Cyan (/ˈs.ən, -æn/)[1][2][3] is the color between blue and green on the visible spectrum of light.[4][5] It is evoked by light with a predominant wavelength between 500 and 520 nm, between the wavelengths of green and blue.[6]

Spectral coordinates
Wavelength490–520 nm
Frequency610–575 THz
Common connotations
About these coordinates     Color coordinates
Hex triplet#00FFFF
sRGBB (r, g, b)(0, 255, 255)
HSV (h, s, v)(180°, 100%, 100%)
CIELChuv (L, C, h)(91, 72, 192°)
SourceCSS Color Module Level 4000
B: Normalized to [0–255] (byte)
H: Normalized to [0–100] (hundred)

In the subtractive color system, or CMYK color model, which can be overlaid to produce all colors in paint and color printing, cyan is one of the primary colors, along with magenta and yellow. In the additive color system, or RGB color model, used to create all the colors on a computer or television display, cyan is made by mixing equal amounts of green and blue light. Cyan is the complement of red; it can be made by the removal of red from white. Mixing red light and cyan light at the right intensity will make white light.

Shades and variations


Different shades of cyan can vary in terms of hue, chroma (also known as saturation, intensity, or colorfulness), or lightness (or value, tone, or brightness), or any combination of these characteristics. Differences in value can also be referred to as tints and shades, with a tint being a cyan mixed with white, and a shade being mixed with black.

Color nomenclature is subjective. Many shades of cyan with a bluish hue are called blue. Similarly, those with a greenish hue are referred to as green. A cyan with a dark shade is commonly known as teal. A teal blue shade leans toward the blue end of the spectrum. Variations of teal with a greener tint are commonly referred to as teal green.[7]

Turquoise, reminiscent of the stone with the same name, is a shade in the green spectrum of cyan hues.[8] Celeste is a lightly tinted cyan that represents the color a clear sky. Other colors in the cyan color range are electric blue, aquamarine, and others described as blue-green.



Cyan boasts a rich and diverse history, holding cultural significance for millennia. In ancient civilizations, turquoise, valued for its aesthetic appeal, served as a highly regarded precious gem. Turquoise comes in a variety of shades from green to blue, but cyan hues are particularly prevalent. Approximately 3,700 years ago, an intricately crafted dragon-shaped treasure made from over 2,000 pieces of turquoise and jade was created. This artifact is widely recognized as the oldest Chinese dragon totem by many Chinese scholars.[9]

Turquoise jewelry also held significant importance among the Aztecs, who often featured this precious gemstone in vibrant frescoes for both symbolic and decorative purposes. The Aztecs revered turquoise, associating its color with the heavens and sacredness.[10] Additionally, ancient Egyptians interpreted cyan hues as representing faith and truth, while Tibetans viewed them as a symbol of infinity.[11]

After earlier uses in various contexts, cyan hues found increased use in diverse cultures due to their appealing aesthetic qualities in religious structures and art pieces. For example, the prominent dome of the Goharshad Mosque in Iran, built in 1418, showcases this trend. Additionally, Jacopo da Pontormo's use of a teal shade for Mary's robe in the 1528 painting Carmignano Visitation demonstrates the allure for these hues.[12] During the 16th century, speakers of the English language began using the term turquoise to describe the cyan color of objects that resembled the color of the stone.[13]

In the 1870s, the French sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi began the construction of what would later become the Statue of Liberty. Over time, exposure to the elements caused the copper structure to develop its distinctive patina, now recognized as iconic cyan.[14] Following this, there was a significant advancement in the use of cyan during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Impressionist artists, such as Claude Monet in his renowned Water Lilies, effectively incorporated cyan hues into their works. Deviating from traditional interpretations of local color under neutral lighting conditions, the focus of artists was on accurately depicting perceived color and the influence of light on altering object hues. Specifically, daylight plays a significant role in shifting the perceived color of objects toward cyan hues.[15] In 1917, the color term teal was introduced to describe deeper shades of cyan.[16]

In the late 19th century, while traditional nomenclature of red, yellow, and blue persisted, the printing industry initiated a shift towards utilizing magenta and cyan inks for red and blue hues, respectively. This transition aimed to establish a more versatile color gamut achievable with only three primary colors. In 1949, a document in the printing industry stated: “The four-color set comprises Yellow, Red (magenta), Blue (cyan), Black”. This practice of labeling magenta, yellow, and cyan as red, yellow, and blue persisted until 1961. As the hues evolved, the printing industry maintained the use of the traditional terms red, yellow, and blue. Consequently, pinpointing the exact date of origin for CMYK, in which cyan serves as a primary color, proves challenging.[17]

In August 1991, the HP Deskwriter 500C became the first Deskwriter to offer color printing as an option. It used interchangeable black and color (cyan, magenta, and yellow) inkjet print cartridges.[18] With the inclusion of cyan ink in printers, the term "cyan" has become widely recognized in both home and office settings. According to TUP/Technology User Profile 2020, approximately 70% of online American adults regularly use a home printer.[19]

Etymology and terminology


Its name is derived from the Ancient Greek word kyanos (κύανος), meaning "dark blue enamel, Lapis lazuli".[20][21] It was formerly known as "cyan blue"[22] or cyan-blue,[23] and its first recorded use as a color name in English was in 1879.[24] Further origins[clarification needed] of the color name can be traced back to a dye produced from the cornflower (Centaurea cyanus).[25][26]

In most languages, 'cyan' is not a basic color term and it phenomenologically appears as a greenish vibrant hue of blue to most English speakers. Other English terms for this "borderline" hue region include blue green, aqua, turquoise,[27] teal, and grue.[28]

On the web and in printing


Web colors cyan and aqua

Cyan (additive secondary)
      Color coordinates
Hex triplet#00FFFF
sRGBB (r, g, b)(0, 255, 255)
HSV (h, s, v)(180°, 100%, 100%)
CIELChuv (L, C, h)(91, 72, 192°)
ISCC–NBS descriptorBrilliant bluish green
B: Normalized to [0–255] (byte)

The web color cyan shown at right is a secondary color in the RGB color model, which uses combinations of red, green and blue light to create all the colors on computer and television displays. In X11 colors, this color is called both cyan and aqua. In the HTML color list, this same color is called aqua.

The web colors are more vivid than the cyan used in the CMYK color system, and the web colors cannot be accurately reproduced on a printed page. To reproduce the web color cyan in inks, it is necessary to add some white ink to the printer's cyan below, so when it is reproduced in printing, it is not a primary subtractive color. It is called aqua (a name in use since 1598) because it is a color commonly associated with water, such as the appearance of the water at a tropical beach.[29]

Process cyan

Cyan (subtractive primary)
      Color coordinates
Hex triplet#00B7EB
sRGBB (r, g, b)(0, 183, 235)
HSV (h, s, v)(193°, 100%, 92%)
CIELChuv (L, C, h)(69, 74, 229°)
SourceCMYK[30][unreliable source?]
ISCC–NBS descriptorBrilliant greenish blue
B: Normalized to [0–255] (byte)

Cyan is also one of the common inks used in four-color printing, along with magenta, yellow, and black; this set of colors is referred to as CMYK. In printing, the cyan ink is sometimes known as printer's cyan, process cyan, or process blue.

While both the additive secondary and the subtractive primary are called cyan, they can be substantially different from one another. Cyan printing ink is typically more saturated than the RGB secondary cyan, depending on what RGB color space and ink are considered. That is, process cyan is usually outside the RGB gamut,[31] and there is no fixed conversion from CMYK primaries to RGB. Different formulations are used for printer's ink, so there can be variations in the printed color that is pure cyan ink. This is because real-world subtractive (unlike additive) color mixing does not consistently produce the same result when mixing apparently identical colors, since the specific frequencies filtered out to produce that color affect how it interacts with other colors. Phthalocyanine blue is one such commonly used pigment. A typical formulation of process cyan is shown in the color box on the right.

In science and nature


Color of water

  • Pure water is nearly colorless. However, it does absorb slightly more red light than blue, giving significant volumes of water a bluish tint; increased scattering of blue light due to fine particles in the water shifts the blue color toward green, for a typically cyan net color.[32]

Cyan and cyanide





  • The planet Uranus is colored cyan because of the abundance of methane in its atmosphere. Methane absorbs red light and reflects the blue-green light which allows observers to see it as cyan.[35]



Photography and film

  • Cyanotype, or blueprint, a monochrome photographic printing process that predates the use of the word cyan as a color, yields a deep cyan-blue colored print based on the Prussian blue pigment.[37]
  • Cinecolor, a bi-pack color process, the photographer would load a standard camera with two films, one orthochromatic, dyed red, and a panchromatic strip behind it. Color light would expose the cyan record on the ortho stock, which also acted as a filter, exposing only red light to the panchromatic film stock.[38][39]



See also



  1. ^ "cyan". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ "cyan". Unabridged (Online). n.d. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  3. ^ "cyan". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). HarperCollins.
  4. ^ "cyan". Dictionary. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  5. ^ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (5th ed.). Oxford University Press. 2002.
  6. ^ Jones, Andrew Zimmerman. "Visible Light Spectrum – Overview and Chart". Archived from the original on 3 January 2012. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  7. ^ Sadana, Nishtha (11 August 2021). "What Color Is Teal? How You Can Use it in Your Home". Knock Off Decor. Retrieved 2024-02-13.
  8. ^ "What is the difference between cyan and turquoise?". Difference Digest. 2023-08-20. Retrieved 2024-02-13.
  9. ^ "Archaeologists Find Oldest Chinese Dragon Totem". Xinhua News Agency. 2005-11-01. Retrieved 2024-02-14.
  10. ^ "What are the Aztec colors?". AZTECZONE. 2023-08-12. Retrieved 2024-02-14.
  11. ^ Parker, Dian (2022-06-21). "The Allure and Power of the Color Teal". Art & Object. Retrieved 2024-02-21.
  12. ^ Parker, Dian (2022-06-21). "The Allure and Power of the Color Teal". Art & Object. Retrieved 2024-02-21.
  13. ^ Maerz and Paul (1930). A Dictionary of Color. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 206; Color Sample of Turquoise [green]: Page 73, Plate 25, Color Sample I5.
  14. ^ Parker, Dian (2022-06-21). "The Allure and Power of the Color Teal". Art & Object. Retrieved 2024-02-21.
  15. ^ Grant, Kim; Cramer, Charles (2021). "Impressionist color". Khan Academy. Google Classroom. Retrieved 2024-02-21.
  16. ^ Maerz and Paul (1930). A Dictionary of Color. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 205 (text), 101 (teal color sample). Plate 39 color sample L7 (on p. 101)
  17. ^ Wright, Laura (2011-11-27). "Semantic shift of the colour-terms maroon and magenta in British Standard English". Revista de Lenguas para Fines Específicos. 17: 341–376.
  18. ^ "Twenty Years of Innovation: HP Deskjet Printers 1988 – 2008" (PDF). Hewlett-Packard. 2008.
  19. ^ Ness, Dan (2021-02-25), Home Printer Trends in the US, retrieved 2024-04-21
  20. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  21. ^ "Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, κύα^νος". Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  22. ^ J. Arthur H. Hatt (1908). The Colorist: Designed to Correct the Commonly Held Theory that Red, Yellow, and Blue are the Primary Colors and to Supply the Much Needed Easy Method of Determining Color Harmony. D. Van Nostrand Company. p. 22.
  23. ^ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 5th edition.
  24. ^ Maerz and Paul A Dictionary of Color New York:1930 McGraw-Hill page 194
  25. ^ The Pigment Compendium: A Dictionary of Historical Pigments, Nicholas Eastaugh, Valentine Walsh, Tracey Chaplin, Ruth Siddall, 2004, Routledge, ISBN 9781136373855
  26. ^ Eastaugh, Nicholas; Walsh, Valentine; Chaplin, Tracey; Siddall, Ruth (30 March 2007). Pigment Compendium: A Dictionary of Historical Pigments. Routledge. ISBN 9781136373855. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  27. ^ Raffman, Diana (2014). Unruly Words: A Study of Vague Language. OUP USA. pp. 56–57. ISBN 9780199915101. Retrieved 31 July 2019.
  28. ^ Kay, Paul; Maffi, Luisa. "Number of Basic Colour Categories". The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  29. ^ Maerz and Paul The Dictionary of Color 1930 (see under Aqua in Index, page 189)
  30. ^ "". Archived from the original on 10 March 2007. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  31. ^ P.U.P.A. Gilbert; Willy Haeberli (2011). Physics in the Arts (Revised ed.). Academic Press. p. 110. ISBN 9780123918895. Retrieved 31 July 2019.
  32. ^ Craig F. Bohren (2001). Clouds in a Glass of Beer: Simple Experiments in Atmospheric Physics. Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-41738-7.
  33. ^ Best, Janet (2017-06-08). Colour Design: Theories and Applications. Woodhead Publishing. ISBN 9780081018897.
  34. ^ A. Elaine, McKeown (2015-10-27). Impact of Water Pollution on Human Health and Environmental Sustainability. IGI Global. ISBN 9781466695603.
  35. ^ "Uranus in True and False Color". NASA. 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2017-09-28.
  36. ^ Hahn, Eric. "Gas Flame Colour Temperature Chart (Yellow Flame vs Blue Flame)". ELGAS – LPG Gas for Home & Business. Retrieved 2017-11-10.
  37. ^ Mike Ware (1999). Cyanotype: the history, science and art of photographic printing in Prussian blue. NMSI Trading Ltd. ISBN 1-900747-07-3.
  38. ^ Belton, John (2000): CinecoIor. In: Film History, 12,4, Color Film (2000), pp. 344–357.
  39. ^ "Cinecolor". Retrieved 2017-11-10.
  40. ^ Mosby's Medical, Nursing & Allied Health Dictionary. Mosby-Year Book (4th ed.). 1994. p. 425.
  41. ^ Belkin (March–April 1998). "Surgical scrubs--where we were, where we are going". Todays Surg Nurse. 20 (2): 28–34. PMID 10026627.