a public service announcement
Oooh, I’ve run into folks who, for what ever reason, have remained totally loyal to the RBY primary set while being totally knowledgeable about the CMY primary set.
If you’re worth your salt in mixing paints, you can make both RBY and CMY palettes do your bidding well enough. All of my traditional paintings are done with only the three primaries, and white. While I personally prefer CMY, I’ve had to work with RBY before, and (though I was mega rusty) I didn’t find it any more difficult to produce the colors I wanted.
If you’re working on very strict graphic design projects and need need NEED very specific colors (while, for what ever god forsaken reason, having to do it all with traditional paints/inks instead of digital mediums), then CMY is the better way to go. But if you’re just painting illustrations and are under no pressure to be mega mega mega nitpicky about the color purity, it’s really not going to make a difference.
So, read the info-graphic, and take it in. Play with a CMY primary set, etc. But if you’ve been working with RBY all this time, are comfortable with it, enjoy working with RBY, and feel like you’ve been getting the colors you want with RBY, don’t panic. You haven’t been fooled, nor have you been lying to yourself or anything like that. You’re doing just fine.
The difference between using RBY and CMY is very particular, and most people (if any) won’t even be able to tell if a painting was done with RBY or CMY. (But they WILL be able to tell if you used a black straight from the tube, ooooh).
Alright, so let’s talk about color theory, shall we?
Magenta and Cyan do not generally exist as PURE pigment paints. Many of these pigments are MIXED or not as light-fast as other pigments, making them susceptible to fading under light. Not only that, but PURE magenta, Cyan, and Yellow DO NOT EXIST in traditional media paints. And why are pure pigments important? Because every time you mix two sets of paints together, your colors get muddier and you lose color vibrancy.
So what does this mean? Okay, so magenta and yellow make red respectively. However, you CANNOT replicate the same purity and vibrancy of Cadmium Red no matter how hard you try, ESPECIALLY with the colors OP recommended.
Not only that, but you are working with REFLECTED LIGHT, not pure light itself like what you would work with on your monitor. Let me demonstrate with the color Cyan…
This is 100% blue and 100% green on your monitor, making this a pure Cyan through the RBG model all additive color works with.
This is your monitor’s best attempt at replicating the Cyan your printers use. Note the difference in both vibrancy and hue. The monitor cyan is much warmer than CMYK’s cooler cyan. I can’t, however, show a picture of what it looks like printed out because again, when you work with traditional media, you work with reflected light. This means some of the pure light pigment gets absorbed into the paper or whatever surface you are dealing with resulting in less light bouncing back into your eye. If you want to test this for yourself, try printing this cyan testing page out and compare it to the actual colors your monitor is displaying.
So… what point am I trying to make, here? Both RBY and CMY are valuable and BOTH have their separate color gamuts. Both have their strength and both have their limitations. You can’t produce a vibrant hot fuchsia pink with the RBY primaries, but you CAN with the CMYK palette. What’s more is that even the RGB additive color space, which is perceived to have one of the widest ranges of colors, is also limited since it cannot replicate the properties of reflected like properly.
So which is better? How do we counteract the problem of color purity being lost every time you mix colors? My honest answer is neither one can do this. Wanna know some BS? You’ve all been taught that professional painters ALWAYS work with ONLY the primary painters, and that having more than three paints on your palette tray (excluding the use of black and white) is a sure sign of an amateur painter.
THIS. IS. SO. WRONG!!
In fact, MANY painters, including THIS ONE, suggest each painter has six colors in all—a warm red (cadmium red is popular) and a cool red (or magenta a red that is close to magenta such as quinacridone red/magenta), a warm yellow and a cool yellow, and a warm blue (phthalo blue) and a cool blue (ultramarine.) I personally like to add a a few browns (burnt sienna is my FAVORITE color to work with of ALL time) and dioxazine purple (because while as a stand-alone color it sucks, the mixing properties of this color are STUNNING!!) I also use payne’s gray instead of mars or ivory black because I like the cooler properties of it (YES!! EVEN BLACK IS WARM OR COOL!! and you should definitely play around with them if you can afford to.)
Painting companies wouldn’t make all these fancy colors if artists, professionals included, had no use for them. A FANTASTIC resource for learning a brief about these painting colors is Gamblin Art. What you WANT to do i buy pure pigments of colors you use OFTEN yet CAN’T produce with your primaries.
Also, just as an example, here’s a professional artist by the name of Scott Wills who uses a range of acrylic colors to get the beautiful, vibrant range of colors he creates in his pieces. :
Now, I have NO idea just how many colors he actually uses, but if this picture of him working is any indication….
I’d say it’s a lot, though since I don’t personally know this guy, I can’t say for sure.
Seriously, guys. Colors are WAY more complex than you think ESPECIALLY when it comes to mixing paints, or any other medium, for that matter.
There’s one last note that I’d like to leave off on, and that is, depending on what paints you use (acrylic, oils, watercolor, gouache, tempera, blood-of-thine-enemy, what-have-you), you may even be dealing with transparency versus opaque, matte versus glossy, and even tint strength. By the way, here’s a photograph of the phthalo blue so many have been favoring for cyan:
Doesn’t look very much like Cyan now, does it?
The color wheel is serious fucking business you guys.