Which colors to buy first when beginning to paint?

So you want to make painting your hobby.
You walk into a store and see a whole lot of different colors.
Good paint is expensive.
With a limited budget, you cannot afford to buy them all.

So what limited selection would be a good choice to start with?

Basic palette:

Lemon Yellow(cadmium)
Lemon Yellow

A yellow with a green component

Cadmium Yellow(medium)

A yellow with an orange component

Cadmium Red

A red with an orange component

PR23 or

Alazarine Crimson

A red with a violet component

Ultramarine Blue

A blue with a violet component

Phtalo Blue
(Green shade)PB15:4

A blue with a greenish component.


Titanium White

No Picture

To make colors lighter. You need lots of this for mixing.

Buy a large tube.

Burnt Umber

Makes an excellent black when mixed with Ultramarine blue.
Very useful for under-painting, tonal sketches and can be used for darkening colors.

Of each primairy color there are 2 versions a cool and a warm one.
With these 8 colors above you can mix most colors.

A note on Phtalo blue

It is very strong in color, you only need very small amounts, so buy the smallest tube to begin with.

Recommended additions:

If you have extra money to spend on paints, I would recommend these colors.

If pressed for money, work from the top down.

Yellow Ochre

Can be used for skin colors, and in landscapes

Burnt Sienna
PBr7 or PR101

A great dark orange mixing color to warm up cool colors. Very hard to mix from other pigments because it is a transparent color.

Notes on pigments:

The code under the colorname is the pigment code.
This code is often used on the painttube.
While colornames vary per manufacturor, Pigment codes are standardized.

But two paints with the same pigment code can be very different
For example Burnt Sienna and Burnt umber have the same pigment code.
The difference in color is because of the manganese.

Single pigment paints have the brightest colors.
Plenty of commercial paints are premixed with different pigments.
To save money,you can mix them yourself on the palette.
This is especially true of those mixed paints who add nothing to a color other then white pigment (PW4 or PW6)

Premixed paints can be very useful if you have to mix them quite often.
You can save time by using premixed paints.
As a beginner you don’t know yet, which paints you are going to mix the most on the palette.

As a beginner you learn the most,by mixing your own colors on the palette.


Some mixing examples with the full palette:

Bright colors

Bright orange mix cadmium red light and cadmium yellow.


Bright green mix Phtalo blue and lemon yellow.

Bright violet mix ultramarine with carmine.


 Dull colors

To get a very dull orange mix  Carmine with Lemon Yellow

=+ Very similar to Ocre

To get a very dull green mix Cadmium Yellow with Ultramarine

=+ very brown


To get a very dull violet mix Cadmium Red with Phtalo Blue 

=+ It's almost black


To get a medium green

Mix Lemon Yellow and Ultramarine 


mix Cadmium yellow and Phtalo blue.

These medium mixes are also possible for orange and violet.I suggest you try them out:)

Limiting yourself to 3 "primairy" colors

Lets see what happens if you would choose for example this very limited palette:
Cadmium red,Cadmium yellow and Ultramarine Blue.

You can mix a bright orange, a dull green and a medium violet with these colors.


No bright green or violet would be possible.
However you could dull the orange down with it’s complementary color ultramarine blue.

But the problem is the bright secondary colors, so that’s why you need 2 versions of the secondairy colors


The questions:


Why 2 reds, 2 yellows and 2 blues?

There are 3 primary colors, but with paint it is impossible to get a pure primary color.
There is always a tendency toward a secondary color:
orange, green, violet.

Why not use black to darken colors?

Black is a very lifeless color. It also makes other pigments lose their edge.
To darken a color, try mixing in it’s complementarity color.
If you want to darken a color with black, consider using Burnt Umber.

I don't recommend black, but if you want to make lots of grey, you might buy a small tube.
Be sure to add a tiny bit of color to the greys you mix with black. Makes it come alive.

The colors i get out of the tube is much darker. What's wrong?

Transparent paints straight from the tube can look very dark indeed.
A thin layer of paint will look much brighter.

Is this list for Oil paint or Acrylic paint?

You can use this list for any type of paint: Oil, Acrylic and Gouache.

Only for watercolors you could skip the white color.
But even then, most watercolor painters have chinese white to make corrections.

My recommendation:

First buy those 8 colors of the basic palette.

If you have money left those 2 additional colors as well.
Or 2 other colors that you really like and want to use.

Don't buy more, get aquinted with these colors first. Start to paint with them. Get experienced with colormixing with these colors before you buy more.
Everyone will get his/her own preferences for additional colors, that they want to use and buy.

Happy painting!