Progress never ceases to confuse me,
When I was in grade school—what we now call primary school—I was taught that the primary colors were red, yellow, and blue.
You could take your Tempura paints and mix them to get other colors:
- Red + Yellow = Orange
- Blue + Yellow = Green
- Red + Blue = Purple
Remember the tree-trunk sized Crayolas we used in first grade? There were eight colors—Red, Yellow, Blue, Green, Orange, Brown, Violet (purple), and Black. I was never sure why they called Purple “Violet,” but they did. If they hadn’t, the next wavelength would be called “Ultrapurple,” which must have been too unscientific sounding or something.*
I accepted Red, Blue, and Yellow as the bona fide primary colors for many years, then I became involved in photography. In printing color pictures from a film negative, the primary colors are Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow, which are subtractive primary colors. In converting a negative to a positive, you subtract to adjust the colors. Today we also use Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow for inkjet and laser color printers. I have no idea what they’re subtracting from.
But wait, as they say, there’s more! If you’re using light emitting diodes (LEDs) such as in color televisions, the primary colors are Red, Blue, and Green. Somehow, with three sets of primary colors, we’re able to get all—or at least most—of the other colors.
So, what are the primary colors? Who knows!
* The portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that includes visible light, and therefore colors, seems to always be expressed in wavelength rather than frequency. Red has a longer wavelength than Violet, so you’d think they’d have called the next wavelengths as Infraviolet and the other end of the spectrum Ultrared rather than Infrared and Ultraviolet.