- Green + white + tiny amount of red to desaturate
- Create a blue pastel
- Blue + white + tiny amount of orange to desaturate
- Create a violet pastel
- Violet + white + yellow-orange to desaturate
- Add shine to your pastels by adding either:
- A pearlescent medium to your paint
- Glossy varnish once you finished your painting
- A faux shine by adding highlights with white paint
After creating your pastels you can add this pearlescent medium:
Or add a glossy finish with a primer of your choice. With over 11,000 4.7/5 stars, I’d say this is one us one of the best:
Or simply add some highlights using white paint. I often use either white gel pens or white posca pens:
Pastel color palette
Here are some pretty pastel color palettes for your daily inspiration boost:
P.S Here is an article explaining how to extract colors from an image to create a color palette for paintings.
To sum up:
- Pick any hue
- Desaturate that hue
- Add opposite color on the colorwheel
- Or add grey
- Lighten the value
- Add white
Yep, it’s that easy!
I hope you learnt something new today. If you have any questions, you may leave them in the comments below!