Mix and Layer Quinacridone Colors for Amazing Effects

If you’re looking for new ways to expand your repertoire of art skills, there’s never been a better time than now. Why not add mixing and layering quinacridone colors to your list of skills?

Quinacridone colors are a special family of hues with distinct values. They include a mix of transparency and vibrancy that aren’t in most other shades. In addition, they have a permanence to them that sets that apart from the crowd.

When you think about this palette of colors, imagine the boldly colored cars you’ve seen zoom down the street. 

Why? Because manufacturers originally developed quinacridones for the car industry. They became so popular that they’ve rolled over into other sectors.

Now, these colors are in inkjet printers, tattoo artists’ inks, and watercolors. Any places where bright and iridescent hues are in-demand, quinacridones are probably there. 

Part of the excitement of using quinacridone colors is that they’re so fun to mix and layer. When you learn about the way these paints work on different materials, you can master the technique of using quinacridone in your art projects all the time!

The Basic Shades

When quinacridone colors hit the public eye, they took off like a rocket, thanks to the intensity of these synthetic organic pigments.

Blending pigments that stain their canvas with the transparent sheen of watercolors, quinacridones are a robust paint. You can smoothly switch between colors to create depth and complexity and still lift the color while it’s wet if you need to adjust it.

Paint makers create quinacridones in color laboratories using the most advanced techniques available. By combining tiny particles of pigments, machines create shades of paint that artists easily control.

The family of quinacridone colors is also transparent, adding to their popularity. You can mix and match them, layer them, and combine them with other mediums. 

Quinacridone Manufacturers

The first company on the scene with these colors outside of the automotive industry was Daniel Smith. The watercolor paint-making company saw incredible potential with the quinacridone shades in glazing and layering art projects. 

Some arts require selective use of colors because when they dry, the colors tend to become dull.

On the other hand, quinacridones have steady lightfastness, keeping their vibrant shades long after they dry. The intensity and brilliance remain, making them a favorite paint to use in kilns and beyond. 

Daniel Smith isn’t the only manufacturer of these colors anymore. Winsor & Newton, M. Graham, and Da Vinci are some other paint makers producing quinacridone shades.

Every company has its own colors, but in general, you can find shades like:

  • Quinacridone Red
  • Quinacridone Rose or Pink
  • Quinacridone Purple or Violet (Pigment Violet and Red Violet)
  • Quinacridone Burnt Sienna and Raw Sienna
  • Quinacridone Burnt Orange
  • Quinacridone Gold or Deep Gold (Like a Warm Yellow, Yellow Ochre, and Burnt Sienna in one)
  • Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet
  • Quinacridone Coral
  • Quinacridone Magenta or Fuchsia
  • Quinacridone Lilac

The hues and granulation will be similar, but the names may vary depending on the company you’re shopping with.

The Science Behind the Shades

Science behind shades (red car)

Unless you’re a chemistry major, it’s not easy to understand the way manufacturers create quinacridone colors.

These pigments are modern and synthetically created in labs but have been studied since 1896. Until 1955, the actual quinacridone pigments weren’t useful until W. Struve, a researcher at DuPont, began marketing them to automobile manufacturers.

Starting in 1958, the quinacridone family of colors made its public debut as car paints. So while they did begin in the automotive industry, abstract expressionist artists quickly picked them up for use in their paintings. 

How Chemists Make Quinacridones

Quinacridone pigments comprise two pairs of oxygen and nitrogen atoms grouped in sets of five rings of carbon linked together. This gives the “quin” part of the name to the family. 

From this basic structure, scientists can vary the chemical composition to modify the colors. Each quinacridone color comprises its own unique set of molecules that create a specific pigment through dispersion.

There is a lot of modification done to switch colors. The particle size has to change. They must modify the crystals in the structure and recrystallize the quinacridone molecules together strategically. 

No matter what the process is, the result of creating quinacridones is always the same. You get a non-toxic, transparent pigment that can stain moderately. Watercolor paints are more saturated, and synthetic paints can mix with other colors.

Benefits of Quinacridone

When you want a car people can see coming from miles away, a quinacridone shade is an answer. And while a color like quin gold is no longer used regularly for its original automotive purpose, it has cemented its place as one of the favorites of many artists.

So why are these colors so popular with artists?

There are multiple reasons, depending on your preferred medium.

As mentioned earlier, quinacridones are preferred when an artist is glazing and layering. Since the paint keeps its vibrancy when dry, artists can tell what the final result is going to look like before the work has dried or is heated. 

The dazzling shades take you out of your “normal” range of colors and perk up a piece of art that feels off. 

You know when you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong with a current painting? You may be missing a quinacridone color.

These paints can tie together a set of otherwise different colors and connect them. Because they are so transparent and vibrant, the shades are a favorite for artists who want to paint healthy skin tones. 

Adjusting your paint’s depth is as easy as switching the water (or oil) to color ratio. Doing this lets you make an endless amount of colors out of a handful of paints.

How to Mix and Layer Watercolors for the Best Effects

When you shop for the art materials you intend to use with quinacridone watercolor paints, there are a couple things to keep in mind. Brushes can be from your favorite brand, as long as their bristles are soft enough to add more colors but firm enough to mix and lift when needed.

If your preferred paint is watercolors or you’re dabbling in mixing them, choose two quinacridone shades to get started. You can mix sedimentary pigments and dyes if you feel comfortable with this but avoid pre-mixed tubes. The fun is mixing them yourself, especially if you’re trying quins for the first time!

Remember that all dyes comprise sedimentary paint, so you might not get controlled results. If it’s your first time mixing quinacridones, your best bet is to stick with two pigments.

Mixing Quinacridones With Interference and Iridescent Paints

Before you start mixing on a canvas, play around with the concentrations on your palette. When you find a mixed color you like, move over to the canvas and start your painting.

However, it’s not quite as simple when you’re using iridescent and interference colors. These give you the effect that looks like you’re looking through a bubble or a colorful and shiny bird feather. 

They’re commonly found in nature, making them popular with wildlife artists. If you’re trying to create a color combination with these, it gets a tad more complex.

Iridescent and interference paints don’t behave like a typical pigment. When you mix these with quinacridone colors, you’ll get different effects depending on the mediums you use.

You can use these colors to enhance texture. Mixing them with gels or acrylics is also an excellent way to blend them. 

But when you mix your secondary iridescent or interference color with a paint that has a lighter value, you need a lot more of the secondary shade. That’s why many artists prefer to use quinacridones when they’re attempting a project that uses iridescent and interference paint.

Building Your Palette

Building a palette

As you get comfortable with quinacridone colors, you’ll start building a palette of your favorite primary shades.

A Yellow Medium and Quinacridone Red will get you a wide range of orange hues. For your blues and greens, a phthalos shade is best.

Phthalos are also a smart side color choice for when you need a little extra intensity or strong tint in your painting. Cadmiums are also a popular paint to mix with quinacridones because these shades are also vibrant. However, cadmium is toxic, so use caution if you’re building one of its colors into your palette.

Your final color should be white, like Zinc for fine paintings that need subtlety, or Titanium for more of an opaque final touch. You can mix and match brands and tube sizes. 

There are pre-mixed greens, oranges, and other hues that you can also play around with. If you find one you use frequently and if it gives you the effect you’re looking for, go for it!

Try to limit your palette to no more than 15 mixable colors. With that many paints, you should be able to create a wide range of new colors. As you come up with new shades, add them to your swatches.

Tips to Remember When Mixing and Layering

Mixing and layering with quinacridones work just like using other watercolor paints until you change the medium. If you add in iridescent or inference shades, you’re in a whole new art world.

Mixing and Layering Interference Shades

Interference shades specifically require handling with care. They are more translucent than your typical watercolors, and it’s easy to overuse them. When they’re wet, they still seem see-through. It’s not until they are fully dry that they reach their maximum pigmentation.

Remember that the resulting color you see depends on the angle you’re viewing from. This is particularly true when you’re painting over light colors. The complementary color, or the “flip” shade,” is the one you’ll get. 

It’s a pretty neat “magic” art trick but not handy if it’s not the effect you’re looking for. Then you’d use dark valued shades with your interference colors instead.

Mixing opposite interference colors, like green and yellow shades, don’t create what you’d expect with traditional colors. Typically, opposites mute each other out and create a brown or a gray. 

Interference opposites blended together will make one pigment more pronounced than the other. The lighter valued pigment makes the more opaque color stand out. However, the effects of this are also angle-dependent.

Mixing and Layering Iridescent Shades

When using iridescent shades, remember that any of them lightens the regular paint color when you mix them. This is one way to tint a color while also changing the texture and surface.

As you layer quinacridones with iridescent or interference colors, use gel paints to control how translucent the final results are. Too many shades can actually take these bright, brilliant colors and make them muddy. Stick with a few layers of quinacridones and finish them off with one iridescent topcoat.

You can change the texture and color by mixing different mediums when you’re using quinacridones, iridescent, and interference colors. Play around with acrylics and gels, change your canvas and brushes, and have fun with the paints!


Mixing and layering paints to create new visual effects can be exciting enough with standard colors. When you bring in quinacridones, the possibilities are even more thrilling.

As you familiarize yourself with the potential shades you can create, you can mix and layer different mediums, iridescents, phthalos, and so much more. The possibilities are truly endless, and will surely be vibrant.

To get started on creating amazing effects with quinacridone colors, check out Rileystreet Art Supply’s beautiful selection of water paints by Holbein, Golden, and more.