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What is Color?

Color is light. The red you see coming from a stop sign looks red because the pigment in the paint reflects that particular color while the rest of the colors in the spectrum are absorbed. White light consists of all the colors. This fact is demonstrated when a prism is held up to the sunlight. It is seen that different colors are separated into the color spectrum. The prism actually bends the waves of the different colors of light.

What are primary and secondary colors?

Primary colors are the colors that can be used to make all other colors, and that the primary colors can not be made by mixing any colors. Secondary colors lie between the two primary colors.

What Are Complementary Colors?

A pair of colors which can be additively combined to produce white light are called complementary colors, because together they complete the spectrum.

The blue we use as an additive primary color contains light from one-third of the spectrum. Yellow contains the light from the remaining two-thirds of the spectrum (red+green).

When blue and yellow light are added together, they produce white light. So one pair of complementary colors is blue and yellow. Another pair is green and magenta. Another is red and cyan. When complementary colors are combined subtractively, in equal amounts, they produce neutral grey colors, or black.

If a medium-value, medium-chroma red ink is printed over a medium-value, medium-chroma cyan ink, the result will be a grey.

It is easily seen on the color wheel that the complementary color pairs are directly opposite each other on the wheel. That relationship holds true for other colors than the ones shown. For example, orange lies between red and yellow on the color wheel. It's complement would be a cyan-blue color on the opposite side of the wheel. The complement to a green-cyan color would be a magenta-red color.

It is thought that red and green were complementary. They aren't. There's no red color of light that can be added to any green light to produce white light. And there's no red paint that can be mixed with any green paint to produce a neutral grey. Many people think complementary colors are so called because they look well together. Complementary colors are often combined to produce a pleasing effect. But they're called complementary because they complete the spectrum.


Hue is the most obvious characteristic of a color. There is really an infinite number of possible hues. A full range of hues exists, for example, between red and yellow. In the middle of that range are all the orange hues. Similarly, there is a range of hues between any other two hues. The color wheel shows each of the six colors with medium value, and relatively high chroma.


These scales show red, magenta and blue hues in a range of chromas, all with medium value.

Chroma is the purity of a color. High chroma colors look rich and full. Low chroma colors look dull and grayish. Sometimes chroma is called saturation.


These scales shows low chroma red, magenta and blue, in a range of values.

Value is the lightness or darkness of a color. Sometimes light colors are called tints, and dark colors are called shades. All high chroma colors must necessarily be medium in value (when created by subtractive color mixture).