Difference Between Additive Colors and Subtractive Colors (With Table)

We studied primary and secondary colours 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 colour. What is happening?

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

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

Additive Colours vs Subtractive Colors

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

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

In the printing process, subtractive colours 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 colour. When an inked paper receives light colours, it absorbs it and appears black. 

Comparison Table Between Additive Colours and Subtractive Colors

Parameters of comparisonAdditive coloursSubtractive colours
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 lights are added in adaptable mixing. Adding three light rays, red, green, and blue, makes this process easier to explain. A broad spectrum of distinct colours can be achieved with varying light intensity ratios. 

This is conceivable because the maximal responsiveness of individual lumps towards the naked eye mesh partly matches the red, green, and blue parts of the visible light spectrum. 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 colour combining to show colours on screens. It’s not about blending colours 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 colours; a single pixel is specified by three data points that indicate the intensity of these three basic colours. The colours on display are created through additive colour pixel groupings emitted by the displays.

What is a Subtractive Colour?

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

It is feasible to realise a wide spectrum of colours by varying the absorption of various wavelengths. 

It is possible to achieve a wide spectrum of colours by varying the absorption of various wavelengths. Of course, the colour the spectator perceives is dependent 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 blue and red components of the spectral region persist, which implies that the spectator’s eye will be fascinated by the blue-sensitive particles and the reddish-sensitive particles, causing the brain to interpret the colour purple. 

The colour 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 colours in an even sequence produces black. 

The Main Difference Between Additive Colours and Subtractive Colors

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


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

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