Learning to understand black and white.

Explore colors from a scientific and artistic perspective. Learn what makes black and white different from other hues and how to use black and white in print and digital designs.

Black smoke clouds on a white background

What is color?

Knowledge of the creation, effect and interaction of colors is essential in graphic design. Scientifically, colors are visible components of light. Surfaces absorb and reflect different wavelength ranges of visible light. As a result, the human eye perceives these surfaces in a certain color. A blue flower reflects blue light, all other wavelengths are absorbed. So we see the color blue. If almost all light is reflected, you see white. If no light is reflected, you see black.

Rainbow color palette

Are black and white colors?

You only need to look at a rainbow to see that black is not in the visible color spectrum. All colors except black are reflections of visible light. Black is the absence of light. Unlike white and the other colors, pure black can exist in nature without any light at all.

White is sometimes seen as a color because white light contains all the colors of the visible light spectrum. Black is often counted as a color because it can be created by mixing other color pigments on paper. Technically, black and white are called achromatic colors, which can be used to create shades and tints of the chromatic colors. "And yet they function like colors. They evoke feelings. They can be a child’s favorite color," says graphic designer Jimmy Presler.

Is black the absence of color?

Scientifically, black is the absence of light. And color is created by light. Nevertheless, black objects or black letters printed on white paper are made of pigments, not light. So artists must use their darkest colors to approximate black.

True black and true white are rare.

What we perceive as black pigment or as white light is actually a mixture of dark or light hues. Pure white or black occur in nature only in unfiltered sunlight or in the sun. the inside of a black hole before.

Cloths in different colors

What colors create black? What colors produce white?

How you produce black or white depends on whether you work with the additive (light-based) or the subtractive (ink-based) color model.

Additive colors add up to white

For light and electromagnetic radiation, the principle of additive color mixing applies. In this model from color theory, the combination of all colors gives our perception of white. You may know the abbreviation RGB, which is based on the same model. When you work with additive colors, you use red, green and blue as primary colors.

Digital colors are created additively

The additive color model is used in digital design, as screens display hues using colored light. Each pixel consists of three different luminescent substances. These emit red, green or blue light when hit by an electron beam. When working with color digitally, such as in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, your screen uses different combinations of light to create all visible colors. So what creates black on a screen? Fluorescent pixels that are not illuminated at all.

Subtractive colors together produce black

The color of pigments and inks are subtractive. Subtractive colors are produced by light that has already penetrated matter. painters can mix different colors to create black-looking color. In printing, colors are also used subtractively. The primary inks are: Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y) and Key or Black (K). That is why printable files are often called CMYK files.

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