How to Make Your Colors Vibrant

I’ve always been wanting to share some tips on how to make your colors vibrant but them pregnancy hormones have been kicking in and I’m just usually asleep.  For example, I actually started working on my outline and practicing my monologue for TypeLabMNL more than a month ago.  (Yes, I would speak to myself in the car, bathroom & living room for weeks and weeks).  But, I only finished the actual presentation the other night. Haha.  By the way, ShutterPanda made a really cool video of my insights on the type community as well as the behind the scenes interview, check it out here:

People always ask me how I make my colors vibrant.  I was initially planning to share these tips one by one on Instagram since I’ve been living the panda life in dreamland and can only afford to share bits & pieces of things each time. Then I thought, maybe I should just come up with some accordion type leaflet for the Watercolor & Lettering Workshops.  But of course, all plans are meant to be altered. 😉 Hahaha.  It was so awesome to have met some of you yesterday!  I was really inspired by the generosity of the type community today  and the people I’ve met so I’m posting all my color tips here in one go.

1) The colors don’t just come out of the tube like magic.  Looking for colors is like looking or a soulmate where you don’t really stop until it feels right.  (Please pardon the cheesy analogy.)  If you want to be able to search for your own colors, be prepared to spend more time than usual.

How to Make Watercolor Vibrant

2) Opera / Magenta is my favorite base. – My favorite watecolor brand is Holbein just because it’s concentrated and the colors are vibrant.  But, as with any other material, the brand is just half of the story.  It’s what you do with your materials that matter.

Opera/Magenta is one of my favorite bases because I love making coral hues. I mix it with all my reds, pinks & purples. Here are my personal mixes:

Yellow Orange = Opera + Orange + Yellow
(Coral) Orange = A tiny drop of Opera + Orange
Coral Pink = Opera + A bit of Orange + Flesh (or Opera + Orange + White)
Pale Coral Pink = Opera + Orange + Flesh
Red Violet = Opera + Lilac (Opera + Violet + White)
Violet = Opera + Cobalt Blue (adjust the amount of blue to achieve a blue violet shade)

How to Make Your Watercolor Vibrant Cyan Magenta Yellow

3) Cyan, Magenta & Yellow – For colors like red violet, I initially thought I could just mix red + violet but I noticed that with Prang 8-color set, I noticed that the shade I eventually produced is not as vibrant as I would love it to be.  I also noticed that aside from Teal (which is my personal favorite), the colors I would easily consume are Opera, Yellow & Light Blue.  I thought this was only a personal preference until I read somewhere that there’s a science behind it.

Cyan, Magenta & Yellow (CMY) are the key to making vibrant colors apparently.  It’s just like your printer working with these basic hues and producing practically any color.  When I work with gradients, I’m personally attracted to these:

Chartreuse = 10% Cyan + 100% Yellow
Yellow Green = Cyan + Yellow (You may play with the amount of blue depending on the shade you’d like to achieve).
Green = Cyan + Yellow (Or, of course, you can just use that green on your palette 😉 )
Teal = Cyan + A Tiny Hint of Yellow (For Dr. Ph Martins Radiant Concentrated Watercolor, this is one huge drop of Ice Blue & a teeny weeny drop of yellow but personally, I love purchasing my own half pan of teal & mixing it with more cyan / light blue).
Bluegreen = Green + Blue 

4) Making Bright & Desaturated Tones – I was working with my set of Pebeo gouache and was looking for ways to make my hues brighter.  So, I added a neon base to all my colors.  I bought a couple of Holbein Acryla Gouache tubes from Dickblick thanks to Paper Fashion and the colors below are the results.  I would always add neon pink, neon yellow (or both).

To produce desaturated tones (think Instagram / VSCO filters), you can just add a hint of purple or brown into your current color.
How to Make Desaturated Colors

5) Pastel Shades – If you’re into pastel shades like me, when working with gouache, white is your friend.  Same goes with acrylic.  I ended up buying a 500mL tube of white because I always run out of white.  However, with watercolor, know that you can always make your colors lighter just by adding water.  It gets tricky when you have produce a gradient with a color that has white in it (e.g. flesh & light blue) and a another one that has none.

6) Dr. Ph Martin’s Radiant vs. Hydrus WatercolorsRichelle introduced me to Dr. Ph Martin’s Hydrus & Radiant watercolors.  I have her to thank for pointing out that the Hydrus set is lightfast (i.e. it does not fade fast) but has darker colors.  On the other hand, the Radiant set is more vibrant but is only meant for works that have to be scanned since it fades quickly.

At my day job where we print on plastic sheets, we also use lightfast paint for products that are meant to be exposed under the sun for a long time (e.g. banners & bags for outdoor wet/dry market stalls).

Personally, I love using Dr. Ph Martin’s for my brush lettering if I only need a single vibrant hue.  However, I’m very cautious when mixing it with my regular watercolor set because it dries faster therefore giving me less time to blend it once it’s on paper.

7) Check your colors under natural light.  Personally, when we do our color matching / proofing at my day job, we check it sometime in the morning & afternoon.  Our eyes tend to adjust to white light (fluorescent light) making the colors look more vibrant as usual.  But, if you mix your colors at night and check it again in the morning. It’s bland then usual.  On the other hand, yellow light downplays the reds.  Ever notice how this type of lighting tends to hide blemishes on your skin? 😀

Even just the color the wall beside you will affect the way you perceive color.  (E.g. Blue wall equals a bluish set of colors) but it shouldn’t have much of an impact unless you’re trying to chase a very very specific Pantone shade for a client.  People who are in photography or photo editing (even with just their phones) should be familiar with this.  There are so many tiny factors that affect the white balance of the hue being observed.  If you want to see this for yourself, you can do some experiments even just with your smartphone’s camera. 🙂

8) (Color) Inspiration is everywhere. – I personally pick my colors from anything that amuses me: colors on the runway, macarons, baby clothes, a packaging et cetera.  I love observing the palette of each city I visit based on the resources available to them (e.g. the most abundant type of soil which makes the buildings of Paris looking sandy and the dyes easily available based on their resources).

Color Travel Inspiration

The photos on the left are my favorites from the NBA trip to New York while the ones on the right are from a grocery, a bookstore & a tram stop in Hong Kong.  But of course, you don’t have to travel that far for (color) inspiration.  Inspiration is practically everywhere.  I personally have this thing about everyone’s tissue art during watercolor workshops.   I call it tissue art but really, it’s where you dab & blot your excess watercolor.  But since it’s usually wetter than your paper, the colors just tend to blend seamlessly.  *I swear, I will have a blog post about accidental art.* 😀 

Color Wheel

However, there are more systematic ways to pick your color combinations.  Years ago, I was able to pick up from Robbie of The Creative Dork that there’s resource site called Adobe Color CC.  It has color recommendations as well as pre-picked palettes under the Themes section:

Adobe Color Themes

Well, that was a mouthful.  I hope this blog post has helped you in some way.  If there’s something I haven’t covered, do let me know. 🙂  Always remember, even if there is a science to colors, I believe each person is attracted to a different set of palette so feel free modify the formula anytime.

Here’s to more colorful days ahead!  🙂


Tipsy ♥

P.S. Thank you so so much to those who have already signed up for the workshops:
We have the following schedules left:
July 25 – Watercolor & Lettering (Hey Kessy; 2 slots left)
August 1 – Watercolor & Lettering Singapore (FULL)
August 2 – Watercolor & Lettering Singapore (5 slots left)
I’ve also added some new schedules:
August 15 – Watercolor & Lettering (Fully Booked Greenbelt 5)
August 16 – Digitizing (Fully Booked BGC)

To sign up for one of the Watercolor & Lettering + Digitizing Workshops, click here.

P.P.S. Related Reads:
5 Tips When Using Colored Pencils
Get the Colors You Want with the New Pantone Color Guide
Finding Your Own Art Style
Inspired Versus Copying
The Lines We Draw
Watercolor & Lettering Workshops this April
Workshop for Moms & Kids: Watercolor Crafts
Watercolor Workshop at Cath Kidston
Tips on How to Choose Colors for Your Artwork

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Kitten Macawili
Kitten Macawili
8 years ago

My sister just asked me 2 days ago how to produce those vibrant colors that you use in your work, she even attached a picture collage of your works to her message. And then you post this. 🙂 Coolness.

April San Pedro
8 years ago

I had fun watching your video Tippy… I’ve seen your works {and I’ve been a fan since then}; Seen your techniques and etc. but I seldom see your face on your feed. And yet here you are on a video talking… You are truly an inspiration… and very much generous in sharing what you know… I only wish I can attend one of your workshops or events.

Cym Marzan
8 years ago

This is very helpful! I pinned it! Is the Opera a tube in watercolor? 😀

8 years ago

You’re making me want to buy all new stuff now. I love your posts, they’re so cute and well though out.

8 years ago

Hello Jill!
Locally, I get my stuff from the following:
Fully Booked Greenbelt 5
Deovir Megamall / North Edsa
Hey Kessy
National Bookstore



Shannelle C
8 years ago

You’re my vibrant watercolor peg for a long time now, so thanks for sharing! Prang’s not the most vibrant watercolor set there is, but I’ve always been lazy to make colors from scratch, but I’m going to try to. And I have a few watercolor tubes too, and it’s about time I used them. XD

8 years ago

Ate, I was among the participants of your workshop last Saturday and you are my inspiration in making my own

Paula Garvey
Paula Garvey
6 years ago

Thank you for Sharing ..I’m feeling more confident to make a canvas for my wall after seeing this ..x

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
Scroll to Top