How To Make Paint

The first time I played with paint, I was mesmerized. Granted, I was barely three and my range of colors didn’t extend beyond red, blue, and pink, but the spark was certainly there. There was something about the way the colors would drag across paper, and how my  little hands created such beautifully muddled images all with the brush of a few fingers and a couple of tubes of paint.

That was a long time ago and thankfully my love of color never got washed away from my memory.

Years later, when I worked in an art studio one my main duties was to make paint from scratch. On those days when large batches of color needed to be made, I’d put on my apron–thickened with layers of dried colors–strap on a dust mask, and get to work. Like Michelangelo, I’d pinch away colored pigments from clear glass pots and mix them together according to the studio’s secret recipes.


In today’s modern day it’s safe to say the public at large is absolutely clueless about paint other than the name of the color on a wall. It’s time we change that. You see, the more you know about the building blocks of paint, a world of possibility opens far beyond what you could ever purchase from your local Home Depot Store.


Pigments are what breathes life into paint and give it color. Most pigments are derived from nature. Colored clays, mica, calcium carbonate, silicas, and talcs are all major players in modern day paints. But natural pigments have a much deeper history.


For instance, did you know Ancient Egyptians used ground up Lapis Lazuli stones to make their striking blue paint?

Or that the colors red, ochre, and burnt umber can be made from Iron Oxide?


Even plant extracts can be used to color paint, as was evidenced in the pre-historic cave paintings of Southern France.

Today most people prefer the convenience of purchasing pigments in powder or liquid form as opposed to grinding a stone. Liquid and powder pigments have their advantages, but if opting for powder you may notice the consistency will differ depending on the color. For example, prussian blue powered pigment can sometimes be grainy and will require extra grinding with a mortar and pestle to achieve an even consistency.

Liquid pigments are by far easier to work with but they are concentrated. A little drop can go a loooong way! Buyer beware–not all liquid pigments are the same. Look for reputable brands who sell pigments not diluted by other chemicals.


Binders are the stuff that holds the paint mixture together. This is the meat to the potatoes.


Oil, gesso, water, resin, wax–these are all binders for the color pigments to suspend themselves in.

Water-based binders are made of acrylic emulsion polymers. Compared to their oil-based brothers, water-based paints have the advantage of shorter drying times and give off less of those stinky VOC’s.

If you are a home painter wanting to take a crack at making your own colors, I recommend making water-based paint which is MUCH easier to handle.

Solvent-based binders are alkyd resins found in oil and enamel paints.


For oil-based binders, stick with a 2:1 ratio– 2 parts oil binder, 1 part solvent such as turpentine. This will give your paint a nice workable consistency. There are no hard and fast rules about this ratio, so by all means play around until you have the desired thickness or thinness.


Note: If your paint has too much solvent, the pigment will break up and not dry evenly. Bear this in mind and do not go overboard with too much binder in your paint recipe.


Do you like the look of high gloss? Flat Matte? Egg Shell?


Additives are incorporated into paint to help to achieve a finished look. Additives can also be used to lengthen or shorten working times, depending on the chosen binder. Oil paint has a typical dry/cure time of 8 hours/2 weeks depending on the pigment. Acrylic paint dries and cures much faster, 1-2 hours/21 days for a full cure.

Dry time: Solvents have evaporated from the paint layer and feels dry to the touch.

Cure Time: Paint has reached its maximum hardness and is completely dried.

How to Make Paint!

Here comes the fun part! Making paint is easy. Got a color in mind? Great! Pick a binder, grab your pigments and start mixing.

Have no idea on how to create colors? Don’t let that stop you!


Simply look at the color wheel and let it guide you in the right direction. Remember the basic building blocks of every color come from the primaries: red, blue, and yellow.

Once you are satisfied with your color creation, grab a brush and do a few testers on scraps of white paper or canvas. Once the tester is fully dry, you will be able to tell if your batch needs to be lighter or darker.

Paint typically dries a shade or two darker. Bear this in mind when making your mixture.

If you plan on making big batches to paint a wall, keep a log of how much of each pigment you are using. This way when it comes to making more, you have an accurate recipe to follow.

Now that you’ve got your color nailed down, pay attention to the sheen. Depending on the end result, you can add several drops of an additive to suit your needs.

Making paint can be a very rewarding experience. You don’t need to be an artist or a professional painter to do this. The beauty of making paint is that it brings out the inner child in all of us.


So the next time you have a project you want to tackle or room you’d like to paint, walk past the paint aisle and head over to your local art store instead. You never know what kind of colors you can concoct with a pinch of pigment, a binder, and a little bit of imagination.