The Color Variation Discussion

Just Red

After I gathered a listacle of 50 Arty Facts About the Color RED, I went to my studio & pulled all the RED’s I could find from my art supplies.

I was able to gather 25 colors of RED from my paints, pencil crayons, markers and pastels.

I tried to choose the RED’s that were pure instead of pulling from red-tints like burgundy’s or pinks. (Visit my blog post Glossary of Color Theory Terms for the definitions of art terms.)

As you can see from this photo there are no two RED’s that are exactly the same.

“Why would that be?” you might ask. Here are a couple of factors to consider…


During the processing of various art supplies, pigment (or color) is added to a binding medium.

You can dive deeper into that subject by reading The Artist’s Handbook by Ray Smith (it can be purchased here).

But just to give you a brief overview since this book gets quite technical with the chemistry of art materials, a binding medium is what makes a pastel a pastel or an acrylic paint an acrylic paint.

Think of it like adding chocolate powder to your milk. The chocolate powder is the pigment & the binding medium is the milk. (Ok, now I am thirsty. 🙂)

The binding medium is how the pigment is delivered or applied to a surface. It can be any art supply really that makes marks from pencil crayons to markers to paint or whatever.

Have you ever noticed that a lot of the different mediums have the same color names?

Take “Cadmium RED” for instance. Cadmium RED pigment can be added to an oil, acrylic or watercolour binder. But these binding agents or mediums will have different properties that will affect the actual color of the Cadmium RED pigment.

For instance, pencil crayons are pigments plus binder compressed to create a “lead” used typically for line drawing.

Pastels are a dry chalky substance used for drawing. They can be smudged to create softer effects.

Watercolors are more transparent will take on the properties of the surface. Whereas, acrylic and oil paints are applied to cover a surface.

Acrylic or oil house paints will have different binders than art supply paints.

Pigments can be added to fabric dyes or inks.

And, the characteristics of each of the individual binding medium will affect the pigment’s color.


Not all acrylic paints are created equal.

Different companies have different formulas for making their binders.

Notice in this photo, these are 3 Cadmium RED Medium Hue acrylic paints from 3 different companies. They are all very slightly different.

Since the variation is very hard to detect with the human eye, I brought this photo into Illustrator & used the eyedropper tool to give me the hex codes for each of these.

Each one had different hex codes. (see my discussion on Shades of Computer REDS and their Hex Codes)

True, this experiment is not exactly scientific as it is based off of a photo. You would have to take into account the lighting captured in the photo. But, hopefully, you get my point.

To complicate matters further, even within the same manufacturing companies, different brands of paint will have variations in lightfastness, permanence, tinting strength, opacity and concentration of pigment. (See my post Glossary of Color Theory Terms for the definitions these art terms.)

There are student grade paints, which are great for practicing painting techniques. Professional grade paints will have more vibrancy and permanence.

Look for these variables on the labels.

The KEY to all of this is to really understand intimately your medium of choice and its manufacturers.

Accept the limitations of your medium and its intended use. If you envision a vibrant RED in your creation, you may want to use a marker instead of a pencil crayon.

Instead of fighting with your art material or being dissatisfied with the outcome, try changing your medium to one that is designed to help you succeed.

So far, this discussion has focused mainly on physical art materials but what about REDs in the virtual world?

See my blog post Shades of Computer REDs and their Hex Codes to see what other PURE REDs are available to those designing or creating with technology.

In a subsequent post How to Mix Paint Colors without Creating Mud, I will continue to discuss how paint colors mix.