Most of us take color for granted. Have you ever stopped to consider the effect of color in your life? What it means? Where it comes from? What life would be like without color?
In a scientific sense, color is our visual interpretation of how light reflects off of surfaces. Color is that portion of the visible spectrum of light that is reflected back from a surface. All surfaces absorb some light. Black surfaces absorb all light (which is why a black car gets so much hotter than a white one in the summer). White surfaces reflect all light. If you see a red vase, every color except red has been absorbed by the vase and only red is reflected back to your eye.
The nature of color was first discovered by Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), the English physicist, mathematician and natural philosopher. While Newton is best known for the story of the apple that prompted his theory of gravity, he was also a pioneering scientist in the field of optics. Newton found — among other things — that when white light passes through a prism, it breaks into the colors of the spectrum (or rainbow): red, orange, yellow, green, blue (light), indigo (dark blue) and violet (purple), and that a second prism would recombine the spectrum colors into white light.
Thomas Young (1773 – 1829), known as the founder of physiological optics, discovered that color perception happens within the retina of the eye thanks to three kinds of nerve fibres that respond to red, green and blue light. These three colors are combined in the brain into the millions of colors the human eye can distinguish.
The additive theory of color is based on this perception of Red, Green and Blue. These three colors are considered the primary colors for digital and light-based color technology, like that used in television screens and computer monitors. In RGB color theory, red, green and blue colors formed by light combine in different ways to produce all other visible colors. When all three are combined, they make white light. The absence of light creates black.
However, RGB theory does not apply to pigment-based color such as paint or printing inks.
In pigment-based processes, the primary colors are the same ones we learned as children: Red, Yellow and Blue. This is because pigments are solid substances—not pure light—and need to be mixed to create the colors we see.
So our approach to color involves both additive RGB theory (which is how we see) and subtractive RYB (which is how we mix actual paint color) to develop color schemes.