Primary & Secondary Colors Definition: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Do you know who Roy G. Biv is? Find out in this lesson, which explains the differences between primary and secondary colors of light, and how light, color, and rainbows are related.

Primary Colors of Light

Did you know that the colors red, blue and green are special? They are called primary colors of light. If you mix these three colors of light together, you get white light! Wait, how does that work? Well, one of the meanings of the word 'primary' is something that is first, that isn't caused by anything else. And these are the most basic colors of light, which can be used to make all the other colors in the visible spectrum of light. As we'll see, together those colors become white light.

The Visible Spectrum of Light

Light travels in waves, and the human eye is only able to see light that travels in wavelengths from about 400-700 nanometers. The colors that fit into that range are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. These are the colors that form the visible spectrum, or colors that people can see.

When they are all mixed together, these colors make what we call white light. This is because when we see white light, we can't see any individual colors. But if something is used to split the wavelengths in the light, the colors that correspond with each wavelength of light can be seen.

One way to split white light into the visible spectrum is by using a prism. The prism causes the light to bend so that the wavelengths of light separate and you can see individual colors. You may have seen this happen sometimes when a piece of glass creates a 'rainbow' on the wall.

Rainbows are also an example of splitting white light into different wavelengths. With a rainbow, instead of glass splitting the white light, the raindrops act as a prism. The light is bent and you can see all the colors of the visible spectrum!

Rainbows show the visible spectrum of light.

You may recognize the colors of the visible spectrum in order because they are the colors of the rainbow, which we know by the name 'ROY G. BIV.' Each letter in the name refers to one of the colors of visual light: 'R' is for red, 'O' is for orange, 'Y' is for yellow, 'G' is for green, 'B' is for blue, 'I' is for indigo, and 'V' is for violet.

Secondary Colors of Light

Other colors that have a special relationship are secondary colors. The secondary colors of light are yellow, cyan, and magenta. These secondary colors are made by mixing two of the primary colors of light together. If you add red and green light together, you get yellow light. Cyan light is created by mixing blue and green light, and magenta light is created when you mix red and blue light.

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