digital process assessment 2- colour mixing

Compare and contrast how colour is mixed for media such as paper and canvas with how colour is created in digital media. 

Colour mixing is very different on paper and in digital media. These 2 ways are called subtractive and additive based on how the colour is presented to the eye.

Subtractive colour

Traditionally colour was mixed and used by artists using paints, dyes or inks etc. They used 3 colours red, blue and yellow, the primary colours, from which one could mix all other colours by adding them together in different amounts (Francisco Asensio Cerver, 2009) pp25-31. One started with a white surface e.g. a paper or canvas, the more colour added the darker it got til it ended up black if all 3 were used. (Moran, 2008) (Ford, 1998). Combining one of these subtractive primary colours with another one results in the secondaries, green, purple or orange. (Coffin, 2011) (Birn, 2006) p214


A printer uses 3 primary colours Cyan,  Magenta and Yellow and also Black which is a truer black than the mix of the 3 primaries. Hence the initials of CMYK used to describe the colours used in a printer, K being for Black. (, 1996) (Birn, 2006) p215

This way of mixing colour is called subtractive because it describes the way we see colour. Subtractive colour mixing occurs when light is reflected off a surface or is filtered through a translucent object.(, 1996)


As  Newton discovered in his experiment of shining a beam of white light through a prism- white light is made up of a rainbow of colours of differing wavelengths. (Harvey) (Foster, Edr: Viv, 2004) p10. When seeing colour on a  coloured surface what we actually see is the remainder of the white light reflected off the coloured surface with all of the colours absorbed or subtracted except for the one which we see. (Foster, Edr: Viv, 2004) p10

Additive colour

On the screen and with stage lights, colour from light  works in the opposite way. The basic 3 colours or primaries are red, blue and green. The initials RGB — red, green, blue —refer to colour for “screen” work. (Coffin, 2011) The more colours added the lighter it gets, finally resulting in white when all 3 are added together. (Ford, 1998).  This is called additive.  (Birn, 2006) p214

Starting with a black background colours are added until white results like shining a rainbow the reverse way though Newtons prism and getting the original white beam.  It makes sense by remembering that the absence of all light is black so adding lights of different colours adds more light til you get white. (, 1996)


Combining one of these additive primary colours with another results in the secondary colours of cyan, magenta and yellow.

Hue, Saturation and Value refer to the properties of colour. Hue is the actual colour eg red or blue, saturation is the strength or purity of the colour, eg can be seen as more or less grey in the colour. Value is  brightness or darkness.  HSV, HSB and HSL are ways to pick colours in an image editor, HSV is Hue, Saturation and Value. HSB has B for Brightness instead of V  HSL similarly has L for Lightness. (Coffin, 2011) (Birn, 2006) p216

Subtractive and additive are the 2 different ways colour is mixed for paper and screen.

(NB the word count is within the acceptable amount if you do not count the references or bibliography etc)


Birn, J. (2006). Digital Lighting and Rendering 2nd Edition. Berkeley CA: New Riders.

Coffin, D. (2011, December 22). Understanding Color Theory. Retrieved April 09, 2012, from Practical eCommerce: Insights for Colour Merchants: <; (1996). Additive and Subtractive Color Mixing. Retrieved April 10, 2012, from <;

Ford, J. L. (1998). Colour Systems. Retrieved April 10, 2012, from Worqx: <;

Foster, Edr: Viv. (2004). Colour Matching Handbook. London: Quantum PublishingLtd.

Francisco Asensio Cerver, I. D. (2009). Mastering the Art of Painting. Konigswinter Germany: H F Ullmann.

Harvey, M. (n.d.). Color Mixing. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from University of Minnesota Duluth : <;

Krech, L. (2010, January 22). Color Theory Basics – Additive and Subtractive Color Mixing. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from Light Cue 23: <;

Moran, R. (2008, September 07). Modality. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from Beyond Real Time, the Impact of Science & Technology on Civilisation: <;