Color System : Additive and Subtractive (Part 1)

Color System : Additive and Subtractive (Part 1)

Learning level: - Basic

Learning time:- 30 minutes

Photographers take a picture and see in camera screen, laptop and desktop monitor. They edit their images in different kinds of image editing software. Manipulating hue, saturation and lightness they spend so much long time for image post-processing. They are happy with their edited images and share in social media. They feel everything is right till this point but when they print out some of their images from their home printer or from the photo lab, they couldn’t satisfy from the color level with their printed images and do complain with the photo lab. Why this happens and what is reason of this!? If you are also confused about this, I’ll try to minimize your confusion here.

The main reason of this problem is different color system used in those two different media. Yes, two different media with two different color systems. Let’s understand it.

Additive Color

The perception of Additive color system is specially developed for monitor display in different types of Analog and Digital electronics devices, such as Television, CRT monitor, LCD monitor, camera and mobile screen etc. Additive color system has three primary colors, RED, GREEN and BLUE, so this is also known as RGB Color system. The combination of equal proportion of two primary colors, RED and GREEN produces new color YELLOW, so YELLOW color is called Additive secondary color. Likewise, the combination of equal proportion of two primary colors GREEN and BLUE produces CYAN additive secondary and BLUE and RED produces MAGENTA additive secondary color. All other colors are generated mixing different proportion of three primary colors. The RGB colors are associated with color of light. Additive color mixing begins from black and ends to white because adding more color result lighter the color and tends to white. The equal proportion of RED, GREEN and BLUE mixing tends to white.

The colors we see on computer monitor and camera screen are created with light using the additive color system. CRT Television and Digital monitors are the most common examples of additive color system because those displays are illuminated with three additive primary color pixels when the power is ON. All kinds of electronic lights and sunlight associated with RGB system. Our human eyes and brain also detect the color with this color system.

Subtractive Color

The perception of Subtractive color system is specially developed for different types of printing media such as offset, inkjet and photo lab (inkjet) printing etc. Subtractive color system has three primary colors, CYAN (सायान), MAGENTA (मजेण्टा) and YELLOW. The combination of equal proportion of two primary colors, CYAN and MAGENTA produces new color BLUE, so BLUE color is called Subtractive secondary color. Likewise, the combination of equal proportion of two primary colors MAGENTA and YELLOW produces RED subtractive secondary and YELLOW and CYAN produces GREEN subtractive secondary color. All other colors are generated mixing different proportion of three primary colors. Subtractive color mixing begins from white and ends to black because adding more color result darker the color and tends to black. The equal proportion of CYAN, MAGENTA and YELLOW mixing tends to black.

Subtractive color system works mixing of a limited set of dyes or inks to create a wider range of color. In printing process, multiple color inks sprayed on the surface of different kinds of papers and other printable materials. When printing machine spray inks on any printable material, the sprayed color become visible after partially or completely subtracting (that means absorbing) certain wavelength of color. The color on the surface display depends on which parts of the visible spectrum are not absorbed and therefore remain visible. Subtractive color system is associated with absorbing and reflecting nature of color light on a paper or other printable materials. Any kinds of printing machines print a paper using subtractive primary color inks or dyes. All kinds of offset, inkjet and photo lab (inkjet) printing process are the most common examples of subtractive color system because all those printing process depends on subtractive color.

Actually subtractive color has three primary colors CYAN, MAGENTA and YELLOW (CMY) but in subtractive color printing process, a fourth color BLACK also added to make printing more realistic. Black color is symbolized by ‘K’ which stands for ‘Key’. Even mixing equal proportion of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow subtractive primary color, an actual black color in not generated. Without a total black color, only those three subtractive primaries give a brownish-black color so the black ink helps neutralize images and graphics adding density to the shadows. This way, Subtractive color system also known as CMYK color system.

Now, I think, you understood briefly, why a color of print becomes slightly different than you saw in electronic monitor. Even now, you may have confusion something else. I’ve given some other reasons on part 2.  


 

Ruman Shrestha

Ruman Shrestha

Hello! Professionally I’m photographer, Photoshoper, Illustrator and graphic designer. I had taken photography training with Photojournalism in 1996. I’m self-learned Photoshoper and Illustrator. I'm fully freelancer. I love to learn new tools of Photoshop and Illustrator then create various kinds of artwork and vector graphics in my free time. On long days vacation, I would like to travel and trek high-altitude area to celebrate my leisure time. I’ve deep interest in Nature photography. Landscape and Wildlife are my favorite subjects. Moreover, I like also birding and bird’s photography. I'm general member of 'Bird Conservation Nepal' too. I am the founder of TutsGallery. I’ve founded this website to share my knowledge and experience to new generation in photography. I hope, you’ll like this. If you also like to contribute such kind of knowledge and experience, I request you, start from today and contact me. Let’s enjoy photographing!

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