Spectral color

Spectral color

A spectral color is a color that is evoked by a single wavelength of light in the visible spectrum, or by a relatively narrow band of wavelengths. Every wavelength of light is perceived as a spectral color, in a continuous spectrum; the colors of sufficiently close wavelengths are indistinguishable.

The spectrum is often divided up into named colors, though any division is somewhat arbitrary: the spectrum is continuous. Traditional colors include: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

Indigo is often omitted as simply a shade of blue/violet, and cyan was not included historically. The first division was by Newton, in his color wheel, and he used Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet; a mnemonic is ROYGBIV.

Among some of the colors that are not spectral colors are:

  • Grayscale colors, such as White, Silver, Gray, and Black
  • Any color obtained by mixing a grayscale color and a spectral color, such as brown - mixture of yellow and black obtained contrast.
  • Purple (similarly, magenta), which is a mixture of Blue and red

The visible spectrum as a combination of spectral colors

Visible light is a blend of (normally) all spectral colors, leading to a common understanding of visible light as "white"; however, depending upon the specific light source, the relative intensity of each color varies. This phenomenon explains why there exists a tinge of color perceived in certain light sources themselves. For example, high pressure sodium and some fluorescent sources have an off-white color. This phenomenon is important in evaluating the effects of light upon humans from light sources that are not matched well to the spectrum of natural sunlight. The study of these health effects is dealt with in the field of over-illumination.

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