When it comes to identifying colors one must know the subtle differences between hues. Take for example cyan vs blue. What colors are they exactly? And when do differentiate between the two?
Cyan is a color that sits between blue and green on the color wheel. It sometimes replaces blue as a primary color because it’s lighter in value, creating more vibrant secondary colors. Cyan tends to be confused with blue, as most people perceive it as a light blue rather than an equal mix between blue and green.
Keep reading to find out all things cyan and how it compares to similar colors!
Now that we’ve been talking about cyan a lot, it might be time to learn how to pronounce it!
Cyan is pronounced as Sigh-, like the audible exhalation, and –Anne, like the common female name.
If you’re still unsure of what I mean you can go here. If you click on the volume button on the English side the word cyan will be spoken the correct way.
The difference between cyan and blue
Cyan is not a shade of blue but a neighboring hue of blue. If you look at a color wheel cyan falls exactly between the secondary color green, and the primary color blue. When the primary color blue, and secondary color green are mixed, it makes a tertiary color: cyan.
If you’re interested in more color theory you can read my full guide for beginners here.
But there’s a catch.
Mixing green and blue to get a cyan only works with light. This is because of additive color theory. Light plus light equals a brighter light.
In the image below I simulated light in Procreate by using the ”Add” blend mode. Using this blend mode, Procreate treats the layers, when painted on top of each other, as if they were lights.
Here’s what happens when we mix green and blue light:
You get a darker result when you mix green and blue pigments (like paints). This is because of subtractive color theory:
Pigment + pigment equals a darker pigment.
Read here all about additive and subtractive color theory.
This is what happens when we mix blue and green paints:
The mixed color looks dark and dull. It looks nowhere near as bright and saturated as cyan.
This is why you need to either buy a pre-made cyan, or mix green and blue and add white.
The only downside to mixing your own cyan is that your mixed cyan may come out slightly less saturated than pre-made cyan.
In the example above the mixed cyan looks more like a cerulean.
The more you mix, the more you are likely to get muddy colors. Keep this in mind when you want to use a mixed cyan as a primary.
Digital color codes for cyan
When working digitally you don’t need to worry about mixing your colors. You can pick them directly from your color picker.
This means that additive color theory doesn’t matter that much.
But it does come in handy to know which color codes are assigned to cyan.
The hex code, HSB and RGB values for cyan are:
|Hue, Saturation, Brightness||180, 100, 100|
|Red, Green, Blue||0, 255, 255|
Cyan color meaning
Cyan is a cool color. It’s classified as a cool color because it falls within the cool color group (blues, greens and purples).
Cool colors are often associated with calm and relaxation.
Typically, cyan is perceived as a summery color, because this color mostly shows up if you search for holiday destinations.
This is why some are confused and think that cyan is a warm color.
The color cyan is typically associated with the following topics:
- Sunny day
- Galaxy (Uranus in particular)
Not only is cyan a diverse color that can be used for different situations, but it also might be even more important than blue.
The benefits of Cyan as a primary color
Since kindergarten, we get taught that blue, red and yellow are the primaries. These colors are called the primaries because they make every other hue on the color wheel.
But when we look at the color wheel that those colors produce, we notice that the secondary and tertiary colors are rather dull.
Since pigment + pigment = darker pigment, why not use the brighter colors to start with?
This is when cyan comes in.
Because cyan is so much brighter and more vivid than blue, it produces brighter secondary and tertiary colors.
If we also swap red out for magenta, which is brighter than red, our entire color wheel looks a lot brighter.
Let’s go on with comparing cyan to similar colors.
Cyan vs Blue
To make things clear to you, I created a color wheel with a color range superimposed onto it.
I marked it with a rectangle so you can exactly see which hues we are talking about. The color range below the color wheel is the enlarged range of the rectangle.
Cyan has more green in it than blue. It is also much lighter in value.
The hex code, HSB and RGB values for blue are:
|Hue, Saturation, Brightness||240, 100, 100|
|Red, Green, Blue||0, 0, 255|
Cyan vs green
Cyan has more blue in it than green. It is also slightly lighter in color than green. To be exact, cyan lies exactly in the middle of blue and green.
The hex code, HSB and RGB values for green are:
|Hue, Saturation, Brightness||120, 100, 100|
|Red, Green, Blue||0, 255, 0|
Cyan vs teal
The main difference between cyan and teal is that teal leans more towards the blues. It is also a lot darker than cyan. Sometimes teal is made to be less saturated by dragging down the saturation slider (digitally) or by mixing in the opposite color on the color wheel (paints).
The hex code, HSB and RGB values for teal are:
|Hue, Saturation, Brightness||180, 100, 50|
|Red, Green, Blue||0, 128, 128|
Cyan vs Aqua
The color aqua is slightly greener than cyan. Aqua is the most similar color to cyan but does differ nonetheless. It’s so similar because the colors both use their full saturation and are about the same value.
The hex code, HSB and RGB values for aqua are:
|Hue, Saturation, Brightness||180, 100, 100|
|Red, Green, Blue||0, 255, 255|
Cyan vs aquamarine
The color aquamarine is a lot greener than cyan. Aquamarine is very similar to aqua and can be easily confused with that color. Since colors are relative the differentiation between aqua and aquamarine only matters when you use a ton of these similar shades.
The hex code, HSB and RGB values for aquamarine are:
|Hue, Saturation, Brightness||160, 50, 100|
|Red, Green, Blue||128, 255, 192|
Cyan vs turquoise
The difference between cyan and turquoise is that turquoise leans more towards the greens than cyan. It’s also darker in value. Keep this in mind when mixing or picking turquoise.
The hex code, HSB and RGB values for turquoise are:
|Hue, Saturation, Brightness||174, 71, 88|
|Red, Green, Blue||64, 224, 208|
Cyan vs cerulean
Cerulean leans more towards the blue than cyan does. Whilst cyan is an equal mix of blue and green, cerulean has 70% blue and 30% green. Cerulean is also darker in value than cyan.
The hex code, HSB and RGB values for cerulean are:
|Hue, Saturation, Brightness||196, 100, 65|
|Red, Green, Blue||0, 123, 167|
Cyan vs azure
Azure differs a lot from cyan as it leans more towards the blues than cyan. It’s also a lot darker and more desaturated. Azure looks more like a blue rather than cyan but is slightly more green than blue.
The hex code, HSB and RGB values for azure are:
|Hue, Saturation, Brightness||210, 100, 100|
|Red, Green, Blue||0, 128, 255|
So there you have it! These are the colors most commonly confused with cyan.
Keep in mind that colors are relative. This means that in different contexts the colors will look different.
People also perceive colors differently, so one might argue about the accuracy of these colors.
But all in all, this is what most people agree on.
Frequently asked questions about cyan
Does cyan mean blue?
Cyan is different from blue. Most people use cyan interchangeably with blue, but this is not correct. A different name for cyan should be a light blue-green.
Is cyan blue or green?
Cyan is mixed from equal parts of blue and green, making it a blue-green. More often than not cyan replaces blue when used as a primary. Therefore a lot of people mistakenly call cyan blue.
What color is closest to cyan, green or blue?
Cyan is an equal mix between blue and green, making it closer to neither one. Just keep in mind that cyan is created by mixing green and blue lights.
How to mix cyan with paints?
When making cyan with paints, you must equally mix blue and green together. This results in a dark cyan. Add white to lighten the value to create a true cyan.
Why is it hard to mix cyan?
Cyan is hard to make with paints because a true cyan is created by lights. Additive color theory implies that light + light = bright light. This is why cyan can be so light.
When mixing cyan with paints, pigments are used. According to subtractive color theory, pigment + pigment = darker pigment.
This is why when you mix blue and green, the mixture becomes dark. When you add white to lighten the value of the mixed cyan, it also desaturates it slightly.
To use a true cyan it’s better to buy a pre-made one (tube).
I hope you learned the difference between cyan, blue, green, teal, turquoise, aqua and aquamarine, and cerulean. Now you can carefully choose the colors for your next artwork!
See you next week,