COLOR MIXING
 

 
IntroductionColor VisionMixing LightSubtractive ColorPaintingPhotosPrinting
   INTRODUCTION:
  TWO KINDS OF COLOR MIXING
 
Two colors can mix to form a different color
GREEN
Color mixing takes place when two or more colors come together to form a different color. There are two basic systems of mixing colors. One system of color mixing takes place when mixing colorants such as paint, ink and dyes.
The other method of color mixing takes place when two or more colored light sources are combined.  An example of this  type of mixing takes place when our eyes blend together the tiny dots or stripes that make up the color images on televisions, monitors and tablet screens.  Color monitor stripes
The tiny lines or stripes on a video screen may be seen with a magnifying lens.
Color can be mixed with stage lighting Another example of mixing color is when various colored stage lights overlap over the same area.
Any two or more colors can be mixed to form different colors. However, only three basic colors are needed to create just about all other colors. For this reason, these are referred to as "primary" colors.
It is important to note that the three primary colors for mixing paint, ink and dyes are not the same three primary colors that are used when mixing light. So there are two groups or sets of primary colors.
Cyan Yellow Magenta The three basic colors used for mixing paint, dyes and inks are cyan, yellow and magenta. They are called the "subtractive" primary colors.
Red Green and Blue The three basic colors used for mixing light or illumination are red, green and blue. They are called the "additive" primary colors.
   
These two sets of primary colors are connected in an important way. The diagram below shows that where any two subtractive primary colors (cyan, magenta or yellow) are mixed together using paint, inks or dyes, the two colors mix to make one of the additive primary colors of light (red, green or blue). The curved color arrows show which two subtractive colors are mixed to form the additive colors.

MIXING PAINTS, INKS AND DYES USING CYAN, MAGENTA AND YELLOW

  MAGENTA ADDITIVE  
SUBTRACTIVE  (RED)
ADDITIVE (BLUE)  YELLOW
SUBTRACTIVE
  CYAN ADDITIVE  
SUBTRACTIVE (GREEN)
 


The fact that any two of the cyan, yellow and magenta primary colors mix to form either the red, green or blue primary colors of light underscores the link between these two sets of colors.  
Magenta and yellow mix to make red.
Cyan and yellow mix to make green.
Magenta and cyan mix to make blue.
Cyan Yellow Magenta The primary color cyan is a bright blue hue. The primary color magenta is a bright deep pink. The primary color yellow is a bright yellow.  

Cyan, yellow and magenta are the three basic colors used for the inks used in most computer printers and for the commercial printing of books and magazines. They are the three colors that are used for the dyes in color photo and movie film. When colors are mixed in this way, they are relying on the "subtractive" color mixing process.

MIXING ILLUMINATION

The three basic colors for mixing illumination are not the same as for mixing dyes, paints or inks. The three basic colors of illumination are red, green and blue. The way color illumination mixes to make other colors is different from what happens when paint or inks are mixed.
Where any two colors of red, blue or green illumination overlap, they form one of the cyan, yellow or magenta colors used for mixing paint, dyes, filters or inks. Once again, we see a connection between the two sets of primary colors.  

There is another interesting difference between the mixing of paint and the mixing of illumination. The final colors that we see as a result of mixing colored illumination as compared to mixing paint or dyes are not the same. For example, when mixing paint, red and green paint mix to form a darker color (brown). However, when mixing the same colors using illumination, red and green mix to form a lighter color (yellow).
 
SAME COLORS - DIFFERENT RESULTS
 
SUBTRACTIVE MIXING   ADDITIVE MIXING
PAINTS - INKS - DYES   ILLUMINATION
   
Red and green paint mix to make brown, a darker color.   Red light added to green light mix to produce yellow, a lighter color.
 
A mixture of blue and yellow paint produces a greenish color.   A mixture of blue and yellow illumination appears white.
PAINT - INKS - DYES   ILLUMINATION
 
CYAN MAGENTA YELLOW
 
RED GREEN BLUE
     

All three subtractive colors mix to form black. All three additive colors combine to form white.

 Subtractive  Additive
   
 Paint, Ink, Dye  Light

For more about how these six colors are related to each other, select "Subtractive Color" and "Photos" on the tabs at the top of this page  

WHICH KIND OF COLOR MIXING IS USED WHEN?

The additive process of color mixing is used . . .    
     

. . . when colored light bulbs or spotlights shine on the same area during a stage performance.

 . . . when our eyes blend tiny colored dots or stripes on a monitor or video screen.
. . . when some digital video projectors project discrete red, green and blue images that are superimposed in register on a projection screen.
         
         
The subtractive process of color mixing takes place . . .  
   
   

. . . when we mix color paint together.

 
   

. . . when transparent colored liquids are combined.

 
   

. . . when we place one colored glass or filter in front of another.

 
     . . . when a printer combines several different colored inks on top of each other on paper.  
    . . . when different colored foods are combined in a blender.  
     . . . when various colors of modeling clay are kneaded together.  
         

Note: Even though there are two ways to mix color, all color mixing depends on light. Without light, we would see nothing at all. When we are dealing with paint colors, we are seeing these colors as a result of mixtures of reflected light. For more about this, click on, "Subtractive Color" on the tabs at the top this page. 

 
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All text, images and animations are by Robert Truscio © 1997, 2016.
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