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Subtractive color

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There are 2 ways to create color:

additive model/RGB:

Make new colors by adding beams of light

RGB: red, green, blue

subtractive model/CMYK:

Making new colors by adding pigments (dyes, inks, paints)

CMYK: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black

This lesson is on the subtractive color model.

Additive and Subtractive primary colors

Paints/inks/dyes contain pigments, molecules that absorb some frequencies of light, but not others.

When paints/inks/dyes are mixed, the mixture absorbs all the frequencies that each individual one absorbs.


Blue paint absorbs red, orange, and yellow light. It reflects the rest (blue, violet, some green)

Yellow paint absorbs blue & violent. It reflects mostly yellow, and some red, orange, and green.

Images by Paul Hewitt

Subtractive When blue and yellow paints are mixed Hewitt

Mixing colored light is called color mixing by addition.
When you cast lights on a stage, you use the rules of color addition, but when you mix paint, you use the rules of color subtraction.

The three colors most useful in color mixing by subtraction are:
• magenta (bluish red)
• yellow
• cyan (greenish blue)

Magenta, yellow, and cyan are the subtractive primary colors, used in printing illustrations in full color.


Color printing is done on a press that prints each page with four differently colored inks (magenta, yellow, cyan, and black).

• Each color of ink comes from a different plate, which transfers the ink to the paper.

• The ink deposits are regulated on different parts of the plate by tiny dots.

• The overlapping dots of three colors plus black give the appearance of many colors.


SlideShare on Color and Light

Learning Standards

SAT subject test in Physics: Waves and optics
• Physical optics, such as single-slit diffraction, double-slit interference, polarization, and color.

Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Framework: The Practice Of Creating
PreK- 4 Visual Arts Standards – Identify primary and secondary colors; predict and demonstrate the effects of blending or overlapping primary colors; demonstrate knowledge of making dark to light values of colors. Identify and use basic two-dimensional hollow and solid geometric shapes (circle, triangle, square, rectangle) and three-dimensional forms (sphere, pyramid, cube).

Grades 5-8 Visual Arts Standards – Create compositions that reflect knowledge of the elements and principles of art, i.e., line, color, form, texture; balance, repetition, rhythm, scale, and proportion. Demonstrate the ability to apply elements and principles of art to graphic, textile, product, and architectural design.

Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Framework
The Arts Disciplines: Visual Arts
PreK–12 STANDARD 2: Elements and Principles of Design

By the end of Grade 4: 2.1 Students will, for color, explore and experiment with the use of color in dry and wet media Identify primary and secondary colors and gradations of black, white and gray in the environment and artwork.
By the end of Grade 8: 2.7 Students will, for color, use and be able to identify hues, values, intermediate shades, tints, tones, complementary, analogous, and monochromatic colors. Demonstrate awareness of color by painting objective studies from life and freeform
abstractions that employ relative properties of color.

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