Difference Between Additive Colors and Subtractive Colors (With Table)

Difference Between Additive Colors and Subtractive Colors (With Table)

We studied primary and secondary colors in elementary school. Most of us here recall elementary school’s red, yellow, and blue teachings. They are the primary hues, as we have learned. But hold on a second. A graphic designer creating CGI pictures does not use yellow as a primary color. What is happening?

Color mixing relies heavily on the interactions across primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Both subtractive and additive color mixing are taken into account by science. Considering the above two main types of blending clarifies why traditional channel artists think of red, yellow, and blue (RYB) as primary colors.

In contrast, digital developers say red, green, and blue are primary colors (RGB). The CMYK color model is a third color model used exclusively for printmaking. 

Additive Colours vs Subtractive Colors

The main difference between additive and subtractive colors is that additive color is formed by mixing many colors of different wavelengths, and on the other hand, subtractive color produces new colors by removing colors of different wavelengths from a broad range of light. 

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When you use a computer, the colors on display are formed by light. Red, Green, and Blue are the primary colors (RGB). After mixing these colors, the outcome will be white. In essence, as more color is added, the output becomes lighter and lighter until it reaches white.

In printing, subtractive colors such as cyan, magenta, and yellow (CMY) are used. Subtractive indicates that you start with white and end with black, and the outcome darkens as you add color. When an inked paper receives light colors, it absorbs and appears black. 

Comparison Table Between Additive Colours and Subtractive Colors

Parameters of comparisonAdditive ColorsSubtractive Colors
DefinitionAdditive colours are created by mixing lights of different wavelengths. The colours act as irritants to the lenses.Subtractive colours are formed by removing different wavelength colours.
Primary coloursRed, blue, and greenCyan, magenta, and yellow
System involvedRGBCMYK
TransparencyAppears opaque to the eyesAppears transparent to the eyes.
Mixing of coloursThe mixing of various wavelengths of light gives a white light as a result.When colours are mixed they give black as a combined result.

What are Additive Colours?

Specific or several wavelengths of light are added in adaptable mixing. Adding three light rays, red, green, and blue, makes this process easier to explain. Different light intensity ratios can achieve a broad spectrum of distinct colors. 

This is conceivable because the maximal responsiveness of individual lumps towards the naked eye mesh partly matches the visible light spectrum’s red, green, and blue parts. The spectator will perceive a hue dependent on the stimulation level of individual lumps.

The RGB system (red-green-blue) is built on the theory of additive color combining to show colors on screens. It’s not about blending colors that reflect some portions of the wavelength while absorbing others; it is all about blending light of different wavelengths. 

These are all the additive system’s primary colors; a single pixel is specified by three data points that indicate the intensity of these three basic colors. The colors on display are created through additive color pixel groupings emitted by the displays.

What is a Subtractive Colour?

The absorption or removal of some wavelengths from white light is the basis for subtractive synthesis. A filter is used to remove wavelengths selectively. The green filter subtracts the spectral range’s red, purple, green, and yellow parts, whereas the yellow filter subtracts the blue.

It is possible to achieve a wide spectrum of colors by varying the absorption of various wavelengths. Of course, the color the spectator perceives depends on what may have occurred to his eyes in this circumstance. 

Suppose we are using a filter that soaks up the green part of a visible range of the light source. In that case, the spectral region’s blue and red components persist, implying that the spectator’s eye will be fascinated by the blue and reddish-sensitive particles, causing the brain to interpret the color purple. 

The color scheme is what we acquired in art class — that combining red and yellow produces orange, blue, and red-purple produces purple and yellow, and blue-green produces green, but mixing these colors in an even sequence produces black. 

Main Differences Between Additive Colors and Subtractive Colors

  1. The synchronous effect of numerous color stimuli Named ‘irritants’ on the retina causes additive color mixing. Opposite to additive color mixing, subtractive (multiplicative) color mixing does not include combining color ‘irritants’ but eliminating color.
  1. Additive color synthesis occurs whenever three light sources are optically combined (red, green, and blue). Subtractive synthesis is achieved by combining the primary hues of the materials (cyan, magenta, and yellow).
  1. RGB is an additive color synthesis scheme. Different light intensities of the main hues, red, green, and blue, create the color screen. This approach is used for works that will be displayed on a screen. CMYK is a subtractive color synthesis system. Filtering the primary light color from white compound light produces the color screen. 
  1. Green + red = yellow, blue + red = magenta and blue + green = cyan are examples of additive color mixing. Yellow + magenta = red, yellow + cyan = green, and magenta + cyan = blue are examples of subtractive mixing.
  1. The colors appear brighter and generate a greater visual spectrum, resulting in millions of hues when additive colors are used on a screen. Whereas subtractive colors rely on reflected light, they look dull compared to additive colors.


It might be hard to differentiate between additive and subtractive color mixing. It all comes down to the beam of light. Color is formed by additive color mixing when light reaches your eye straight from the source.

To generate visuals, we start with black and add color. Color is generated through subtractive mixing when the source is reflecting light. We begin by subtracting light from the hue of the reflecting surface. 

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