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Additive vs Subtractive

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Additive vs Subtractive Systems

Which colors can we reproduce with these additive and subtractive systems?

Now, we have already understood that the CMYB system cannot reproduce as many colors as the RGB system, and that the CMY system is even less good. In other words, the more you add colors to the CMY system, the better it becomes. And so, if you can work with not only the primaries Cyan, Magenta and Yellow, which cannot be perfect, but also with excellent Blues, Greens, Reds, etc., the result will be dramatically better.

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An example

And that is precisely the case nowadays when painting in oils. I give you an striking example on figure #6:

mixing red and blue for getting violet

Click on the thumbnail for more explanations and getting a bigger image

The lesson of this for a painter is that each time you mix two pigments you get less bright colors. The only exception is mixing yellows with Viridian or Phthalo Green for getting yellower greens. Even mixing red and yellows cannot give an even bright orange as Cadmium Orange.

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Which colors can every system reproduce?

Now follows a series of diagrams showing which colors every system can reproduce.

Click on the thumbnails for explanations and bigger images

fig #7 fig #8 fig #9 fig #10

fig #7

fig #8

fig #9

fig #10

fig #11 fig #12 fig #13 fig #14

fig #11

fig #12

fig #13

fig #14

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It’s impossible to reproduce all the colors of the nature with any color system and even it isn’t possible to reproduce with any system all the colors of another color system.

On the Web, we utilize the RGB system. It’s probably the best color system, but it is unable to reproduce all the colors of an oil painting. If you print an image taken on the Web with your personal color printer, the result will be even poorer and less bright than the original image.

When you see on your screen a reproduction of an oil painting, there is already a loss of colors by comparison with the original, even if the screen image can sometimes appear more luminous than the original painting — this is particularly the case with very dark paintings like some masterpieces of e.g. Leonardo da Vinci, Diego Velasquez, Rembrandt or Georges de La Tour (and many others). But if you print what you see on your screen, the printed image you’ll get will be even further removed from the original.

Fortunately, the human eye can compensate these color losses to a certain extent, so that the final result can often be less bad than theoretically expected.

Sorry, but it’s physically impossible to do better with today’s technical means.

Next two pages will examine the issue of the grays and the browns.

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