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What is cyan and yellow mixed?

What is cyan and yellow mixed?

Cyan and yellow are two distinct colors on the visible spectrum that when combined, produce a new color through an optical mixing process. The specific shade that results from mixing cyan and yellow depends on the ratio of the two source colors. By understanding some basic color theory and the underlying principles of light and pigment mixing, we can determine exactly what color cyan and yellow make when blended together under different conditions.

Primary Colors of Light vs. Pigment

When dealing with the mixing of colors, it is important to distinguish between the primary colors of light and the primary colors of pigment.

The primary colors of light are red, green, and blue (RGB). When light of these three colors shines on a white surface in different combinations, they can produce a wide range of hues through a process of additive mixing. This is the principle behind televisions, computer monitors, and other digital displays.

The primary colors of pigment, on the other hand, are cyan, magenta, and yellow (CMY/CMYK). These are the main colorants used in ink, paint, and other reflective surfaces. When pigments absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect others, they subtract wavelengths from white light to produce different colors through subtractive mixing. Printers and artists working with paints, inks, pastels, etc. rely on combinations of CMY pigments.

Color Mixing Principles

Understanding the interplay between light, pigments, and the human eye is key to predicting the results of mixing colors. Here are some important principles that come into play:

  • Additive mixing of light: Combining wavelengths of the primary RGB colors adds more wavelengths together to produce light of a new color.
  • Subtractive mixing of pigments: Combining pigments subtracts more wavelengths from white light, producing a new color.
  • Complementary colors: Pairs of colors that contain little common wavelengths, and essentially “complete” each other to form white light. For RGB colors, complements are red & cyan, green & magenta, blue & yellow. For CMY(K) pigments, complements are cyan & red, magenta & green, yellow & blue.
  • Color perception: The eye and brain work together to interpret combinations of wavelengths as distinct colors.

Keeping these principles in mind, we can predict how mixtures of cyan and yellow light versus cyan and yellow pigment will appear.

Mixing Cyan and Yellow Light

When beams of pure cyan and yellow light combine, the result is a light wave containing wavelengths in the cyan (roughly 485-520 nm) and yellow (575-585 nm) ranges. According to the principle of additive color mixing, these wavelengths combine to stimulate receptors in the eye sensitive to green light (495-570 nm).

Therefore, the brain perceives the combination of cyan and yellow light as the color green. This can be represented on a RGB color wheel, where mixes of complementary colors cyan and red, yellow and blue, produce shades of white light.

Cyan Light Wavelengths Yellow Light Wavelengths Perceived Color
485-520 nm 575-585 nm Green

Mixing Cyan and Yellow Pigments

When cyan and yellow pigments or inks are blended, the result is different than mixing cyan and yellow light. This is because the two pigments absorb (subtract) different wavelengths from white light through subtractive mixing.


  • Cyan pigment absorbs wavelengths from red light (620-750 nm) but reflects blue and green.
  • Yellow pigment absorbs wavelengths from violet/blue light (380-495 nm) but reflects red and green.

When cyan and yellow pigments mix, the combined effect is that more violet-blue and less red light is reflected. This removes these wavelengths from white light, producing a green color.

The specific shade of green depends on the ratio of cyan pigment to yellow pigment. Equal parts produces a bright green halfway between the two colors. More yellow shifts it toward yellow-green, while more cyan shifts it toward cyan-green.

Cyan Pigment Yellow Pigment Perceived Color
Absorbs red (620-750nm)
Reflects blue/green
Absorbs blue (380-495nm)
Reflects red/green

Color Mixing Demonstrations

The best way to understand how cyan and yellow combine is to experiment by mixing them yourself. Here are some examples you can try:

Cyan and yellow light:

Overlap beams of cyan and yellow light, such as from colored flashlights or theater gels. The overlap will produce green light.

Cyan and yellow pigment:

On paper or canvas, make crosshatched brush strokes alternating cyan and yellow watercolor or acrylic paint. The intersections will produce different hues of green.

Use cyan and yellow colored pencils to heavily crosshatch or blend. The overlapped area will form green.

Cyan and yellow on a digital display:

Using image editing software, create two layers filled with solid cyan and yellow color overlays. Set the layers to “Screen” blending mode. This simulates additive mixing of light, producing green.

These hands-on demonstrations help reinforce the underlying concepts of mixing cyan and yellow to form green through both additive and subtractive color processes.

Color Mixing in Design & Printing

Understanding that cyan + yellow makes green has important applications in graphic design, desktop publishing, and commercial printing:

  • In digital design programs, green colors can be created from combinations of cyan and yellow rather than using premixed green.
  • When designing documents for professional printing, avoid specifying both a CMY green and mixing cyan + yellow, which uses extra ink.
  • CMYK printing relies on layering cyan, magenta, and yellow inks. Mixing cyan and yellow produces green shades.
  • In process color printing, green colors are created by specifying combinations of C and Y percentages rather than using a premixed green ink.

Having knowledge of basic color theory allows designers to strategically mix colors from first principles and properly prepare artwork for commercial printing.

Other Color Mixing Combinations

Cyan and yellow produce green through additive light mixing and subtractive pigment mixing. Other pairs of colors can be combined to form new hues as well:

  • Cyan + Magenta = Blue – Cyan’s green/blue reflectance + Magenta’s blue/red reflectance = Blue
  • Yellow + Magenta = Red – Yellow’s red/green reflectance + Magenta’s blue/red reflectance = Red
  • Red + Green = Yellow – Red light + Green light = Yellow light
  • Blue + Green = Cyan – Blue light + Green light = Cyan light

The same principles govern these mixes. Knowing the interactions between key colors helps artists and designers masterfully blend hues.

Using Color Mixing in Art

Cyan, yellow, and green mixtures are very common in painting, drawing, and design for creating natural tones. Some examples include:

  • Mixing cyan, yellow, and white to produce bright greens for landscapes
  • Darkening green shadows by adding touches of cyan and black
  • Mixing yellow into skin tones to create a warmer palette for portraits
  • Using yellow-green to paint foliage and trees
  • Tinting yellow with cyan to desaturate it into more natural greens and olive tones
  • Building up vibrant greens from layers of yellow and cyan glazes

Subtle variations in cyan, yellow, and green mixtures allow artists to capture nuances of lighting, surface textures, form, and color harmony in their work. Understanding complementary colors is key to mastering color relationships.

Psychology of Cyan, Yellow, and Green

In color psychology:

  • Cyan is associated with calm, stability, refreshment, and tranquility.
  • Yellow represents sunshine, joy, optimism, and energy.
  • Green is linked with growth, renewal, health, and the natural environment.

When cyan and yellow combine to form green mixtures, the psychological impacts also blend. Greens are both stabilizing like cyan yet cheerful like yellow. Bright greens specifically evoke thoughts of vigorous plant growth and a sense of vitality. More muted greens connect to nature’s equilibrium. Understanding these influences helps designers and artists pick palettes that reinforce their desired mood or theme.

Cultural Color Associations

Different cultures have their own unique color symbolism that may affect the response to cyan, yellow, and green:

  • In many Western cultures, green has positive connotations of safety, permission, and environmentalism.
  • In China, green is tied to prosperity and fertility, with jade holding special meaning.
  • Ancient Egyptians associated green with regeneration and rebirth.
  • In parts of Latin America, yellow symbolizes mourning and death.
  • In many Eastern cultures, yellow is sacred and imperial, associated with divinity.
  • Cyan is linked to immortality and spirituality in Hindu tradition.

Artists and designers should research the context their work will be viewed in to pick colors that convey the right impact. While cyan and yellow evoke green universally through physical color mixing, cultural variations in color meaning must be considered.


When cyan and yellow combine, whether through light or pigment, the result is always a shade of green. The specific hue produced depends on the ratio of cyan to yellow, with equal parts yielding a bright green. This complementary color mixing can be demonstrated with flashlights, color swatches, or digital programs. The effect has many applications in art, design, and printing. An understanding of basic cyan, yellow, and green color theory provides artists and designers with vital knowledge for intentionally blending colors to achieve their desired goals.