pointing finger animation

  Color Mixing Lab

and Activities

By Marti Andreski and Carol Wawrukiewicz

Color Mixing

Type of Web activity:
Student Lab using Web links.

Materials / Software needed:
A Web browser that can run Java applets; others require the
Shockwave plug-in.

Grade Level:

Time involved:
Varies according to the activity.

Created on:
August 6, 1999

November 2003

The Web Science Workshop lessons were created in cooperation with the Exploratorium Teacher Institute.

This site developed and maintained by Deborah Hunt and Eric Muller

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San Francisco, CA 94123

© The Exploratorium

Introduction: Light and color are fascinating topics for students of all ages--especially those with an interest in art. However, color mixing can be confusing for students, especially since mixing light is different than mixing pigments or paints. Adding to the confusion is the fact that most students are taught early in life that red, blue, and yellow are the primary colors of paint, and thus rebel against the idea that such strange sounding colors as magenta and cyan might be more "primary."

In order to understand color mixing well, students need a wide range of hands-on experience with the topic. This web page is meant to give teachers a sampling of such hands-on activities. Some of the activities use "real-life" materials (paint, ink, light), while others are computer-based simulations (several of which require the Shockwave plug-in). While the simulations are extremely interesting and valuable, we recommend that you start with at least a few real-life activities; a student who hasn't seen with her own eyes that red and green light mix to form yellow light will not believe it when she sees it on a computer--it will just seem to be a trick of the computer programmer.

Background: The primary colors of light are red, blue, and green. They are called primary because they can be mixed to form any other color in the spectrum.

The primary colors for pigments (such as paints or inks) are yellow, cyan (a bluish-green) and magenta (purplish-red). These are the primary colors for pigments because they can be mixed to form any other color of pigment.

The combination of any two primary colors of light makes a secondary color of light. The three primary colors of light are the secondary colors of pigment, and the three primary colors of pigment are the secondary colors of light.

Purpose: To use a Web site to make observations about the mixing of various colors of light and of pigment.

Try one or all of these activities:

More Information about Mixing Colors

Paul Hewitt's Conceptual Physics book contains an excellent chapter on color, including sections on mixing light and pigment.

The Glenbrook South High School Physics Web site contains a Tutorial on Light Waves and Color . In Lesson 2, the lesson about color and vision, the two sections on Color Addition and Color Subtraction cover mixing color.

Cybercollege has a page covering the Principles of Television Color that gives a good overview of additive and subtractive color mixing.

Volunteers from Adobe Systems have put together a site called Make a Splash with Color for the Tech Museum of Innovation's Web site. It's filled with information and interactive demonstrations relating to color, including many about qualities of color (hue, saturation, and brightness), color addition and subtraction, and vision. Go to the overview page from any page on the site to see everything that's available.

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