What is a Color Model? - Uses & Definition

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  • 0:04 What Is a Color Model?
  • 0:42 The RGB Color Model
  • 1:14 The CMYK Color Model
  • 2:06 Other Color Models
  • 3:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

How does your laptop computer produce such brilliant color? How do printers create the color for a glossy travel magazine? In this lesson, you will learn the definition of a color model and explore some of its uses.

What Is a Color Model?

Have you ever looked at the brilliant color on your computer screen or in a glossy magazine and wondered how it got there? Did you know putting the color in those mediums requires very different processes? And those processes have to start with a color model?

A color model is a system that uses three primary colors to create a larger range of colors. There are different kinds of color models used for different purposes, and each has a slightly different range of colors they can produce. The whole range of colors that a specific type of color model produces is called a color space. All color results from how our eye processes light waves, but depending on the type of media, creating that color comes from different methods.

The RGB Color Model

There are two basic kinds of color models, additive and subtractive. Let's look at an additive color model first. The most common one is Red/Green/Blue, usually referred to as RGB. This color model uses light to create color, and it's used for digital media. When you play a game on your smart phone or watch a movie on your TV, you're seeing color in an RGB color space. RGB is called an additive color model because when the three colors of light are shown in the same intensity at the same time, they produce white. If all the lights are out, they create black.

The CMYK Color Model

When printing color images, you can't use colored light, and that means images can not be printed in RGB. That's where the other color model comes in. A subtractive color model adds pigment in the form of ink or dye that causes an absence of white. The most common subtractive color model is Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Black, usually referred to as CMYK. It's what printers use, and you will sometimes also see it called process color because it is used in the four-color printing process. To print a color image on paper, you have to use ink. Starting with the bright white paper surface, the colors are printed according to a pattern. The more color is applied, the more the white surface is masked. That's why it is called subtractive. But why the addition of black ink? Because when all the colors are mixed, they create a muddy brown. To get rich deep black color, you have to use black ink.

Other Color Models

Both color models cover a range of color, but not all the colors are ones our eyes can see. Because CMYK uses inks rather than light, and more pigments dull the perception of color, its color space is smaller than that of RGB.

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