Subtractive Color

CMYK

A subtractive color model explains the mixing of paints, dyes, inks, and natural colorants to create a full range of colors, each caused by subtracting (that is, absorbing) some wavelengths of light and reflecting the others. The color that a surface displays depends on which colors of the electromagnetic spectrum are reflected by it and therefore made visible.

Subtractive color systems start with light, presumably white light. Next, colored inks, paints, or filters between the viewer and the light source subtract wavelengths from the light, giving it color. If the incident light is other than white, our visual mechanisms are able to compensate well, but not perfectly, often giving a flawed impression of the ‘true’ color of the surface. Conversely, additive color systems start without light (black). Light sources of various wavelengths combine to make a color. Often, three primary colors are combined to stimulate humans’ trichromatic color vision, sensed by the three types of cone cells in the eye, giving an apparently full range.

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