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Difference between Additive Colors and Subtractive Colors

Difference between Additive Colors and Subtractive Colors

If you’re a designer, it is essential to know and understand the difference between additive colors and subtractive colors. Understanding these concepts can help you make informed decisions on how to use color in your design work. Additive colors are created by adding light while subtractive colors are produced by reflecting light off an object’s surface or absorbing certain wavelengths of light. The differences between additive and subtractive colors can be quite confusing if not explained properly, so let’s dive in together to better understand and gain knowledge of this fascinating topic!

What are Additive Colors?

Additive colors are a method of combining colors that is based on their reflective properties. By combining various amounts of three primary colors – red, green, and blue – Additive Colors are able to create an array of other hues. Additive color theory is used to mix light and produce vibrant colors on screens in television, computer monitors, and other digital displays.

Did you know that Additive Colors is the reason why these displays look brighter than printed material? As the light emitted from these displays combines with Additive Colors, the images become sharper and more saturated! From digital movies to 3D gaming effects, Additive Colors continues to be a driving force behind advancing technologies.

What are Subtractive Colors?

Subtractive Colors, also known as CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) are the three shades or primary colors used in art and design.

  • Subtractive Colors produce various hues of color by removing natural white light when used in combination to form popular secondary and tertiary colors.
  • Subtractive Colors are mainly used to create fascinating prints, especially in printing posters and booklets as they represent a ‘subtraction’ of the source or ‘lighter’ shade within the Additive Color spectrum.
  • Subtractive Color theory is often applied to fabric dyeing, where different colored fiber creates an array of creative designs depending on the shades and their combination.

Subtractive Colors are a wonderful gift to artists, allowing them to experiment with vibrant hues and tints to bring life into everyday creations.

Difference between Additive Colors and Subtractive Colors

Additive Colors and Subtractive Colors may be similar sounding, but understanding how they differ can improve any artist’s painting or photography.

  • Additive colors are used when the subject is lit from within, such as a digital display like those found on a laptop or cellphone. It combines red, green, and blue light waves to create almost any color in the spectrum.
  • Meanwhile, subtractive colors are used in environments where the surrounding light is already present; this means an artist would use mediums such as paint or charcoal.

Here, the removal of wavelengths – usually yellow, magenta and cyan – forms the specific pigments needed to mix and paint a great masterpiece. Knowing when to use Additive Colors versus Subtractive Colors makes all the difference while creating art!


It is important to understand the difference between additive and subtractive colors in order to create the desired color tones for your project. Additive colors are created by mixing light together, while subtractive colors are achieved by starting with white light and then absorbing some of the wavelengths. By understanding how each type of color works, you can more effectively control the hues and tones in your final product.

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