Color systems (additive and subtractive)

  • Available color systems are dependent on the medium with which a designer is working. When painting, an artist has a variety of paints to choose from, and mixed colors are achieved through the subtractive color method. When a designer is utilizing the computer to generate digital media, colors are achieved with the additive color method.

    Subtractive Color.

    When we mix colors using paint, or through the printing process, we are using the subtractive color method. Subtractive color mixing means that one begins with white and ends with black; as one adds color, the result gets darker and tends to black.

    CMYK is a subtractive color system
    The CMYK color system is the color system used for printing.

    Painter color wheel
    Those colors used in painting—an example of the subtractive color method.

    Additive Color.

    If we are working on a computer, the colors we see on the screen are created with light using the additive color method. Additive color mixing begins with black and ends with white; as more color is added, the result is lighter and tends to white.

    RGB is an additive color system
    The RGB colors are light primaries and colors are created with light.

    RGB color wheel

    Percentages of red, green, & blue light are used to generate color on a computer screen.l