The mother of all colors is often considered to be white light. White light contains all the colors of the visible spectrum, making it the original source of color from which all other colors are derived. Here’s a quick overview of why white light is considered the mother of colors:
White Light Contains All Visible Wavelengths
White light is comprised of all the visible wavelengths of light combined together. The visible spectrum includes the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. When all these colors are mixed together, they create white light.
For example, sunlight appears white to our eyes because it contains all the visible wavelengths. The individual colors can be seen when sunlight passes through a prism and is dispersed into a rainbow.
Color Perception Depends on White Light
We are only able to perceive color because of the presence of white light. Objects appear colored to us because they reflect only certain wavelengths while absorbing the rest. For instance, a red apple reflects red wavelengths and absorbs other colors.
But without the full spectrum of white light illuminating the apple in the first place, we would not be able to see that it is red. So white light is required for us to see color at all.
Other Colors are Derived from White Light
Not only does white light allow us to see colors, but all other colors are derived from white light. As white light passes through filters or is refracted, the individual spectral colors become visible and can be mixed to create any other color.
For example, televisions and computer screens create color by starting with white light and then selectively filtering it to make different colors. Mixing red, green and blue light, all derived from white light, allows screens to display the full range of hues.
White Reflects and Transmits All Colors
White surfaces and materials appear white because they reflect back all visible wavelengths to our eyes equally. Whereas colored surfaces absorb some wavelengths and reflect only certain ones, white reflects or transmits the full spectrum.
For example, a white piece of paper looks white in regular light because it reflects all colors back to your eyes. And it will still look white under a single-color light like a red lamp because it transmits the red light while absorbing all the other colors.
White Light Exists Outside the Visible Spectrum
White light spans electromagnetic wavelengths both inside and outside the relatively narrow band of visible light. It includes ultraviolet radiation on one end of the spectrum and infrared on the other end.
So white light represents the full range of electromagnetic energy that the sun radiates, only a small portion of which is visible to human eyes. But all of it contributes to the totality of white light.
For these reasons, white light can be considered the mother of all colors. It contains the entire spectrum that allows us to see color. All other colors are derived from splitting up and filtering white light. And it represents the complete range of electromagnetic energy emitted by the sun, including both visible and invisible wavelengths.
So while white is often thought of as the absence of color, physics shows it is quite the opposite. White light is the origin, the source and the accumulator of all visible color.
This table shows the wavelength ranges corresponding to each color in the visible spectrum. When all these wavelengths are combined together, they make white light.
White light also includes infrared radiation (wavelengths longer than red) and ultraviolet radiation (wavelengths shorter than violet). The complete electromagnetic emission from the sun spans a continuous spectrum from below 380 nm to over 1 mm in wavelength.
So white light extends far beyond the visible range, but the visible spectrum that makes up the colors we see represents the portion of white light that the human eye can detect and interpret as color. Our perception of color depends on and derives from the presence of the full spectrum of visible wavelengths that constitute white light.