How to Mix Colors Like a Color Printer





Introduction: How to Mix Colors Like a Color Printer

Here is the secret to mixing colors.

1. Use Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow, NOT Red, Yellow, and Blue
2. Organize the colors into a color cube, NOT a color wheel.

Then you will be able to make every single color a color printer can make. You can print out copies of your favorite pictures and paint over them.

This instructable teaches a paint mixing model. It is not really a 'how to' with a materials list and precise step by step instructions.

However, if you want to follow along, you need to get precisely the right paints. You need exactly the same shades of color a color printer uses. Different brands use different names.

You can buy:

Golden Paints Brand

- Primary Cyan
- Primary Magenta
- Primary Yellow

Step 1: Use the Right Colors: Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow

The primary colors are Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. These are the colors your printer uses.

Do not listen to people who will tell you that the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. If those were the primary colors, color printers would be filled with red, yellow, and blue.

Step 2: Make a Color Line

Make two color lines.

A color line has white on one end and a color, like yellow, on the other.

Between whit and yellow, you put all of the shades if yellow.

You can do the same with magenta.

Step 3: Make a Color Square

We can combine the yellow color line and the magenta color line to make a color square.

With this color square, we can see how to add color from the yellow row to a color from the magenta column.

Now we have a color square.

Step 4: Make a Color Cube

Now we can take every color on the color square and start adding shades of cyan to it.

You make three new color squares. Each with more and more cyan added.

Once you have the squares, you are able to stack them on top of each other to get a cube.

Step 5: CMYK and the Color Cube

"The CMYK color system" sounds scary. It's not.

Here is a secret. The "CMY" part of CMYK is the color cube we just built.

Let us look at a CMYK color code.


This looks scary. It is not.

The dots of the color cube are are the percentages if the CMYK color coordinates.

So if you have two dots of cyan and one dot of white? That is 66% C in the CMYK model.

If you have two dots of magenta and one dot of white? That is 66% M in the CMYK model.

And if you have one dot of yellow and two dots of white? That is 33% Y in the CMYK model.

In short, I can turn all of the scary percentages into a bunch of dots.

Here is the very important part:

1. you can get an image,
2. go into a graphics program,
3. pick a color for that image,
4. look up the CMYK color code
5.translate that into a place on the color cube
6 and exactly match that color.

Congratulations! You now know how to mix paints like a color printer!



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    20 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Colors in light work different... when light colors are added together they make white. This is called additive colors. This is how a projector TV works... or a rainbow.

    When adding physical pigments together, they make black. This is called subtractive colors. This is how painting works.

    1000s of years of art... and "they" are wrong?

    It actually standf for "K"ontrast, since the black ink in printing adds the contrast (detail, shadow, lines etc.) to the image.

    It stands for black.

    One thing I did not get to in my tutorial is that color printers also use black. There are two reasons for this.

    1. If you mix cyan, magenta, and yellow together in equal proportions, you get a very dark brownish color, but it is not a true black.

    2. Black ink is much cheaper than colored ink, so it makes sense to add one black ink instead of mixing three expensive black inks.

    The primary colors of light ARE red, yellow and blue. Using coloured lights you can mix any colour. The primary colors of pigment are cyan,magenta and yellow.

    1 reply

    Here is a pretty decent site, with references.


    thank you very much

    - but if i have small amount of a color is that mean white like cmyk(66,2,2,2)?

    - what about black color?

    Red, Green, and Blue are 3 primary color for LIGHT.

    Cyan, Magenta, Yellow are 3 primary color for pigments.

    Very nice intro!

    One thing to note though is: This process is for the CMY color space and that the color matching to a CMYK color code will only work if K=0. If K is non-zero you will have to calculate and re-adjust the CMY percentages.

    You're really smart! Because if you mix red, yellow, AND blue ALL together, you'll get DEEP brown. But if you mix magenta, yellow, and cyan together you'll still get brown, but it's much lighter and if you want to say, prettier.

    Great job! Makes me want to play with finger-paints.... :-) And build a colour cube... :-)

    This was really helpful. Thanks :D


    4 years ago

    What!?! Awesome Instructable! I never thought about why ink cartridges were cyan, magenta and yellow...

    wow! More in depth than I expected :)