Color in Light


J. Michael Gillette. Theatrical Design and Production, 4th edition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company. 1999. Chapter 6: Color,

     A Virtual Demonstration of the Theatrical Use of Color (Use the back button to return to this page)
     Chapt 9: Light and Color from Wilard Bellman's Lighting the Stage, Art and Practice (3rd edition, Louisville, KY: Broadway Press, 2001).
     Rosco's "Guide to Color Filters"

1. What is the difference between additive and subtractive color mixing?

Primary colors Additive color mixing is used in light. The three light primaries-- Red, Blue and Green, --when combined (added) will produce White light. The three secondaries are produced when two of primaries are mixed.
  • Red + Blue = Magenta (Purple);
  • Blue + Green = Cyan (Blue green); and
  • Red + Green = Yellow.

Subtractive color mixing is used with paint. The three paint primaries-- Magenta, Cyan and Yellow, --when mixed together will produce black. Subtractive color mixing is also used to produce colored light-- White light, when passed through a Red color media (which subtracts the Blue and Green hues), produces Red light.

2. What is the color temperature of "white light?"

The color temperature measures, in Kelvin, how "white," or hot, a light source appears. The color temperature of most theatrical lamps is between 2800 K and 3200 K. The lower the temperature, the more "yellow" the light will appear.

3. What happens to the color temperature of a lamp when the lamp is dimmed?

The color temperature will drop; a process known as "amber drift."

4. Why is color media usually referred to as "gel?"

Gel, an organic product (Brigham or RoscoGel), was the original color media. Because it tended to fade under high wattage lamps, it was replaced by an acetate (plastic) based product (Roscolene or Cinemoid) in the mid 1950s and a poly-carbonate (also plastic) based product (Roscolux, Lee or GamColor) in the early 80s. Gel has remained the traditional, or generic, name for theatrical color media.

5. What three lines of color media (gel) are available in the Minneapolis area?

  1. Roscolux
  2. Lee
  3. Gamcolor

    Why are gels always spacified by the manufacturer's catalogue number and not by name?

Because a name is not specific. For example, I would like my front light to be a pale pink. The questions is which pale pink? Roscolux 33: No Color Pink. Lee 154: Pale Rose, or GamColor 105; Antique Rose.

6. What is the cost of a 20" x 24" sheet of Roscolux?

$ 6.93, as quoted in the 2010-2011 Stage Technology Online Catalogue.

7. How many 6" instruments can be gelled from one sheet?

Six. The standard gell cut for an Altman 6" Fresnel, 6" Ellipsoidal or an ETC Source 4 PAR or PARNel is 7 1/2" x 7 1/2".

    How many 8" instruments?

Four. The standard gell cut for an 8" Fresnel, Ellipsoidal or PARCan is 10"x 10".

    How many Source 4 - 36° Ellipsoidals?

Nine. The standard gell cut for a Source 4 Ellipsoidal is 6 1/4"x 6 1/4"

    How many Scoops?


8. List eleven basic acting area colors you would stock.

Over the past 30 years I've developed a basic color palette which covers my basic needs. Specific gels, using the Roscolux series, include...
  1. Two pale pinks: a soft, warm, no-color pink and a more intense, darker, pinky pink;
    1. R33: No Color Pink
    2. R34: Flesh Pink
  2. Two light lavenders: a warm lavender and a cool lavender
    1. R51: Suprise Pink
    2. R55: Lilac
  3. Two pale ambers: a warm, almost no-color bastard amber and a darker, heavier BA;
    1. R02: Bastard Amber
    2. R01: Light Bastard Amber (Note: R01: Light Bastard Amber is darker than R02: Bastard Amber)
  4. One pale yellow for "realistic" sunlight
    1. R08: Pale Gold or R07: Pale Yellow
  5. Four blues evenly spaced between icy, no-color blue and very dark blue.
    1. R63: Pale Blue or R64: Light Steel Blue
    2. R67: Light Sky Blue or R68: Parry Sky Blue
    3. R69: Brilliant Blue
    4. R80: Primary Blue
Obviously, if I need a specific color which is not in this basic stock, I will order it for the show.

    What are the three light primaries?

  1. Red (R26: Light Red)
  2. Blue (R80: Primary Blue) and
  3. Green (R91: Primary Green).

    What are the three light secondaries?

  1. Magenta (R58: Deep Lavender)
  2. Cyan (R93: Blue Green)
  3. Yellow (R12: Straw)

9. What is the difference between a warm color?

Light Bastard Amber
R01: Light Bastard Amberr
Warm colors are generally associated with fire and sun light -- No Color Pink, Pale Yellow, Light Bastard Amber...

    A neutral color?

Suprise Pink
R51: Suprise Pink
Neutral colors appear warm when compared to a cool color and cool when compared to a warm color -- Special Lavender, Suprise Pink...

    A cool color?

Pale Blue
R63: Pale Blue
Cool colors are associated with the sky and water -- Pale Blue, Light Blue Green...

10. What is the McCandless Color Scheme?

McCandless Color Scheme
McCandless Color Scheme
Stanley McCandless (1897-1967), the long time lighting professor at Yale University, believed that the actor should be lit with two lamps separated by approximately 90°. One light should be gelled in a warm color (R01: Light Bastard Amber) and the second in a cool (R63: Pale Blue) or neutral color (R51: Suprise Pink).The figure in the image to the left is lit from SL in R01 and from SR in R51.

E-mail questions and comments to Larry Wild at
Revised: December 28, 2010
Copyright © 2001-2010 by Larry Wild, Northern State University , Aberdeen, SD