Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Colors

Color Wheel Primary & Secondary ColorsWhat are primary, secondary and tertiary colors when mixing paint (RYB Color Theory)? plus also looking into the RGB and CMYK color models.

What are the primary colors?

There is some confusion about which colors are the three main primary colors. Is Green a primary color, or is it Yellow?

Primary Colors (Light/Additive RGB)RGB Primary & Secondary Colors

It’s an interesting fact that the human eye can actually only detect the three main primary colors when it comes to light, these primary colors are Red, Green and Blue (RGB). Our television sets, monitors and mobile color devices display color using, Red, Green and Blue as the primary colors. These primary colors differ when it comes to paint and ink. With colors when using light/additive color you create yellow when combining red and green.

With Additive color, white is created by combining the primary colors, and black is the result of the absence of color. See how our brain and eyes interpret color for related info.

Primary Colors (Pigment/Subtractive RYB)RYB Primary Colors

The three subtractive primary colors when mixing paint is Red, Yellow and Blue. All other colors are created out of a mixture of these three primary colors. The RYB primary color model is used as the standard in art classes and education in general. With paint you create green by mixing blue and yellow.

Black is created by mixing the primary colors, and this time the color white is the result of the absence of color.

Secondary Colors (RYB)

There are also three secondary colors, these are Orange, Purple and Green. These colors are created by combining two of the three primary colors.

  • Blue & Yellow = Green
  • Yellow & Red = Orange
  • Red & Blue = Purple

Tertiary Colors (RYB)

Tertiary colors are created by mixing one primary color and its most similar secondary color, which results in a variation of the two colors.

There are six tertiary colors.

  • Blue & Green = Blue/Green (Turquoise/ Cyan)
  • Red & Orange = Red/Orange (Vermilion)
  • Yellow & Orange = Yellow/Orange (Amber)
  • Red & Purple = Red/Purple (Magenta)
  • Blue & Purple = Blue/Purple (Violet)
  • Yellow & Green = Yellow/Green (Chartreuse/ Lime Green)

CMYK Color Model (Subtractive)CMY Primary Color Model

Cyan, Magenta and Yellow are the primary colors used in printers. All other colors can be created from the (CMYK) model. Black can be created by combining cyan, magenta and yellow, however achieving black by mixing these colors is inefficient, and it’s actually difficult to achieve true black using this method. This is where the K comes in, the K stands for black.

CMYK Secondary Colors

  • Red
  • Green
  • Blue

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