How many primary colors and secondary colors are there? Best Examples
Colors are classified into three categories: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Colors and their relationships are easier to understand when classified by type. One way to create a simple color scheme is to use only one kind of color.
Primary colors are the foundation for all other colors, according to theory. In other words, with only three pure Primary pigments (yellow, Red, and Blue), you could theoretically mix billions of colors.
This is where color can become a little perplexing for some people. Art and design students must learn two basic color models to have expert color control, whether they are doing print publications in graphic design or combining pigment for printing. These two-color models are as follows:
- Light Colors primaries(Red, Green, Blue)
- Pigment Colors primaries(Cyan, Magenta, Yellow)
Some of you may be scratching your heads and wondering, “Where are the Blue, Red, and Yellow models?” The artist’s color wheel (blue, red, and yellow) predated modern science and was discovered due to Newton’s prism experiments. However, according to science, this does not adequately address the acceptable range of spectral color.
The blue-red-yellow model gives way to the cyan-magenta-yellow model as more is learned about spectral color and how wavelengths interact with surfaces (reflection/absorption) and the human eye. However, we continue to use the RBY model for mixing paints, which is the most common color wheel in art stores.
Light (additive) Color Primaries
The primary light colors are red, green, and blue, combined in various proportions to produce all other colors. For example, when red and green lights are combined, they appear yellow.
Light sources, such as televisions and computer monitors, use this additive color system to generate a wide range of colors. For example, when different proportions of red, green, and blue light enter your eye, your brain interprets the various combinations as different colors.
Cheat Sheet for Additive (Light)
- Transparent media allows color to be transmitted.
- When all of the colors are added together, the result is white.
- True black is the absence of light.
- Because computer graphics, websites, and other digital presentations use light to be projected/transmitted. Screen-targeted pictures should be saved in this color model, known as “RGB Mode.”
IMPORTANT: When the primaries of RGB are mixed evenly, they produce the secondary colors of our next color model, CMY (cyan, magenta, and yellow)!
Pigment (Subtractive) Color Primaries
However, you may be more familiar with another set of primary colors. For example, when producing colors from reflected light, such as when mixing paint or using a color printer, the primary colors of pigment (also known as subtractive primaries) are used.
The primary pigment colors are magenta, yellow, and cyan (commonly simplified as red, yellow, and blue).
Pigments are chemicals that absorb specific wavelengths of light, preventing them from being transmitted or reflected. Because paints contain pigments, when white light (composed of red, green, and blue light) is shone on colored paint, only a portion of the wavelengths of light are reflected.
Cyan pigment, for example, absorbs red light while reflecting blue and green light; yellow paint absorbs blue light while reflecting red and green light.
When cyan and yellow pigments are mixed, you get green because red and blue light is absorbed, and green light is reflected.
Cheat Sheet for Subtractive (Pigment)
- These primaries are eventually derived as secondary colors from the RGB model.They are encouraged to have their color model to create all other printable colors from CMY. Remember that we would not see anything if RGB light wavelengths did not exist.
- Color is absorbed by and emitted by the media.
- Because these colors are obtained through reflection, we assume that the base filter for pure colors is pure white ground.
- When all the colors are added together, the result is close to black.
- Pure black must be added to obtain true black, yielding the CMYK model (K=black). Because this is the most common color model for most printing, graphics for print are typically prepared in “CMYK.”
- While most printers recognize this model as the standard pigment model, the traditional artist Color Wheel swaps Blue for Cyan and Red for Magenta, resulting in slightly different secondary and tertiary results.
NOTICE: The colors in RGB appear slightly brighter than the colors in CMYK. This is due to the difference between transmitting light and absorbing/reflecting light off surfaces.
The three primary colors you begin with serve as the foundation for all secondary colors. Secondary colors are made by mixing two primary colors. The secondary colors are:
- Cyan (a blue-green mixture).
- Magenta (a blue-red combination).
- Yellow (a variety of green and red).
Each secondary color is also the complementary (or complement) color of the primary color whose wavelength it lacks. Thus, cyan is red’s complement, magenta is green’s complement, and yellow is blue’s complement. See the color note.
Complementary colors (com-pluh-MEN-uh-ree) are opposite each other on the color wheel. Because they are opposites, they tend to look especially lively when combined. In addition, when complementary colors are combined, each color stands out more.
Red, green, and blue are good primary light colors for the human eye. When these colors’ lights are combined, they produce a wide range of visible colors.
The primary and secondary RGB colors (with secondary colors highlighted) are as follows: green, yellow, red, magenta, blue, and cyan.
Combining RGB colors adds light (hence the term “additive color”), and the resulting combinations are brighter. For example, white is the result of combining equal amounts of all three primaries.
The RGB secondary colors created by adding light turn out to be good primary colors for mixed pigments with subtracting light.
Color is displayed by pigments, such as inks and paint, absorbing some wavelengths of light and reflecting the rest. When pigments are mixed, they drink the color combination and remember less. As a result, combining pigments produces a darker color. This is known as subtractive color-mixing because mixing pigments subtract wavelengths from the reflected light.