Monday, January 31, 2011

Primary Colors. Or are they?

Red, yellow, blue, yes? 

Ahh, not so fast! 

That works for paint or colored pencils or ink. Red, yellow and blue are 'primary' because they're the first - or essential - colors. These are the colors from which all other colors can be mixed. You can’t mix a primary color using other colors.
Light, however, is different. With light the primary colors are red, green, and blue. You may recall pictures of very close-up TV screens and the red, green and blue dots or bars which compose the images. This is because colored light transmits colors, and colored matter absorbs and reflects colors, so mixing them requires different methods. 

If you take a variety of paint colors and mix them you'll get a muddy brown. If you mix all the colors of light, the result is white light. A prism (I love them!) breaks the white light of the sun into the separate colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.

It’s yet another story when dealing with printing, where the primary colors are cyan, magenta and yellow. If you have a color printer you probably know that. They are similar to, but certainly different from, blue, red and yellow. Have you heard of CMYK? That’s Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and the K is for Black.

Back to the paint, ink, and colored pencils briefly. Here's today's art tip: Have you ever wondered what to do if you need brown? Mix orange and green, or really "red and yellow" and "yellow and blue".


  1. Light. Colour. Refraction. Isn't it amazing how elementally we accept these things without clear comprehension? Intuitively we know what does / does not please us, yet so few can say why things work or do not. Nice mini class! PS - I do love colour!

  2. With a history in photo development, and a current hobby involving lots of printer ink, my default is always CMYK. I think that now I ought to get a prism for my desk to bring me back to the remembrance of what all color really stems from. :)