Two tubes of gray paint lay on top of two succulent paintings and a swatch sheet.

The perfect gray acrylic paint?

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Which gray is the best gray for your paint palette? I’m examining two versions of gray acrylic paint, including one of the most popular: payne’s gray. The second shade of gray is N5 Neutral Gray. 

Not every artist likes to have a gray paint as part of their acrylic palette. Many do, though, as a convenience colour and a quick, reliable way to get a neutral tone without much mixing. Using gray paint is a great way to do a value painting before a larger piece as well.

Watch me discuss Payne’s Gray and N5 Neutral Gray on my YouTube channel.

Payne’s Gray

Payne’s Gray is an extraordinarily popular paint colour, especially in the watercolour world. It’s also popular for acrylic paint. It’s a very pleasing blue-gray and quite dark. Many artists use it instead of a black paint. It’s named after a watercolour artist from England who developed a mix of Prussian blue, yellow ochre and crimson lake. 

Payne’s Gray can give a wonderful sense of atmosphere with distant objects. It’s also just a beautiful gray blue colour. 

I’m looking at Liquitex Professional’s Payne’s Gray. It uses a mix of pigments, including PB29 (ultramarine blue), Bk9 (bone black), and PV15 (ultramarine violet). This means you can also mix your own if you already have paints using those pure pigments. It’s considered a translucent paint. 

N5 Neutral Gray

I am comparing Payne’s Gray to N5 Neutral Gray, simply because it’s the darkest tube of gray paint I have, other than the Payne’s Gray. The Neutral Gray line from Golden includes eight different values of the same completely neutral gray hue, from N2 (the darkest gray) to N9 (the lightest gray). N1 and N10 on the value scale are represented by bone black and titanium white. 

N5 Neutral Gray is right in the middle of the neutral gray value scale. Payne’s Gray would be a similar value to N2 Neutral Gray, one step up the value scale from pure black. 

N5 Neutral Gray is a completely neutral gray. It does not lean warm or cool. But it’s very important to understand that it will seem warmer than the Payne’s Gray, because it is less blue. Colour temperature is always relative to the other colours it is near. 

Golden’s N5 Neutral Gray uses a mix of three pigments: PW6 (titanium white), PBk9 (bone black) and PBr7 (iron oxide) It’s an opaque paint. It’s particularly useful for neutral underpaintings and toning down colours.

Mixing with other colours

I did some colour swatches of each type of gray with some popular colours around the colour wheel, including:

A dozen tubes of acrylic paint.
  • Hansa yellow lemon
  • Cadmium-free yellow medium
  • Cadmium-free red medium
  • Quinacridone magenta
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Phthalo blue (green)
  • Dioxazine purple
  • Sap green hue
  • Cadmium orange


Both versions of gray toned down all the colours wonderfully. Payne’s Gray, because of how it leans cool, did shift some of the colours, such as magenta into purple, and orange into brown. The neutral gray just shifted the colours into a more toned-down version of the same colour. I really liked that effect and think it would be useful as a convenience colour in the future, 

A swatch sheet showing how Payne's gray and neutral gray mix with different popular colours.

I think either version of gray is a valid option for an acrylic paint palette. Ultimately, though, I probably won’t repurchase either. I will probably chose a different version of the neutral gray in the future – probably the darkest version so I have more flexibility on mixing darks. I can add my own titanium white to expand the value range. 

Two colourful paintings of a succulent from above. two tubes of acrylic paint lay beside the sketchbook

Learn more

Check out a listing of all my colour mixing blog posts and videos on my colour mixing roundup article.

Get your own

Pick up your favourite shade of gray at your local art supply store or on Amazon:



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