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Does cyan and yellow make blue?

Does cyan and yellow make blue?

When it comes to color mixing, many people wonder if combining the colors cyan and yellow will produce blue. The simple answer is no, mixing cyan and yellow actually makes green. This is because cyan and yellow are two of the three primary colors of light. When blended together, they form the third primary color, green.

The Primary Colors of Light

The primary colors of light are red, green, and blue (RGB). These three colors can be combined in different proportions to create all the colors in the visible light spectrum. Here’s a quick overview of the primary colors of light:

  • Red – The longest wavelength of visible light, around 700 nanometers.
  • Green – A medium wavelength of light, around 546 nanometers.
  • Blue – The shortest wavelength of visible light, around 435 nanometers.

When red, green, and blue light are blended together in equal amounts, they produce white light. By varying the proportions of the primaries, any color can be formed. For example:

  • Red + Blue = Magenta
  • Red + Green = Yellow
  • Green + Blue = Cyan

Where Cyan and Yellow Fit In

In the world of light physics, cyan and yellow are secondary colors. Here’s a quick explanation of each:

Cyan – Cyan is made by combining green and blue light. It sits between green and blue on the visible spectrum at a wavelength of around 490 nanometers.

Yellow – Yellow is made by combining red and green light. It sits between red and green on the spectrum at a wavelength of around 580 nanometers.

So when cyan and yellow light mix together, they form green, the third primary color. This is why combining cyan and yellow paint or ink creates green as well.

The Difference Between Light and Pigment

There is an important distinction between the primary colors of light and the primary colors of pigment. While red, green, and blue are the primary colors of light, the primaries for pigment are cyan, magenta, and yellow.

This difference occurs because pigments absorb and reflect light rather than emitting it directly. So pigments use the secondary colors of light (cyan, magenta, yellow) as their primary colors. The absorbed colors are subtracted from white light to create the visual perception of color.

Here is a comparison of the primary colors for light versus pigment:

Primary Colors of Light Primary Colors of Pigment
Red Cyan
Green Magenta
Blue Yellow

When cyan and yellow pigments are mixed, they absorb more green light and reflect back red and blue light. This creates the visual perception of a violet/blue color. So with pigments, cyan and yellow do combine to make a shade of blue.

The Science of Color Mixing

Now that we’ve explored the difference between light and pigment primaries, let’s take a more in-depth look at how cyan and yellow mix together on a scientific level.

Mixing Cyan and Yellow Light

As wavelengths of light, cyan and yellow combine additively to produce green. Here’s a visualization:

Cyan light at 490nm
+ Yellow light at 580nm
= Green light at 546nm

When these wavelengths strike our eyes, the green sensitive cones in our retinas are stimulated. Our visual cortex perceives this combination as the color green. No blue cones are activated, so we do not perceive any blue when mixing cyan and yellow light.

Mixing Cyan and Yellow Pigments

When dealing with subtractive color mixing of pigments, cyan and yellow combine to produce a dark greenish-blue. Here is the scientific explanation:

  • Cyan pigment absorbs red light and reflects green and blue.
  • Yellow pigment absorbs blue light and reflects red and green.
  • When combined, cyan and yellow pigments absorb both red and blue light, reflecting back only green.
  • But because both pigments are absorbing light, the green is darker in value.
  • Some blue light gets reflected back from the cyan pigment, mixing with the green to create a blue-green shade.

Our eyes receive this dark greenish-blue wavelength combination and our visual cortex perceives it as a variant of blue due to the subtle blue elements.

Color Mixing in Action

Seeing color mixing in action can help make these concepts more concrete. Here are some examples of blending cyan and yellow using different mediums:

Computer Display

On an RGB computer display, combining pure cyan and yellow light produces a bright green. This demonstrates the additive mixing of light primaries:

Cyan + Yellow = Green

Paint Mixing

When mixing cyan and yellow paint, a dark greenish-blue is produced. This shows subtractive color mixing of pigments:

Cyan + Yellow = Blue-Green

Light and Pigment

Comparing paint and light mixing directly shows the dramatic difference cyan and yellow make:

Cyan Light  
Yellow Light  
Green Light  
Cyan Pigment  
Yellow Pigment  

Color Mixing Concepts

The key concepts to remember about mixing cyan and yellow are:

  • As light primaries, cyan and yellow make green.
  • As pigment primaries, cyan and yellow make a blue-green.
  • This is because of the difference between additive and subtractive color mixing.
  • In both cases, no true blue is produced by combining cyan and yellow.

Understanding these fundamental color theory principles helps artists, designers, photographers, and anyone who works with color master accurate color mixing across different mediums.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does cyan and yellow make blue?

No, cyan and yellow do not combine to make pure blue. As light, they make green. As pigments, they make a blue-green or greenish-blue. But no true blue results from mixing cyan and yellow.

Why don’t cyan and yellow make blue?

Cyan and yellow are both secondary colors, containing wavelengths closer to green than blue. Their mixture stimulates the green color receptors in our eyes rather than the blue receptors. Some blue gets reflected from the cyan pigment, but not enough to be perceived as true blue.

What colors make blue?

For light, blue can be made by combining just the blue wavelength around 435nm. With pigments, you can mix cyan, magenta, and optionally black to create different hues and values of blue.

What color does cyan and yellow make in paint?

When mixing cyan and yellow paint or ink, the result is a dark greenish-blue tone. This demonstrates the subtractive mixing of pigment primaries to form a secondary color.

What colors make cyan?

Cyan can be made by mixing green and blue light. With pigments, you can mix blue and green paint. Computer displays produce cyan by displaying full green and blue channels at equal intensity.

What colors make yellow?

Yellow is formed by mixing red and green light. With pigments, you can mix magenta and yellow to make yellow. On a computer screen yellow is created by displaying red and green channels at their full values.


While cyan and yellow are complementary colors, their mixture does not produce pure blue. Understanding the science of color mixing allows us to accurately predict the colors produced by combining light primaries additive and pigment primaries subtractively. Cyan and yellow make green light and blue-green or greenish-blue pigments. With this foundation of color theory, anyone working in visual fields can confidently blend colors to produce the hues they desire.