Colour Theory: Additive and Subtractive

colour theory in design and animation brisbane

Additive and Subtractive Colours

Colour theory is the notion which creates a logical structure for colour. Sir Isaac Newton began colour theory back in the 1600’s when he first uncovered an understanding of the rainbow and its structure. Ever since this discovery, many others have further developed colour theory. An understanding of colour theory can not only help an aspiring designer evolve into a great artist, but also help anyone with everyday life. This article will explore the basics of colour theory which is considered as a standard dogma not only within the artistic world but also in the digital world.

For most people, they would have been taught traditional colour theory as a child with the basis of primary, secondary, and tertiary colours. Primary colours are the only colours that cannot be made from any other colour combinations but all colours are derived from the primary colours. After the primary colours are the secondary colours which are created from combining two of the primary colours. Then following these are the tertiary colours which are created from three primary or secondary colours. This is the basis of colour theory.

In the modern digital world, this traditional colour system is adapted to the CMYK colour system used in printing. CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. This colour system is what we call subtractive meaning that the colour begins with white and ends with black. The more colour is added to the original, the darker it gets. Try mixing paint colours and you will see this happen.

As opposed to this structure is the RGB colour system that computer screens use. RGB stands for red, green, and blue. When the human eye looks at the screen, the colours are created using an additive colour method. Additive colours begin with black and end in white; the more colour you add, the lighter the colour gets. Have a look at the colour information in photoshop and you will notice that they all have a value from 0 to 255 in the RGB colours. The higher the number, the lighter the colour becomes.

Thus, basic colour theory has adapted with the modern digital world by differentiating colours into adaptive and subtractive systems. By understanding the RGB and CMYK colours, we are able to effectively work within the digital world but also within the artistic realm.

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