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

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 neutral, brown or gray, created by mixing all three primary colors together (or by mixing two secondary colors, or two complimentary colors, either of which will also contain all three primary colors)
  • 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 step-by-step, printable 7 page pdf of this project (including my color wheel template & helpful tips for success), please visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

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  1. 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.

    1. 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!!

    2. 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.

  2. 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! :)

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

  4. 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.

  5. Please note that your definition of tertiary colors is incorrect. A tertiary color is what you are calling an “intermediate color”. I am hoping that others who are not familiar with color are checking this before they are teaching children. I would also hope that you would update your lesson to reflect proper terminology.

    1. Thanks for your comment on the definition of “tertiary colors”! This is a discussion that continues to pop up from time to time. There seems to be two “camps” when it comes to this term, and if you search the internet you’ll find both versions (yours and mine). In fact, Merriam Webster defines it BOTH ways (further adding to the confusion!), which is interesting because they mean two very different things! You can read Merriam Webster’s definition(s) here: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tertiary%20color and then scroll down to the comments where you’ll find a compelling conversation that may change your mind! I was taught long ago that “secondary” relates to mixing two primaries, “tertiary” relates to mixing three primaries, and “intermediate” relates to mixing a secondary color with the primary color closest to it on the color wheel. That makes the most sense to me. Most art books that talk about tertiary colors describe them as the mixing of three primaries, however some don’t even mention tertiary colors, and on the internet you’ll find all kinds of differing views. I think it’s just a term that isn’t used all that much but I’d love to know who to go to for the definitive “final answer” on this! Feel free to chime in if you have any ideas!

  6. This is perfect for teaching middle school Color Wheel/Color Theory. Thank you!

    From: Middle School Art Teacher

  7. I dabble with acrylics and have an eight year old grandson who is very keen to follow my hobby.
    This colour wheel will be ideal for us to experiment with over the weekend.