How Do I Mix Fluorescent or Neon Colors?

Painting with neon colors is not as easy as you think

woman with paint brushes
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What can you do to add fluorescent or neon colors to your paintings? While you may be thinking that there's a way to mix up a hot pink or neon green from pigments in your paint box, you will be disappointed. These colors require a special paint recipe that can really only come from a manufacturer.

Can You Mix Neon Paints Yourself?

Unfortunately, fluorescent or neon colors such as hot pink, lime green, day-glow yellow/orange, or vivid tangerine, can't be mixed from the standard primary colors — blue, yellow, and red. You have to buy fluorescent colors ready made.

The problem is that fluorescent paints can be a challenge to find, depending on which medium you choose to work with. You will have no problem finding neon paint markers or other options for mixed media and graphic work. There are a few fluorescent acrylics available, including Sennelier Abstract Acrylics. Finding these colors in oil or watercolor paint will prove to be a challenge.

Tip: While you might find a better selection of these paints online, computer screens do not do fluorescents justice. There may be slight differences between what you see on a website and the color of the actual product.

You might have to be satisfied with something that's a strong, saturated color but doesn't "pulsate" quite like a neon one. For instance, you could choose a bold magenta or the brightest green-yellow then work with mediums, glazes, and varnishes to make them pop just a little more. You will not achieve a true 'neon' look, but it may work.

Reproducing Paintings With Fluorescents

Once you have added fluorescent colors to your painting, you might encounter a special challenge when photographing the piece for online display or producing prints. Neon and metallic paints are very difficult to accurately duplicate on a computer screen.

While you may be able to produce a great representation of other paintings yourself, you will find photographing those with these specialty paints requires more work. This is because the color of a digital camera and your computer is built off an RGB (red, green, blue) system. Just like you cannot mix neon colors using primary paint colors, the computer has a hard time producing them with the primary colors of photographs.

If you photograph a painting with fluorescent or metallic colors using your standard copying set-up, you will notice a lack of vibrancy in these painted areas. It will not pop from the scene like it does in real life and adjustments need to be made in the photographic copy.

To fix this, you will need to have some intermediate to advanced Photoshop skills. It requires selectively dialing in and adjust just the colors in question while avoiding changes to all the other colors. It can be quite complex and there is no right or wrong approach, just a series of experimentations.

It is never perfect and it is not easy. If you want a really good reproduction of your neon painting, you might have to turn to a professional photographer.