I'm a very technical person, even with painting. I wanted to set up my palette like a graph so that it does not become messy, no matter what color I want to mix. This is not an issue if I was only concerned with hue and value (e.g. hue is the X axis and value the Y). However, intensity would seem to require a third axis. Are there any established methods for laying out the three "axes" of color on a 2D palette?

  • How does intensity deviate from the purest value of a given hue?
    – Joachim
    Feb 26, 2019 at 17:24
  • @Joachim - Guessing he means saturation when he is talking about intensity, although it could also be considered the combination of saturation and value. You can add a complementary color to your base color to cause it to desaturate.
    – rebusB
    Feb 26, 2019 at 20:33
  • @rebusB - Yes, that's what I mean. Saturation is interchangeable in this case. In fine art studies I have just heard "intensity" used more often as the vocabulary.
    – Rob
    Feb 26, 2019 at 21:19
  • @Rob - Same here. Intensity is more ambiguous which may be the point.
    – rebusB
    Feb 26, 2019 at 21:24

3 Answers 3


What you want to achieve is impossible on a 2D surface and probably wouldn't help you much.

What you describe is pretty much the YUV color sheme. It's usually represented as a 3D cone or cylinder, with the purest colors (Hue) spread around the perimeter, medium grey (the least Saturated color) at the center and black & white (the colors of most and least Luminance) at the highest and lowest point, respectively.

YUV color cone

The 2 problems that make it impossible to recreate something similar on a palette are:

  1. The number of variables. If you insist on having 3 variables (hue, saturation, luminance) you can only represent them on 3 axes.
  2. Real paint doesn't mix like that. The color cone suggests that mixing opposite colors yields grey, which is wrong. You could argue that mixing opposite colors yields the one right between them on the perimeter, but that's wrong, too.

I dare you to try mixing any 2 colors and create such a vibrant violet or green. It's impossible. Have a look at these rows of mixed colors (and the corresponding blog post): enter image description here

On a computer screen, mixing yellow and blue yields green. In reality, you get a muddy, ugly brown.

Instead of trying to recreate a digital palette in real paint, you should invest in a color wheel that displays color mixes as well, like this one:

enter image description here

Then lay your colors on the palette according to the hues you want to mix and the effects you want to create in your painting.

  • 1
    Actually it is not impossible! Tint the darker hue so it matches the tone of the lighter one before you mix in. That way you will not lose intensity or get muddy intermediates. This one technique will completely change how you look at color mixing. Plus you -will- get a grey when the opposite hues are balanced.
    – rebusB
    Mar 1, 2019 at 21:45
  • 1
    Of course it is impossible to get paint to behave like the RGB spectrum emitted from a screen. (re. mixing hues)
    – rebusB
    Mar 1, 2019 at 21:53
  • @rebusB According to color theory you get the muddy colors at the center of the circle instead of grey. There's always a primary color opposite of a secondary color on the wheel (e.g. orange opposite of cyan). Mixing these complementary colors yields a "broken" color that is less vibrant and looks muddy. Sure you can tweak the hue by adding more colors, but the pure 1:1 mix won't be as vibrant as in the RPG or YUV color space. And in my experience, some pigments react different to mixing than their hue might suggest.
    – Elmy
    Mar 2, 2019 at 8:17
  • 1
    Mixing yellow and blue (well, cyan) on a computer screen or with any light source, will actually give you white: additive and subtractive colors work differently. With paint, if you match the value and tone of your base colors you can get an amazing range of very clean colors especially when mixing primaries. It is definitely possible to mix a clean bright green from yellow and blue.
    – rebusB
    Mar 2, 2019 at 17:21

You could mix your fully saturated base hues on one axis, run the desaturated mixes at a right angle to those and if there is room go off on a diagonal with tints of the colors you are using. Alternately just use a different area of the pallet for tints or saturations depending on your preference.

Other than starting with a cool and warm version of the primary colors I have never heard of a standardized pallet or one that seeks to capture the entire available spectrum. Each artist I know has their own layout and each painting calls for different colors. I think you would be wasting paint and time trying to create a pallet like the color picker from Photoshop, and even in digital painting applications there are multiple areas for choosing by hue, tone or saturation. You just need to find what works for your style through experimentation.


The simplest answer I can think of is two use two palletes, or divide your pallette into two sections, and use them for seperate things.

For example, you could have one pallete that is for the hue and saturation and then have white and black on the separate pallete. When you get the desired hue and saturation you move it to the white pallet and mix the value.

You could organize these in circles or lines, it doesn't matter, what matters is organizing it in a way that makes sense and works for you.

A very helpful tool for this is a numbered grey scale, in addition to the color wheel. Many illustrators begin each piece in greyscale, to make sure the image reads properly, and then match the value of the colors they mix to the value of the greyscale drawing accordingly. It's a great way to break down your coloring process and achieve consistency. Which is why I would recommend using your second pallets just for value.

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