Where Do Traditional Primary Colours Come From?


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The traditional primary colours were originally discovered by Isaac Newton between 1670 and 1672, during which time his investigations were primarily interested in optics. Isaac Newton discovered that when light hit a glass prism, the light broke into rays of colour with a clearly seen spectrum.

Colour is in fact naked to the human eye. It comes from rays within the sun but needs to be reflected to be seen. A natural example is a rainbow; the water droplets reflect the light from the sun and a rainbow of colour rays is seen across the sky. When light fragments through a reflective surface, it fragments into colour bands. Isaac Newton recorded these colours that were six in all and used them to develop the traditional scientific colour wheel. The colours were made up of three primary colours (red, blue and yellow) and three secondary colours (orange, violet and green).

A typical experiment which demonstrates this is the colour wheel experiment. A white paper wheel is segmented and coloured in accordance with Newton's colour wheel. String is threaded through the centre, and when it is spun, the wheel appears white.

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