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What happens if you mix all colors together?

What happens if you mix all colors together?

Mixing colors together can result in some fascinating effects. When all colors of light are combined, the result is white light. However, when all pigment colors are mixed together, the result is essentially black. The reason for this has to do with the physics of light versus the chemistry of pigments. By understanding some basics about color theory and these different mediums, we can predict what will happen when we combine all colors.

Color Basics

Before jumping into mixing colors, it’s helpful to understand some color fundamentals. There are a few key principles that guide color combinations:

The Color Wheel

The color wheel shows the relationship between colors. Primary colors (red, blue, yellow) can’t be created by mixing other colors. Secondary colors (orange, green, purple) are made by mixing two primary colors. Tertiary colors are made by mixing a primary and secondary color. Colors opposite each other on the wheel are complementary.

Color Properties

Colors have properties of hue, saturation, and brightness. Hue refers to the dominant wavelength that determines the color name (red, blue, etc.). Saturation (intensity) refers to how pure or vivid it is. Brightness (value) refers to how light or dark it is.

Additive vs. Subtractive Color Mixing

There are two main ways to mix color:

– Additive: Combining colored light. Used for TV, computer screens. Adding more light makes colors brighter. Combining all colors produces white.

– Subtractive: Combining pigments. Used for paint, ink, dyes. Absorbs some wavelengths, reflects others. Combining pigments eventually absorbs all light, producing black.

This key difference affects what happens when all colors are mixed.

Mixing Colored Light

When working with light sources, color mixing is additive. Red, green, and blue light are the primary colors of light. Mixing light adds more wavelengths, eventually forming white light:

Color 1 Color 2 Result
Red Green Yellow
Green Blue Cyan
Blue Red Magenta
Red Green + Blue White

This is why combining all colors of light, such as in stage lighting or TV screens, results in white light. The combination of all visible wavelengths at full intensity looks white to our eyes.

Additive Color in Action

We can see this additive color mixing in action with some simple examples:

– Stage lighting: Combining red, green, and blue spotlights on a stage produces shades ranging from yellow to white depending on intensity.

– TV screens: Pixels on a screen use combinations of RGB light to make all the colors we see. Mixing R, G, and B equally produces white light.

– Laser light shows: Lasers that project pure red, green, and blue light can mix together to form a dazzling display of changing colors.

So when it comes to mixing colored light, the more colors you add, the closer you get to white light. This is why shining light through a prism disperses white light into a rainbow of colors – it is splitting out the component wavelengths.

Mixing Pigment Colors

Mixing pigmented colors like paint, ink, or dyes follows the principles of subtractive color mixing. Each pigment absorbs certain wavelengths of light and reflects others. The reflected light is what we see as the color:

Pigment Absorbs Reflects
Yellow Blue Red + Green
Cyan Red Green + Blue
Magenta Green Red + Blue

When two pigment colors are mixed, both absorptions are combined, leaving less light to be reflected. With more pigments, more wavelengths are absorbed. Eventually, all wavelengths are absorbed and no light is reflected, resulting in black.

Subtractive Color Mixing Examples

Here are some examples of subtractive color mixing with pigments:

– Painting: Combining all paint colors together eventually produces black. Starting with primaries, mixing red, yellow and blue paints will progressively darken the hue.

– Printing: Cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) inks are used in color printing. Layering these ink colors allows absorption of different light wavelengths to produce color prints.

– Colored filters: Layering colored gel filters over a white light sequentially cuts out more wavelengths until only black remains when all are combined.

So with pigment mixing, the more colors you combine, the closer you get to black as all light is absorbed. This is why mixing all paint colors together produces a dark black shade.

Why Are the Results Different?

The key reason that mixing all colors of light produces white, while mixing pigments produces black, comes down to the physics of these different mediums:

Light is Additive

Light combines wavelengths to form other colors. The combination of all visible wavelengths is perceived as white light. Adding more colors means adding more wavelengths, getting closer to full spectrum white light.

Pigments are Subtractive

Pigments selectively absorb some wavelengths and reflect others. As more pigments are combined, more wavelengths are absorbed from white light. Eventually no wavelengths are reflected, resulting in black.

Perception of Color

Our eyes perceive color based on the wavelengths of light reaching them. With lighting, our eyes receive the sum of all wavelengths. But pigments selectively subtract wavelengths through absorption.

So the additive or subtractive nature of these mediums predicts the results of mixing all colors. Light combines to form white, while pigments combine to absorb all light, forming black. Understanding the science behind this helps explain these unique outcomes.

Other Factors in Color Mixing

While the core principles of additive and subtractive color mixing hold, some other factors can influence the results:

Brightness and Intensity

Brighter, more intense colors will mix to produce lighter shades. Dark or muted colors will mix to darker shades. Mixing bright saturated paint colors gives a brighter result than mixing dark ones.

Intermediate Hues

The more intermediate hues between primary colors that are mixed, the more muted and grayer the result will be. Mixing only primaries gives brighter results.

Texture and Transparency

The texture and transparency of a medium impacts how it scatters and transmits light. Thicker, opaque paint has a darker mixing result than thin, transparent watercolors.


The proportions of different colors affect the outcome. Mixing equal parts gives a more neutral result. Varying ratios changes the dominant hue.

So while the core additive and subtractive principles dictate the results, factors like these provide some variation. But the essential observation remains – all colors of light mix to white, while pigments combine to black.

Applications and Examples

Understanding what happens when you mix colors has useful applications across science, art, and technology:

Lighting and Displays

Additive color mixing enables many display technologies, like TV, computer monitors, and smartphones. Combining RGB light allows displays to produce a wide range of hues.

Printing and Photography

Subtractive CMYK pigments are used for color printing and photography. Layering these inks can reproduce a wide array of colors by absorbing select wavelengths.


Artists mix paint colors on a palette to achieve desired hues. Knowing that all colors combine to black allows dark shades for depth and contrast.

Dyes and Pigments

Industrial dyes and pigments also follow subtractive color mixing. Understanding this guides color formulation for products like fabrics, plastics, coatings and more.

Vision and Perception

The trichromatic nature of human color vision relies on combining input from three photoreceptor types. This parallels the RGB additive mixing of light.

So the fundamentals of color theory and additive/subtractive mixing have many important applications across science, technology, art, and design.


When all colors of light are mixed together, the result is white light. This additive mixing follows the principles that combining wavelengths produces new hues, eventually forming white light. In contrast, mixing pigments together follows subtractive mixing – each absorbs certain wavelengths until eventually all light is absorbed, resulting in black.

The physics of light versus the chemistry of pigments explains these wildly different outcomes. Understanding the basics of color theory and these mixing principles helps predict what will happen when all colors are combined. Whether producing white stage lights or black paints, the same core concepts are at play. So next time you combine a rainbow of colors, remember if its light or pigment will determine if you end up with a white light or murky black mixture.