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Color Models: RGB

Learn about how Red, Green and Blue comprise the primary colors within our computer screens.

Color in electronic devices is made up from light, as already discussed in our Color Models article. The three primary colors of this electronic color model are Red, Blue, and Green, and that explains why this model is called the RGB color model. RGB is essentially an abbreviation for Red Green Blue.

With these 3 primary colors, you can create around 16 million distinct colors! How does that happen? Let's explore further.

To create new colors from multiple colors, what you need to do is mix these colors in some proportions. Let us call these proportions "parts", and then mix colors! So how many parts do we need? The RGB color model uses 256 parts. These are represented as values that range from 0 to 255.

Thus if you have 255 parts of Red combined with 0 parts of both Green and Blue, you'll end up with Red. Similar is the case with Green and Blue. There is a way you express these values, as explained in this table below.

Color R G B Swatch
Red 255 0 0  
Green 0 255 0  
Blue 0 0 255  

These three colors are what we call Primary Colors, that you can see within the color wheel shown in Figure 1, below.


Figure 1: Color wheel with three Primary Colors

Multiply 255 variations of Red with a similar number of variations of Green and Blue, and you end up with 16 million colors! 16 million equals 255 x 255 x 255. We won't get into all 16 million colors for now, but let us get a little more creative and mix these 3 Primary Colors to make 3 more colors.



Mixing 255 parts of both Red and Green with 0 parts of Blue makes Yellow. Similarly equal parts of Green and Blue create Cyan. And you end with Magenta with equal parts of Red and Blue – these are all shown in the table below.

Color R G B Swatch
Yellow 255 255 0  
Cyan 0 255 255  
Magenta 255 0 255  

These three colors, Yellow, Cyan, and Magenta are what we call Secondary Colors, that you can see in addition to the Primary colors within the color wheel shown in Figure 2, below.


Figure 2: Color wheel with three Primary and three Secondary Colors

Now let us get a little more creative and further mix the 3 Primary colors in mathematical proportions to make 6 more colors:

Color R G B Swatch
Orange 255 125 0  
Yellow-Green 125 255 0  
Cyan-Green 0 255 125  
Cyan-Blue 0 125 255  
Blue-Magenta 125 0 255  
Red-Magenta 255 0 125  

These six colors are what we call Tertiary Colors. Along with the Primary and Secondary Colors, you now see that 12 colors can be found within the color wheel shown in Figure 3, below.


Figure 3: Color wheel with three Primary, three Secondary, and six Tertiary Colors

Mixing colors can be so much fun, and you can do this in a program such as PowerPoint too. We explore these techniques of mixing RGB colors within PowerPoint in the following tutorials:

Working with RGB Colors in PowerPoint 2016 for Windows
Working with RGB Colors in PowerPoint 2013 for Windows
Working with RGB Colors in PowerPoint 2011 for Mac
Working with RGB Colors in PowerPoint 2010 for Windows

See Also: Color: HSL