Subtractive primaries

Media that use reflected light and colorants to produce colors are using the subtractive color method of color mixing. In the printing industry, to produce the varying colors, apply the subtractive primaries yellow, cyan, and magenta together in varying amounts. Subtractive color works best when the surface (or paper) is white, or close to it.

Subtractive color mixingMixing yellow and cyan produces shades of green; mixing yellow with magenta produces shades of red, and mixing magenta with cyan produces shades of blue. In theory, mixing equal amounts of all three pigments should produce shades of grey, resulting in black when all three are fully saturated, but in practice they tend to produce muddy brown colors. For this reason, a fourth "primary" pigment, black, is often used in addition to the cyan, magenta, and yellow colors. The color space generated is the so-called CMYK color space. (standing for "Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black - K is used to represent black as 'B' could be confused with 'Blue'").

In practice, mixtures of actual materials like paint tend to be less precise. Brighter, or more specific colors can be created using natural pigments instead of mixing, and natural properties of pigments can interfere with the mixing. For example, mixing magenta and green in acrylic creates a dark cyan - something which would not happen if the mixing process were perfectly subtractive. In the subtractive model, adding white to a color does not change its hue but does reduce its saturation.

For a more detailed and extensive treatment of color, see color. See printing


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