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What subtractive colors make white?


White is the combination of all visible wavelengths of light. In subtractive color mixing, which applies to pigments, dyes and inks, the absence of color is used to make white. The primary subtractive colors are cyan, magenta and yellow. When these three colors are combined in equal amounts, they produce black. However, varying the proportions of cyan, magenta and yellow pigments allows a continuum of colors to be created, including white.

What are subtractive colors?

Subtractive color mixing applies to materials that absorb or subtract some wavelengths of light and reflect others. Our eyes perceive the reflected light. Subtractive color mixing is used for pigments, dyes and inks.

The primary subtractive colors are cyan, magenta and yellow. By absorbing parts of the visible spectrum, these colors reflect a specific range of wavelengths, and our eyes see them as blue, purple and yellow. Combining two primary subtractive colors produces a secondary color. For example, cyan and yellow make green.

The more subtractive colors that are combined, the more wavelengths are absorbed. Combining all three primaries absorbs all visible wavelengths and produces black. By varying the proportions of the primaries, a full spectrum of colors can be made, including white.

How do cyan, magenta and yellow make white?

White contains roughly equal parts of all visible wavelengths of light. To make white using pigments, the pigments need to reflect all colors equally.

Cyan pigment reflects blue and green light. Magenta pigment reflects blue and red light. Yellow pigment reflects red and green light. On their own, each primary subtractive color only reflects two parts of the spectrum.

However, by combining all three primaries, the reflected wavelengths overlap to produce white light. This requires the right proportions of each color. Equal parts cyan, magenta and yellow produces black by subtracting all light. More yellow and cyan is needed relative to magenta to produce white.

Color Reflects
Cyan Blue, Green
Magenta Blue, Red
Yellow Red, Green

Other ways to make white with subtractive colors

Though combining cyan, magenta and yellow is the standard way to make white with subtractive color mixing, other combinations can produce white:

– Yellow and cyan – These two primaries reflect green, blue and red light.

– Magenta and yellow – These reflect blue, red and green light.

– Adding white pigment – Adding white reflective pigment to any color will make it lighter and whiter.

– Tinting black pigment – Adding a small amount of color to black pigment will make dark shades of that color, with small additions creating white.

So while a balanced mix of cyan, magenta and yellow pigments is the typical way to produce white through subtractive color mixing, other combinations can also create white by reflecting all visible wavelengths of light. The key is overlapping the reflected colors to equalize the spectrum.

Why learning subtractive colors is important

Understanding subtractive color mixing through pigments is important for working with paints, dyes, inks and other color technologies. Here are some reasons it is an important concept:

Painting and printing – Subtractive color mixing underlies painting, ink printing, photography and other color techniques that use pigments or dyes. Mastering the primaries allows creating any color.

Avoiding mud – Mixing too many subtractive colors together can create muddy brown tones instead of bright colors. Learning which colors to limit fixes this.

Matching colors – Certain mixtures of subtractive colors can match colors produced with additive light mixing, useful for printing or photography.

Economical use of pigments – Knowing which subtractive primaries to mix uses less pigment to create desired hues.

Digital design – Many digital tools like photo editors or graphic design software apply principles of subtractive color mixing.

Whether working with physical paints or virtual tools, understanding subtractive color theory aids in precise and affordable color mixing and design.

Mastering subtractive color mixing

Here are some tips for mastering subtractive color mixing with pigments and dyes:

– Learn the primary subtractive colors – cyan, magenta and yellow. Understand which parts of the spectrum each reflects.

– Start mixing with just two primaries before using all three. This helps visualize how the colors interact.

– Use color mixing charts to see the results of combining different ratios of the primaries.

– Mix small batches first before making large quantities of a custom color. Get the color right before scaling up.

– Understand secondary colors created by mixing two primaries, like green, violet and orange.

– Limit modulating pure colors with white and black to change shades instead of mixing too many primaries.

– Clean brushes and tools thoroughly between colors to avoid muddying.

With practice, subtractive color mixing becomes instinctual. Mastering it helps both beginners and professionals use color with economy and precision.


White contains a balance of all visible wavelengths of light. In subtractive color mixing, combining the primary colors of cyan, magenta and yellow in the right proportions can create white by overlapping and equalizing the reflected light. Other pairs of primaries can also produce white depending on the pigments used. Understanding subtractive color theory provides control over color for painting, printing, design and more. Consistent practice with mixing primary pigments develops intuition for using color subtractively.