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Understanding color profiles


Students will learn about the color profiles CMYK and RGB, the process by which colors are blended and created and the purposes for using CMYK or RGB. To further demonstrate the different profiles, students will construct similar finger paintings, one on white paper and one on black paper.


  • Students will learn the difference between RGB and CMYK color profiles.
  • Students will learn when to apply the use of RGB and CMYK profiles dependent upon the project.
  • Students will apply knowledge of color profiles using finger paint to create two similar pictures.
  • Students will create a series of color profiles that group colors that work together to be used in future projects.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA.Literacy.W-9-10.2d Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of a subject.
CCSS.ELA.Literacy.L.9-10.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
CCSS.ELA.Literacy.L.9-10.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 9-10 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
CCSS.ELA.Literacy. L.9-10.6 Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.


90 minutes


Slideshow: CMYK vs. RGB

Handout: Color mixing chart

Finger paint

Black paper

White paper

Lesson step-by-step

1. Introducing vocabulary — 15 minutes

Using the slideshow presentation, introduce key terms and concepts of CMYK and RGB color.

  • CMYK: a subtractive color profile where cyan (blue), magenta, yellow and key (black) are subtracted from black to create new colors. Printers use CMYK colors to create every color combination.
  • RGB: an additive color profile where red, green and blue are added to white to create a new color. RGB shows electronic color such as what appears on TVs, digital cameras, smartphones and computer monitors. RGB colors typically show more brightly on a monitor than printed in CMYK.

2. Application — 60 minutes

Using finger paint, white paper and black paper, students will draw two similar pictures. One picture will be drawn on white paper, then using the same colors, students will draw a similar picture on the black paper. Although not exactly true CMYK versus RGB, this allows students to visualize what an additive and subtractive color profile looks like. Students will receive finger paint for cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Using only these colors, students will mix all other colors for their pictures. Aside from the four base colors, students will be required to include four other mixed colors. Students may use classroom computers or mobile devices to look up instructions for color-mixing proportions to get a specific color. Students will mark their color choices on the Color Mixing Chart handout to record the colors they used, the proportions and the color resulting from the mix.

Students will turn in their finger paintings and completed charts.

3. Closure — 15 minutes

Create an exit ticket, journal assignment or class discussion based on the following questions:

  • What did you notice about the colors on the white papers versus the colors used on the black paper?
  • What is an additive color?
  • What is a subtractive color?
  • What colors did you make? What proportions of CMYK were needed to make these new colors?