There are two main types of color mixing: additive color mixing and subtractive color mixing. Subtractive color mixing is creating a new color by the removal of wavelengths from a light with a broad spectrum of wavelengths. Subtractive color mixing occurs when we mix paints, dyes or pigments. When we mix paints, both paints still absorb all of the wavelengths they did previously, so what we are left with is only the wavelengths that both paints reflect. It is called subtractive because when the paints mix, wavelengths are deleted from what we see because each paint will absorb some wavelengths that the other paint reflects, thus leaving us with a lesser number of wavelengths remaining afterward.
Use this activity to explore subtractive color mixing and its various properties.
To see the illustration in full screen, which is recommended, press the Full Screen button, which appears at the top of the page.
Below is a list of the ways that you can alter the illustration. The settings include the following:
Screen Area: click on one of the primaries to move it around. Mixing only
occurs where primary circles overlap.
Primaries: control the intensity of each of the primaries: red, green and blue for additive, and cyan, magenta and yellow for Subtractive.
Background: If you are doing subtractive color mixing, then you can only subtract wavelengths that are present. In this illustration, this is shown by the background color. Change the background color, and see how that alters the colors you can create with subtractive color mixing.
Reset Positions: returns the primary circles to their original position.
Pressing this button restores the settings to their default values.