Secondary Colors

What are secondary colors?

The secondary colors are the tones that arise thanks to the mixture of the primary colors, considering in each combination only two tones. Unlike the primary tones, the secondary tones are considered interpretations, completely determined by the individual perception of human beings.

There are different models through which secondary colors are identified. These rely on additive and subtractive primary colors, and also consider the so-called traditional model, which is taken as the starting point from which the subtractive model was generated.

In the case of secondary colors, the characteristics of the base stimuli play a fundamental role in the interpretation, as well as the materials on which they are reflected and the predispositions in terms of appreciation of those who are exposed to said visual stimuli.

To obtain the secondary colors, pairs of determined primary tones must be mixed (which will vary depending on the model taken into account) and always in exactly equal quantities.

This is one of the reasons why secondary tones are considered ideal, because since their creation they are influenced by performance. Furthermore, the entire process of perception is highly affected by a great variety of stimuli, both internal and external.

What are the secondary colors?

There are different models from which secondary colors are generated, and each model starts from a different interpretation of colors, especially in terms of their origin: some consider the tones in light and others consider the colors according to the pigments.

The main models that form the basis for creating secondary tones are the subtractive primary color model, the additive primary color model, and the traditional color model. Let’s see what the secondary tones are according to each of these models:

Secondary colors according to the additive model (red, green, blue)

The colors that make up this model are red, green and blue. The main characteristic of additive colors is that they are based directly on the way the human eye perceives light through its specialized receptors, which detect precisely the aforementioned colors.

When these tones are mixed in pairs and in equal amounts and intensities, three other different colors are generated, which are considered secondary according to this model.

The secondary tones that are derived from the additive primary color model are magenta, cyan, and yellow.

Of all the models, the additive is considered to be one of the least accurate. This has to do with the fact that its base element is light and it is extremely complex to have sources of tones of this type that are pure in their entirety.

This foundation is due to the fact that there are many stimuli that can affect a specific tone; Furthermore, the human receptor organ is only capable of making an approximate interpretation when it perceives the combination of wavelengths different from each other.

  • Red + green = yellow
  • Red + blue = magenta
  • Green + blue = cyan

Secondary colors according to the subtractive model (cyan, magenta, yellow)

This model is also called pigment and, as its name suggests, it is based on the use of pigments capable of absorbing and reflecting light. The colors that make up this category are cyan, magenta, and yellow.

From the mixture of these tones, four secondary tones are obtained: blue, red and green. It is worth noting that when the three subtractive primary colors are mixed with each other in equal quantities, black is generated.

  • Magenta + yellow = red
  • Yellow + cyan = green
  • Cyan + magenta = blue
  • Cyan + magenta + yellow = black

Secondary colors according to the traditional coloring model (blue, yellow, red)

The traditional model was one of the most used historically and formed the basis for the subtractive model. The primary colors according to this model are yellow, blue and red, and they are taken into account in their most intense and vivid version.

However, what happens when mixing these tones with each other is that rather opaque colors are obtained. This implies that a large number of shades are lost, among other things because this model considers two secondary shades as primary; the result of the above is access to less variety of shades.

Considering the postulates of the traditional coloring model, mixing its primary colors creates three secondary colors: orange, purple and green.

  • Red + yellow = orange
  • Yellow + blue = green
  • Blue + red = purple

How are secondary colors formed?

Additive model

As we have seen previously, the secondary tones that come from the additive primary color model are magenta, cyan, and yellow.

The first mix includes blue and red, which when combined create magenta. A second combination arises when mixing the blue and green tones, thanks to which the cyan color emerges. In the third combination, the colors green and red participate, which generate the yellow tone.

Subtractive model

In the case of the subtractive primary color model, the secondary tones that are generated by blue, red, and green.

The first shade, blue, is achieved by mixing cyan and magenta. The second tone arises from the combination of yellow and magenta tones, which give rise to the color red.

Finally, the third tone is obtained from the mixture of cyan and yellow colors, thanks to which the green tone is obtained.

Traditional model

As we indicated before, the secondary tones according to the traditional model are orange, purple and green.

First comes orange, which is obtained by mixing yellow with red. Second is the purple tone, which is obtained by combining the blue and red tones.

Finally, in third place comes the green color, which is achieved by mixing the yellow and blue tones. Although this model is one of the most present in basic and secondary education, various experts in the area have determined that it has many limitations.

These researchers point out that the colors that are generated do not cover the entire range that exists, so the tones that appear are not at all precise.


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