What are the basic colors

The popular misconception: completely wrong

Red, blue, yellow, it is said, are the "basic colors". As in the paintings by Piet Mondrian. But is that also true?

Even as children we learned that only some colors can be mixed from others, namely the three basic colors: for example violet from blue and red. And green from blue and yellow. Even if we have been dragging this story around with us for many years - it is unfortunately wrong. In fact, all colors can be mixed from any three color tones, as long as they are far enough apart in the spectrum. In magazine printing, which can convey all the colorfulness of the world, indigo (instead of blue) and magenta (instead of red) are used in addition to “pure” yellow. And the three "cone types" of the retina, with which the eye recognizes everything colorful, are yellowish green, green and purple. The claim that there are three basic colors is also incorrect because colors in the depths of the brain are not processed as a “trinity” at all, but as a group of four - as complementary colors, as the physiologist Ewald Hering has established. Red, for example, is perceived particularly well against a green background, blue particularly well against a yellow background - and these colors then appear to be particularly pure. From a neurological point of view, we would not be dealing with three, but with four basic colors and their combinations, if at all. Speaking of combinations: The subject of “color mixes” is far more complicated than most people think. The fact that green is created from yellow and blue only applies to the “subtractive” color mixture, in which, for example, paints are brushed on top of each other so that an additional piece of the light spectrum is faded out (subtracted) with each additional color. In this way, all the paints together result in a "lightless" black, because the entire spectrum is absorbed. If, on the other hand, colored light cones are mixed in the process of "additive color mixing", then the color stimuli for the eye add up. For example, yellow is obtained from a mixture of green and red; And when blue is added, this additive spectral mixture results in white against a black background. That is actually not a color at all.