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Color Systems

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I am proud to introduce you to my dear Brazilian friend, Ana Lúcia Heringer. She is a singer, artist and author. Her practical knowledge about color was obtained during a period of more than eight years devoted to the manufacture of silk dyes. Through much study and research pertaining to silk dyes, her curiosity regarding color blossomed into an abundance of knowledge. Her book entitled "Da Teoria à Prática Da Cor" or "Color - From Theory to Practice" will be published in both Portuguese and English.

Ana Lúcia Heringer

The Experiment Of Young/Helmholtz

This experiment, above, was the one which allowed us to have a complete understanding on how color works. The so called ‘Young/Hemholtz theory’ states that an infinite number of colors could not be perceived by an infinite number of receivers in our eyes because they simply would not fit in the retina. It concluded that the colors would have to be derived from a small number of receptors.

Through rigorous scientific studies they proved that, in fact, the three primary colors of light are Red, Blue and Green and, also, that are only three types of color receivers in our eyes and that they are sensible only to the these three primary colors of the light.

Lets see how this experiment was done:

·Three filters, colored in Red, Blue and Green, were placed in front of three reflectors of white light.
·The next step was to project these lights onto a black and opaque screen.
·The mixture of Green and Blue light on the screen creat Cyan (C).
·The mixture of Red with Blue resulted in Magenta (M).
·The Yellow (Y) was the resultant color of the mixture of Red and Green.
·In the center of the three circles, a star was formed where the three secondary colors (CMY) colors overlapped. White light was recomposed within the star.

For the first time in the history of mankind it was discovered that colors are created from their own substance: light. For many centuries the great mystery of color perception was studied and searched, intensely. Today, after the Young/Helmohltz experiment was made, it is known that all colors are mixed and created inside of our heads through the stimulation of the receptors inside our eyes.


The studies of Young and Helmholtz proved the following:

- The primary colors of light are RED, GREEN and BLUE.
- The secondary colors of light are the YELLOW, MAGENTA and CYAN. They are considered secondary because each one of them is formed by mixtures of two primary colors (Red, Green and the Blue). They are lighter than the colors that created them.

These colors (primary and secondary) of light received the name ADDITIVES because when mixed, when added one to the other, they create lighter colors. Additive colors are made of light. They are color we can not touch, we can not use, because they are not material, on the contrary, they are un-material. I know it is not easy to understand the concept of a color made of light, so, lets imagine a rainbow. We all know that a rainbow is made of the seven main colors of light. Now lets imagine that we are very near to this rainbow, so near that we can touch it with our hands. Can we pick our favorite color out of this rainbow? Can we pick the red and yellow of the rainbow to make an Orange color? Certainly, not. We can not hold them in our hands because they exist only in our brains (remember chapter one?).

The most incredible aspect of this system created by Young/Helmholtz is the simplicity it has. It is based only and exclusively on the facts of light and its respective ocular receptors in the human eye: the Red, Green and Blue receptors and nothing else! The unequally stimulation of our receptors, creating our perception of a color and allowing our brains to perceive all the possible and imaginable colors that enter the eye.

After this important discovery, two basic systems of color mixing were instituted. They are:

RGB System (Red, Green and Blue): All color TV and monitors of computers in the world are based on the RGB system (the mixture of colors of light).

CMYK system (Cyan - Magenta - Yellow – Black): This system is used world wide by printers and copy machines. This is a man made system. It recreates, mechanically, all possible and imaginable colors. It is a physical imitation of the natural color phenomenon that is light.

Author: Ana Lúcia Heringer
Editor: Jim Stevens

More Tips:
Introduction Page | Optical Mixing | Translucent Water | Color Contrasts
Technical Tips | Hue, Value, Intensity, Color Temperature | Composition
Red Power | Keeping Acrylics Moist | Brush Care | Book Excerpt

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