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Wondering how to set up your oil painting palette? Then you're in the right place!

In school we're taught that there are three primary colors, but that's not actually the case. Anyone who's taken paint and mixed red and blue knows they don't get purple, they get brown. In order for a palette to work you have to have both a warm and the cool of each color.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • How to organize your oil paint set
  • Why you should have a warm and a cold of each color
  • Why a colorful palette is best

The Order Of Colors On Your Palette

The way we set up our palette is white, then Naples Yellow (cool then warm). Next we have two yellows (generally we have a lemon yellow, something really, really rich. After that we have two reds, a magenta or crimson, two greens, blue blues, burnt umber, and then a black. You can see how we set up our oil paint palette below:

Color Painting Pallet

#1 - White
#2 - Naples Yellow
#3 - Schev Yellow
#4 - Schev Red 
#5 - Terracotta or English Red
#6 - Magenta or Crimson
#7 - Cadmium Green Light
#8 - Phthalo Green
#9 - Cerulean Blue 
#10 - Phthalo Blue
#11 - Burnt Umber
#12 - Mars Black or Ivory Black

Why you need two of each color

If you mix a cool red with a cool blue you get violet purple, if you mix a warm red with a with a blue you wind up with brown. The way that we're taught in school doesn't actually work for painting. You have to think in terms of six primary colors: two yellows, two reds, and two blues (one warm and one cool of each). In addition to that, I would recommend white and Naples yellow. Both white and Naples Yellow are both lightening agent; when you mix them into that into paint they will make the paint lighter. They will strip away some of the color too (the white is cool and the Naples Yellow is warm). If you take a neutral red and you mix white into it what you get is a pink and if you mix Naples Yellow into it you get an orange (a delicate orange, but an orange). And then on the far end of the spectrum, I like to have black (a cool black and Burnt Umber which is a which is warm).

Old Holland Classic Oil Colours Chart pdf

Click to enlarge the Old Holland oil paint color chart.

A very colorful palette is best

Colorful pallet

Your palette should be very colorful. We're looking for very, very colorful pigments. We don't want colors that are more neutral because if we need something that's a high color key (something really rich and colorful) you can't create a rich dynamic red from a dull red. You need to start rich and if you want to downgrade, neutralizing it, you mix other things into it and take the edge off. 


A well organized and colorful palette will help you create beautiful paintings. Remember to set your palette up with a warm and cool version of each color. If you need help choosing colors check out the color chart on the Old Holland website and read this article that covers which painting supplies are best for beginner artists.

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