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Why don’t my printer colors match my monitor? Why doesn’t my TV have a yellow adjustment? Welcome to the confusing world of what makes color what it is. I was taught that the primary colors were red, yellow and blue and that black is the absence of color and white is the presence of all colors, were you? When I became an adult and entered the enlightened age I found out it was all lies, well maybe not lies, but at least misconceptions.  As it turns out the red, yellow and blue thing was true for most of the applications that I use, such as paint, but in that theory, also known as subtractive color theory, white is the lack of color, not the presence of all color. Subtractive color is the theory that applies to paint, plastic and die and most opaque finishes.

Primary Colors Blog 4-11

Now light theory, the one used for TV, video, monitors has another set of primaries and it is called additive color theory because all color ads up to equal white. Ha! That is the one they tried to pass off as subtractive color theory in grade school. Light color theory primaries are red, green and blue, note that it does not include yellow that is why you can’t find a yellow adjustment on your TV.


Now I will throw in another confusing set of primaries, printing uses four primaries, CYMK or to the layman they are C for Cyan (a blue green), Y for Yellow and M is for Magenta (a blue cast red) and K is for Black. Notice I stuck that K in there to confuse you? In printing K indicated the key plate or the black plate as basic printing has a plate for each color. Printing primaries are also subtractive color theory but are complements of Additive color theory, Red, Green and Blue.


Armed with this knowledge you can see (maybe not so easily) why you can’t match a magazine photo to a paint color, a picture on your computer screen to your printer or any combination of theories you may encounter. The technology is getting better each day so there is hope, hopefully understanding the basics will help you show off the next time you visit a paint store and explain to the person standing next to you at the paint chip display what makes those beautiful colors.


~This post inspired/contributed by ColorGuild. ColorGuild, the global paint and color authority, is a member based organization serves as a definitive resource on color and coatings.  As a member of ColorGuild, we welcome their contributions and appreciate their opinions.






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