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Subtractive color facts for kids

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CMY subtractive color mixing

Subtractive color, or "subtractive color mixing", helps to understand what will be the color of light bounced off paper covered with some layers of inks or dyes.

This model is the principle of how dyes and inks are used in color printing and photography printing. When the perceived color is obtained after white light passes through microscopic layers of ink or dye allowing some wavelengths of light to reach the eye, but not others.

CMY and CMYK color models and printing processes

In color printing, the usual primary colors are cyan, magenta and yellow (CMY).

Cyan is the complement of red. So, the cyan is a filter that does not allow red color through. The amount of cyan ink put on a white sheet of paper controls how much of the red (in white light) will be reflected back from the paper. Magenta is the complement of green (does not pass it), and yellow is the complement of blue (does not pass it). Combinations of different amounts of the three hues can produce a wide range of colors.

In inkjet color printing and typical mass production printing processes, a black ink called K (Key) component is also used, called CMYK color model.


Farbkreis Itten 1961 RYB labelled
RYB color mixing

RYB (red, yellow, blue) is an older standard set of subtractive primary colors used for mixing pigments. It is used in art, particularly in painting.

Red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors of the RYB color "wheel". Their secondary colors are violet (or purple), orange, and green (VOG).

Related pages

  • Stanford University CS 178 interactive Flash demo comparing additive and subtractive color mixing.

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