2 Keys to Success Using Cadmium Reds and Yellows in Oil Painting

cadmium reds
Using cadmium reds and cadmium yellows in oil painting can be tricky.

Have you ever been painting with either Cadmium Red or Cadmium Yellow and gotten frustrated because you couldn't get the color mix right?

When it comes to mixing colors with cadmium, it can be a little tricky.

I have devised 2 strategies that can help you strengthen your oil painting when it comes to this difficult family in oil paints.

Just to let you know, all of the product links in this article are affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy anything, but it doesn’t cost you any extra.

Don’t worry, I’m always honest, open, impartial with my reviews – I only recommend the good stuff – but this affiliate income helps keep the site running.

Understanding the Cadmium Pigments

In the cadmium family of colors, there are usually 2 or 3 steps or levels.

In the yellow cadmium family this is usually Cadmium Yellow Light,  Cadmium Yellow Medium and Cadmium Yellow Deep (or sometimes Dark).

And for the red cadmium family it is usually Cadmium Red Light,  Cadmium Red Medium and Cadmium Red Deep (or sometimes Dark).

These names may vary by artist oil paint manufacturer, so be aware of this important point. You will want to get the right version of these important colors.

#1. Buy only Cadmium Yellow Light and Cadmium Red Light

cadmium reds
Buying only cadmium red light and cadmium yellow light will save you money with these very expensive pigments.

Buy only Cadmium Yellow Light and Cadmium Red Light. These 2 colors are the most versatile and easiest to work with.

Buying only these 2 colors will save you money with these very expensive pigments and and here's why:

You can easily go from cadmium yellow light to cadmium yellow medium or cadmium yellow deep (dark) just by adding a little red and maybe graying just a little.

Following the same idea, you can easily go from cadmium red light to cadmium red medium or cadmium red deep (dark) just by adding a little blue and maybe graying a little.

So it's easy to create the other 2 from the single light color.  But you can't go back in the other direction.

In other words, you can't make Cadmium Yellow Light from Cadmium Yellow medium or Deep.  And, of course, the same thing is true of Cadmium Red Medium or Deep.

Do you see?

So it really makes no sense to spend the extra money to have these colors in your palette.   It's just another trick of the paint manufacturers to give you something else to spend your money on.

#2.  Avoid Mixing White with the Cadmium Pigments

cadmium reds
Avoid mixing white with the cadmium pigments.

Basically, whenever you mix white with a color it will dilute it or make it weaker.

This is especially true of the cadmium pigments. The cadmium colors are not known for their tinting strength like other pigments.  And so white really breaks down their essential color hue and color strength.

Cadmium pigments also become somewhat "chalky" when you mix them with white.

This is due mostly to the chemistry of the pigments and how they combine with other chemicals. Overall, it is not a happy mix.

Whenever possible, try using an analogous color to get a lighter value, such as for a highlight, or other lighter value.

So for example, when you need to go lighter for Cadmium Red, don't reach for white but try mixing Cadmium Yellow instead.

You will get a brighter and more vivid color rather than that chalky mix that is inevitable with mixing white.

Experiment to get the right results

You may have to experiment to get the right results with the suggestions above. But as an artist, you should be growing in your ability to mix colors and understand your color palette.

And after all, isn't experimenting with colors half the fun we have when we are painting.

Tell us about your experience with the cadmium colors in the comments below.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Tulpar

    Very helpful article. You saved my money because I was about to buy all shades of cadmiums.

  2. David Hughes Jones

    Thanks! Very useful!

  3. Tom

    Very helpful, thank you.

  4. Jennifer McEuen

    Wow, this was extremely helpful! I have been using both of these colors recently and you just enhanced my intuitive knowledge in my process…

    1. Gary Bolyer

      Thanks for your comments. Glad to hear you are enjoying and learning from my blog. Thanks again.

  5. Alma Lee

    Thank you it explains a lot about some of my art defects!

    1. Gary Bolyer

      Thanks for your comments.

  6. Franky

    Hey thanks for the tips here. Wonderful that you have shown these tricks. I would like to know how you would suggest making cadmium yellow light even lighter? Also do you have suggestions for lightening Indian yellow? Also how does Indian yellow relate to the cadmiums?

  7. Linda

    Great information thank you for this!

  8. rameshjayaraj

    thanks a lot. i have been trying to get right red since a year and not satisfied. this write up was very informative to me.

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