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Last Updated: October 2014
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light and colors

Light and Colors

I used to be quite confused about how colors and the optics related worked. This became acutely apparent to me when we at color balls started working on Color Balls in 2013.

Like many topics in physics, this is one that is quite simple to derive all the details about, as long as your fundamentals are sound. In my experience, however, very few people execute instruction of these fundamentals regarding light and colors well.


It is important to maintain a consistent base model for any concept you want to understand well. So let’s start by providing basic models for a few key concepts, and we’ll add rules and properties as we understand things better.

Note that I don’t call these definitions. They are not 100% accurate and are meant to be just a starting point for describing the concept.


“Beams” of different wavelengths/frequencies/intensities that can be emitted, absorbed, reflected or refracted by surfaces. Those different beams can be considered to be “components”.


What our brain interprets based on the light that is incident on our eyes. That’s pretty cool.

NOTE: A color is NOT a physical material. It is merely a translation of the wavelength/frequency/intensity of light incident on our eyes.


A substance that causes a certain surface to indicate a certain color, usually under “white light”

Henceforth referred to just as “paint”.

Light Mixing

beams of light,