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Are there other colors like magenta?

Are there other colors like magenta?

Magenta is a color that does not appear in the visible spectrum of light. Unlike other common colors like red, green, and blue, magenta is not found in the rainbow. This leads many to wonder: if magenta is not found in nature, are there other “imaginary” colors like it? In this article, we will explore the science and perception behind magenta, look at other non-spectral colors similar to it, and investigate why we see colors that don’t exist in light.

What is Magenta?

Magenta is what we see when our eyes take in light wavelengths for red and blue, but not green. It is an extra-spectral color, meaning it exists outside of the visible spectrum of electromagnetic radiation that includes all the rainbow colors.

Sir Isaac Newton first revealed the visible spectrum in 1666 when he used a prism to split sunlight into the rainbow range of colors from red to violet. What Newton’s light spectrum shows is that magenta is not found at any single wavelength.

Instead, magenta appears when our eyes see red and blue light together, but no green. The brain processes these two wavelengths as the imaginary color magenta. For example, an LED screen can create the color magenta by lighting up only the red and blue pixels, but not the green.

So in summary, magenta is a non-spectral color perceived when the eye sees red and blue combined, but no green light. This makes it quite unique compared to other common colors.

How Do We See Magenta?

To understand how magenta is perceived, we need to know a little about the cones in our eyes that detect color. There are three types of cones that each responds to different wavelengths of light:

  • S cones – Respond to short blue light wavelengths
  • M cones – Respond to medium green light wavelengths
  • L cones – Respond to long red light wavelengths

When red and blue light enters our eyes, it stimulates the L and S cones but not the M cones. The brain then combines these red and blue signals into the perception of magenta. This mixing of signals from opposite ends of the visible spectrum is called non-spectral color perception.

Essentially, magenta is the brain’s interpretation when seeing highly stimulating red and blue cones, but inactive green cones. This makes magenta a color that only exists in our minds!

Other Non-Spectral Colors Like Magenta

Magenta is not the only imaginary color created by our brains this way. Other non-spectral colors include:

Stygian Blue

Stygian blue is the color we perceive when the S cones are highly stimulated by blue light, but the L and M cones detect no red or green light. It is like a pure blue with no traces of other colors.

Electric Purple

Electric purple is seen when the red and blue cones are stimulated, but blue more than red. This makes it a bluish-purple hue.

Hyperbolic Orange

Hyperbolic orange occurs when the red and green cones are active with red more strongly perceived than green. This makes a reddish-orange color.

Unnamed Red/Green

There is evidence that some women with four cone types may see a new color when only red and green cones are stimulated. This may produce a red-green imaginary hue. However, most humans can never experience this color.

So in addition to magenta, these other color combinations arise entirely in our visual system. They help reveal the subjectivity of human color perception.

Why Do We See Colors That Aren’t Real?

If magenta and these other colors don’t exist in light, why do we see them? The leading theory is that it enhances how we perceive information.

Having extra colors beyond those in the light spectrum expands the palette of hues usable by our brains. This helps us interpret complex scenes and patterns for survival needs. Seeing imaginary colors may also aid creativity and abstract thought.

So while magenta and other non-spectral colors are an illusion, they serve a purpose. Our brains construct them automatically to open up new realms of visual experience. They reveal how intricate and subjective human color vision really is.

Examples of Magenta in Nature and Culture

While magenta itself is not found in the rainbow, examples of magenta in the natural and human worlds do exist. Here are some cases where the eyes perceive magenta from red + blue light combinations:

Sunsets and Sunrises

During sunset and sunrise, the scattering of sunlight can create vivid red + blue mixes that appear magenta. These intense dusk and dawn colors inspired the common phrase “magenta skies”.

Purple Flowers

Many purple flowers contain red anthocyanin and blue anthocyanidin pigments. These create a magenta or purplish appearance when together. Examples include fuchsias, petunias, and morning glories.

Purple Membrane Proteins

Certain membrane proteins in bacteria absorb red and blue-green light, giving a purplish-magenta hue. These are known as bacteriorhodopsins and can convert light energy during photosynthesis.

Magenta Dye and Paint

Synthetic magenta dyes and paints are manufactured with mixtures of blue and red pigments. This approximates the imaginary magenta color. Magenta ink is a primary color in CMYK printing alongside cyan, yellow and black.

Magenta Images and Visual Media

Because magenta is easy to produce on screens and prints, it is widely used for images and in visual media. From magenta graphic designs to LED magenta lights, this memorable color attracts attention.

So while not spectral, magenta expresses itself through ingenious tricks of color combination. This makes magenta a prevalent part of how humans engineer and create color.

Magenta and Color Vision Deficiencies

An interesting fact about magenta is that it often looks quite different to people with common types of color vision deficiencies:

Magenta and Protanopia

For those with protanopia (red color blindness), magenta can take on a blue-green hue. This is because they cannot perceive the red portion of magenta light.

Magenta and Deuteranopia

People with deuteranopia (green color blindness) have a reduced green cone response. For them, magenta may look more vivid and saturated compared to people with normal vision.

Magenta and Tritanopia

With tritanopia (blue color blindness), the blue cone is missing. This can make magenta look more reddish or pink since no blue is seen.

So magenta appears differently depending on what cone vision is missing. This shows the subjective nature of this imaginary color.

Magenta Color Codes

To reproduce the magenta color in digital or print formats, color codes are used. The main magenta color codes include:

RGB Code

In the RGB color model, the code for magenta is R: 255, G: 0, B: 255. This means full red + full blue light, with no green.

HEX Code

The HEX code to produce magenta on web sites and designs is #FF00FF. This is the same ratio of full red and full blue as the RGB code.


In the CMYK printing system, magenta is one of the main subtractive primary colors alongside cyan and yellow. No black is needed to make magenta.

Pantone Code

In the Pantone Matching System for printing, the Pantone code for vivid magenta is Pantone Process Magenta C.

Lab Color Space

In the Lab color model, magenta is defined by the coordinates L: 60, a: 120, b: -60.

These color codes allow precise magenta reproduction on displays and paper. They help standardize this imaginary color.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common FAQs about the color magenta:

Is magenta a primary color?

Magenta is considered a primary color in subtractive color systems like CMYK printing. It is needed along with cyan and yellow to produce most colors by absorption/filtering of light. However, magenta is not a primary color in the additive RGB system of light emission.

Why is magenta considered imaginary?

Magenta is not found at any single wavelength in the visible light spectrum. It is extra-spectral, only appearing when the eye sees red and blue combined. This makes magenta a color constructed by the brain and not objectively real like most spectral colors.

What colors make magenta?

Magenta is specifically what we see when our eyes take in a lot of long-wavelength red light and short-wavelength blue light simultaneously, but no or weak medium-wavelength green light. It is the absence of green stimulation that allows the red + blue signals to result in the perception of magenta.

What color is opposite of magenta?

The direct complementary color of magenta on the color wheel is green. When placed next to magenta, green appears brighter while magenta looks more muted. Combining green light with magenta subtractively in printing produces a neutral black or gray.

Why is magenta used for printing?

Along with cyan and yellow, magenta allows full-color printing by absorption of light. Magenta inks subtract green light while cyans subtracts red and yellow subtracts blue. This approximates all colors by layering these primary subtractive inks on paper.


In summary, magenta is a remarkable imaginary color created by the visual system. While not spectral, seeing magenta and related reddish-purples expands human color vision. Magenta also has a strong cultural presence despite being extra-spectral. Understanding the science behind magenta provides insight into how color vision works to construct useful perceptions from light. So while a fantasy color, magenta has real importance in human sight, science and culture.