Create Your Own Color Wheel

Color Wheel on Paper PlateWhy pur­chase pre-mixed paint col­ors when stu­dents can learn to mix their own col­ors for more vari­ety and more inter­est­ing results?  Mak­ing a color wheel teaches stu­dents how to mix the col­ors they want while learn­ing the basics of color theory!

You will need:

  • Paper plates, 2 per stu­dent (one for a palette, one for the color wheel)
  • Color wheel tem­plates, cut out and glued onto “uncoated” paper plates (paint adheres best to the “uncoated” plates, and they’re cheaper, too!)
  • Tem­pera paint: red (or magenta), yel­low, and blue (or turquoise)… I like to use magenta and turquoise for color mix­ing since they’re clos­est in color to the magenta and cyan inks used in the four color print­ing process — magenta, yel­low, cyan, and black. 
  • Water in small plas­tic con­tain­ers (I like the clear, pint size con­tain­ers from the deli)
  • Medium size brushes
  • Paper tow­els
  • Color wheel poster (optional)


  • Pri­mary Color — red, yel­low, or blue (a color that can’t be cre­ated by mix­ing other colors)
  • Sec­ondary Color — orange, green, or vio­let (a color cre­ated by mix­ing two pri­mary col­ors together)
  • Inter­me­di­ate Color — a color cre­ated by mix­ing a pri­mary color with a sec­ondary color (ex. “yellow-orange”)
  • Ter­tiary Color — a brown or gray cre­ated by mix­ing all three pri­mary col­ors together
  • Com­pli­men­tary Col­ors — two col­ors directly across from each other on the color wheel (ex. yel­low and vio­let, red and green, or blue and orange)


 for grades 1 and 2…

1.  Intro­duce the pri­mary col­ors: red, yel­low, and blue. Have stu­dents paint along with you as you  demonstrate….

Primary Colors on a palette

2.  Turn your color wheel tem­plate so that the tri­an­gle labeled “yel­low” is at the top.  Then paint a swatch of yel­low along the rim of your paper plate, where the tri­an­gle labeled “yel­low” is point­ing.
3.  Rinse your brush and blot any excess water on a paper towel.
4.  Paint the red swatch and the blue swatch in the same way, rins­ing and blot­ting your brush each time you change colors.

Color Wheel with Primary Colors

5.  Next, intro­duce the sec­ondary col­ors (orange, green, and vio­let).  Mix two pri­mary col­ors to paint each sec­ondary color in its appro­pri­ate place.

Color Wheel with Primary and Secondary Colors

Con­tinue with the inter­me­di­ate col­ors for grades 3, 4, and 5…

6.  Paint an inter­me­di­ate color  between each pri­mary and sec­ondary color. For each inter­me­di­ate color, mix some of the pri­mary color with the sec­ondary color next to it, adding just a tiny amount of the darker color to a larger amount of the lighter color. (The name of an inter­me­di­ate color always begins with its dom­i­nant pri­mary color, fol­lowed by its sec­ondary color, such as “yellow-orange” or “blue-green”.)  

Color Wheel with Primary, Secondary, and Intermediate Colors

7.  Ter­tiary col­ors are the browns and grays you get when you mix the three pri­mary col­ors together.  Your browns and grays will vary depend­ing on the amounts you mix of each pri­mary color. Mix a ter­tiary color and paint a swatch of it in the cen­ter of your color wheel. Save your color wheel where you can refer to it often!

Color Wheel with Primary, Secondary, Intermediate and Tertiary Colors

For a print­able 7 page pdf of this project (includ­ing my color wheel tem­plate), please visit my new Teach­ers Pay Teach­ers store!

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13 Responses to Create Your Own Color Wheel

  1. Deceptively Educational May 21, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    What a great idea!!! My son would think so too. Thanks for shar­ing. I’d love it if you’d add this link to the After School Linky Party on my blog right now!
    Decep­tively Edu­ca­tional recently posted..After School Linky Party!My Profile

  2. Sherry May 22, 2013 at 7:36 am #

    Hi, Thanks for this post­ing. I am not trained in the fine arts so I have been ‘feel­ing’ my way through 3 junior high courses (mid­dle school for you I believe) . I really value your blog for the con­tin­ued inspi­ra­tion it gives me. How­ever, I used this idea for a French class to launch us into other describ­ing words. It was very use­ful as a ‘dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion exer­cise’ to con­nect to the gram­mar topic at hand.

    • Cheryl Trowbridge May 27, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

      That’s great, Sherry! I love hear­ing how the same les­son is used in dif­fer­ent ways. Glad it was help­ful to you!!

    • Cheryl Trowbridge May 27, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

      That’s great, Sherry! It’s fun to hear how the same les­son can be used in dif­fer­ent ways, and how you can con­nect it to other areas of the cur­ricu­lum. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Lilian September 24, 2014 at 9:07 pm #

      Would you please share how you used it for your French class? I’d like to do this with my Span­ish class, and I’m try­ing to fig­ure out the best way to go about assign­ing this project to prac­tice Span­ish colors.

  3. Arielle July 14, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    This is so won­der­ful. It’s inter­est­ing to see how oth­ers teach this. I believe that this is a great tool to look back on to pick a color for a project. Thanks for shar­ing this! :)
    Arielle recently posted..What To Do…My Profile

  4. April July 22, 2013 at 6:20 am #

    I just bought your les­son plan from TPT and can’t wait to use it in my color unit!

    • Cheryl Trowbridge July 23, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

      Thanks, April! I hope you enjoy it! Let me know how it goes!!

  5. Lina Fairley November 22, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    Really enjoy the sim­plic­ity of direc­tions and low bud­get for HIGH end results. I allowed stu­dents to mix paint col­ors at each step. Stu­dents enjoyed see­ing, sec­ondary and inter­me­di­ate col­ors appear in front of them. Will use it every year.


  1. Reflection – Teach Kids Art Blog – Paper Plate Color Wheel » Beth McKinzie - July 19, 2013

    […] found a neat idea for a color wheel on the Teach Kids Art Blog. The stu­dents can cre­ate a color wheel from a paper plate. Using the pri­mary col­ors (red, yel­low, and blue) stu­dents will mix the colors […]

  2. Reflection – Teach Kids Art Blog – Paper Plate Color Wheel » Beth McKinzie - July 19, 2013

    […] found a neat idea for a color wheel on the Teach Kids Art Blog. The stu­dents can cre­ate a color wheel from a paper plate. Using the pri­mary col­ors (red, yel­low, and blue) stu­dents will mix the colors […]

  3. How to Sculpt Candy Vegetables and Make a Garden Cake With Your Kids | My Kids' Adventures - May 29, 2014

    […] make sec­ondary and ter­tiary col­ors. You can down­load and print a color wheel from the Inter­net or make a color wheel using a paper plate and blue, yel­low and red tempera […]

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