How to Blend Colors From Basic Primary Shades of Polymer Clay

Polymer clay amounts measured using a polymer clay template.

Photo copyright Lesley Shepherd

Take your projects to the next level by learning how to blend basic colors of polymer clay into realistic hues for polymer clay miniatures and dolls house miniature projects. Some ranges of polymer clay have limited numbers of realistic colors for creating dolls house and scale miniatures. With a bit of practice in color blending, you can learn to make your own mixes for creating miniature food and household objects, as well as figures, dolls, clothing, and a limitless range of other items.

You can choose to start with the basic blends to build a palette of colors from four to five basic colors or pick a specific material or color blend from the list below. Templates or sets of measured lines are used as a way of measuring polymer clay blocks in order to get consistent sized portions for mixing colors.

This list uses Premo! polymer clay for the mixes, as it is an easily available polymer clay brand, often found in big box stores. The amounts of clay to use are discussed in proportions. In the photo above you can see 1/8 sections of a block of Premo! clay. To get this amount a single quarter bar section from the original block was cut in half. If you are trying to mix precise amounts, you will need to make sure you make square cuts on your sections of clay. If you are mixing clay by hand, it is best to keep the total amount of clay you are trying to mix to a maximum of 1/4 of a full block, otherwise, it is difficult to keep working it in your hands. You can mix larger amounts by rolling it and flattening it on a clean work surface. A roller is useful for flattening the clay in between rolling and pressing it.

Method for Mixing Colors To mix colors, take the proportions of two colors in your hand and roll them together into a roll. Bend the roll in half and flatten it, then roll it again, and bend and flatten. You can also roll it, flatten the roll and fold it together several times before you roll it out. Try not to get too much air in the clay if you fold it together several times. If air pockets become trapped in the clay, you will notice plaques or lichen-like discolorations that show up on the clay surface after it has cured.

Avoid Transferring Tiny Amounts of Color Many beginners complain that their color mixes turn muddy or grey as they are trying to blend a new shade. To avoid this make sure your hands, tools and work surface are clean before you begin any new color blend. Even a small trace of a third primary color, white or black on your hands can muddy a color blend. Use alcohol-based wipes to clean your hands between color blends. Some brands of clay (including Premo!) leave a considerable amount of color on your hands.

Shades of Brown

Brown is a tertiary color that is composed of red, blue and yellow. For most miniature uses, an equal mix of the three primaries is too dark.

  • Basic Dark Brown Mix equal amounts of Cadmium Red, Cobalt Blue, and Zinc Yellow together. This will create the dark brown that is a useful color, but is too dark for many miniatures.​
  • Bittersweet Chocolate Brown: To mix a bittersweet chocolate colored brown that is useful for dark chocolate in baking or for tiny chocolates, mix one part of primary cadmium red with one part of the basic dark brown made from equal amounts of all three primaries. If you want to make bittersweet chocolate brown directly, mix two parts of red, with one part of yellow, and one part of blue.
  • Chocolate Brown: Mix one part of the bittersweet brown with one part of zinc yellow to make the color that's often associated with rich chocolate. To mix it from the primaries, and not from the basic dark brown, use one part blue, two parts red, and two parts yellow.
  • Milk Chocolate Brown: Mix in another part of yellow to the chocolate brown. From the basic primaries, this is equivalent to one part blue, two parts red, and three parts yellow.
  • Caramel Toffee: If you mix yet another equal part of yellow to the milk chocolate brown, you will get a deep rich caramel color. From basic primaries, this would be one part blue, two parts red, and four parts yellow.
  • Ochre Brown: Ochre Brown is a very useful color for miniatures and models, as it can be used for shading baked goods and making browned crusts. If properly blended, it can be used to mimic naturally tanned leather for some applications. Ochre brown is mixed by adding two parts of yellow to the caramel brown color. From the basic primaries, this means you need 1 part blue, two parts red, and six parts of yellow to make an ochre.

Experiment with your particular clay brand to see which colors you get as you work through a set. Red and blue produce dark intense colors. In the brown ranges, you will need far more yellow than either red or blue.

Various blends of brown polymer clay for dollhouse food made by blending red, yellow and blue.
Photo copyright Lesley Shepherd

Mixing Green, Orange, and Purple

When you experiment with color blends, you quickly find that large amounts of yellow are needed to produce lighter colors in the secondary range. Secondary colors are mixed from any two of the three primary colors. 

  • Basic Orange: The top line of blends in the photo shows shades of orange. The first blend shows the true secondary orange mixed from equal amounts of Cadmium Red and Zinc Yellow. This is a very dark orange; in fact, in some lights, it looks red (until you try to mix it with blue and get brown instead of purple!) A pure secondary orange looks more like a shade of red than orange if you are planning on using it for miniatures.
  • Obvious Orange: A far more obviously orange shade occurs when you mix two equal amounts of yellow with one amount of red. To make an orange peel color, you need to add a further equal amount of orange (one part red to three parts yellow).
  • Dark Green: Dark green is the secondary color that comes from equal amounts of Cobalt Blue and Zinc Yellow. The dark green shown in the center of the photo comes from mixing the equal amounts of blue and yellow shown to one side of it. This is a very dark forest green. To be useful for making plant leaves or vegetables, it will need more yellow added to it.
  • Dark Leaf Green: Mixing a second amount of yellow to the dark green will produce a dark leaf green. From your original primary colors, this mix is one part Cobalt Blue to two parts of Zinc Yellow.
  • Purple: Purple are made by mixing one part Cobalt Blue to an equal part of Cadmium Red. This produces a very dark, almost brown, shade of purple. This is a useful color if you add white or translucent to turn it into a purple tint, something where the purple color becomes more visible than in its very dark secondary form. In the photo above, adding equal amounts of red and blue results in the dark purple directly beside the blue sample.
  • Violet: Violet is one part blue added to basic purple. From the basic colors mix two parts blue to one part red. It is the color beside the basic purple.
  • Magenta: This is a purple with extra red added to it. If you add an extra amount of red to your basic purple you will get the first grade of magenta, which is shown in the photo on the far right of the three purples. This color is made of two parts red to one part blue.
Green, purple and orange blends mixed from primary colors of polymer clay.
Photo copyright Lesley Shepherd

Mixes That Resemble Dough or Pastry

To make polymer clay mixes that resemble baked doughs for miniature cookies, breads, and pies, mix three parts white with one part of translucent clay to give you a foundation color that has a bit of a sheen, and then gradually tint this mix to the color you wish. Adding extra translucent clay will make your basic mixture more transparent, although it can also make it more flexible. In most clays, a basic mix comes from mixing ochre-colored clay with white and translucent clays. The exact mix will depend a bit on the consistency of your white clay, and the type of translucent clay you use. The Premo! clay used for these mixes has a very translucent clay, but a very crumbly white.

With some clays, including Premo! mixing an ochre color with white will make it seem very pale yellow instead of a cream pastry color. If this happens to your mix, counter it by adding a bit of brown or a very tiny amount of red to your clay blend. The amount of red shown in the photo above would probably produce an orange clay if you mixed all of it in. You can also use a basic brown color instead of ochre if you find your mix is too yellow when mixed with white and translucent.

To make bread dough colors, mix a tiny amount of brown with the foundation translucent and white combination to produce a slightly off-white mix. If you wrap your ​breads with a very thin layer of ochre or caramel colors, then cut through the outer color with a knife, you can make your breads look like they have traditional artisan bread markings and slashes.

If you want to make your basic dough mix look a bit more like wholemeal or have texture added to it, add tiny amounts of sand into the mix. White decorative sand used for sand paintings or layered sand pictures adds very fine texture with a few flecks of color.

Do not add food or spices to your clay—all foods and spices will attract weevils and other pests in many climates. Use finely grated or chopped bits of cured (baked) polymer clay or other inert materials like sand.

White, translucent, ochre, and tiny amounts of red polymer clay used to make miniature bread dough
Photo copyright Lesley Shepherd

Translucent Colors for Contrasting Bands

The polymer clay colors shown above are used to mix purple onion canes for onion slices or entire onions. The mix ratio for the main color for the purple onion is one part basic purple to three parts translucent, with a tiny amount of red. A white onion would substitute white for the purple amount, and a tiny amount of brown or sap green for the red.

The second layer of the onion cane is made with a more translucent mix. In the case of the purple onion, it is a tiny amount of the previous purple, mixed with the equivalent of the previous amount of translucent, mixed with a small amount of white. This mixture is not fully blended, so as to leave stripes of white and darker purple in the mix.

For white onions, the mix would be minus the addition of purple. Skins for purple onions can be made from a banded mix of dark and mid purple, leaving strong verticals stripes that are wrapped in a thin layer around the onion cane. For white onions, the skin is made from two shades of brown, making pronounced thin stripes in the mix and wrapping this striped layer around a section of the cane.​

Colors of polymer clay used to make dolls house scale purple onions.
Photo copyright Lesley Shepherd

Citrus Canes

The colors used here will make lemon canes. If you leave the red out of the peel color or add more red to the peel color and make a paler yellow for the center sections, or add a bit of red to the pale yellow, you can make grapefruit.

The lemon colors shown above were made from Premo! polymer clay in translucent, white, Zinc Yellow, and Cadmium Red.

  • Lemon pith: The color shown on the far left is a blend of 1/8 inch of a quarter block section of white mixed with half that amount of translucent and a tiny amount (1/8 by 1/8 inch block in this case) of Zinc Yellow.
  • Lemon segments: These made from a mix of two parts Zinc Yellow to one part translucent (the example uses a 1/4-inch section cut from a quarter block of clay for the yellow and a 1/8 inch section for the translucent.
  • Lemon peel: The color shown on the right is a blend of one part of zinc yellow with 1/8 part of white and a tiny amount of cadmium red.

Check out these instructions for making lemons and lemon canes in several scales from polymer clay.

Polymer clay colors used to make lemon pith, sections and skin for dollhouse scale lemon canes.
Photo copyright Lesley Shepherd