I work in a group that makes mainly custom-printed t-shirts… the topic of color comes up occasionally.

The thing with color is that you everyone thinks they know color because they learned ROYGBIV in kindergarten.

But it’s way more complicated than just that.

Firstly you have to start with the concept that we have two different ways of making color. What you’re looking at on your screen now (I’m assuming you have an LCD screen, maybe a CRT if you’re kicking it old school. If you’re printing this out to read, I really have to question your judgment.) is additive color. You start with black then you inject the conventional red green blue to make all of the colors you’re looking at. On the other hand with print you have subtractive color. You start off with a reflective or transmissive surface and the pigments you use remove and filter the light. The CMYK of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black that you see on your normal ink jet or laser printer. (Or giant offset printer if you have it in your garage or something.)

Color is hard.

If you’re a programmer you think in RGB and generally never think about more than that. You dial in #FF0000 and expect red. But what exact red do you expect?

If you can display the red, can you print it on your printer?

If you sent the image via email, will your friend (or maybe an enemy, who knows?) see the same colors that you see?

It’s complicated.