What is a primary color? What about black and white?

Colors affect our mood and can even help us feel more at ease. In many cultures, colors have a special meaning. Your favorite color also says a lot about your personality. Colors are essential in our lives because they relate to light. What is color and what is not? What is a primary color? What is meant by subtractive or additive light? And finally, are black and white colors strictly speaking?

What is a primary color?

There are three basic colors in painting and other visual arts: red, blue and yellow. They are also called primary colors because they cannot be created from other colors. Primary colors form the basis of color theory and color mixing in art, as these three colors are the building blocks from which most other colors can be created.

In paint, the primary color designation includes the three color families red, blue, and yellow. The term “red” is therefore only the portmanteau term for the entire red color spectrum, which consists of many red hues. The same applies to the designations “blue” and “yellow”. Conversely, it also means that the mixture of two primary colors can be very different depending on the colors chosen. Ultimately, these secondary colors also have a color spectrum with different hues.

Primary colors and the color wheel

The three primary colors form the center points of the color wheel. Secondary colors are created by mixing two of the primary colors. A primary color mixed with the neighboring secondary color gives a tertiary color.

Primary colors and color mixtures

If you mix different shades of two primary colors together, you get different secondary colors. For example, if you mix a red of a certain hue with a yellow of a singular hue, the exact hue of the orange secondary color will not be the same as if you choose another hue of red and yellow. The quantities of the starting colors are also important in each mixture. Half the proportions are needed for a balanced mixture.

Subtractive vs Additive Primary Colors

The primary colors of painting are subtractive. In other words, they absorb (subtract) light from the visible spectrum and reflect the color we actually see. Accordingly, black signifies the absence of all spectral colors. If you mix the three primary colors together, the result is a dark brown, near-black color because so much of the light in the visible spectrum is absorbed.

The effect of a primary color can also be weakened or neutralized by mixing it with its complementary color, since this complementary color is a combination of the other two primary colors. Color primaries are different from light primaries. This is called additive color mixing. In simple terms, this means: the more colors of light added to a ray of light, the closer it comes to pure white light.

Why are black and white not really colors?

Colors are created by light: light is made up of electromagnetic waves. If these strike an object, they will be partially absorbed, and partially reflected, that is to say rejected. A yellow car reflects yellow light, a red flower red light. This is why we perceive them as yellow or red. But that only works because white light contains all colors. The trick with the prism: If white light hits a prism, the entire color spectrum contained therein becomes visible. From red to orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Water drops work the same way.

Therefore, when sunlight hits a rain wall, we see a rainbow. Conversely, black swallows all the light. Usually black things aren’t 100% black. The black velvet swallows most of the light. White returns all light: even walls, sheets or white shirts are never 100% white. Fresh snow reflects a lot of light, which is why it looks crisp white. We now know why black and white are not considered colors in physics. Nevertheless, in everyday life, we can talk about white as a fashionable color or black as a color of mourning.

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