We see colors with the CONE cells

The human eye can distinguish over 10 million colors and shades. How is it possible to percept such a huge amount of different colors? For this huge task our eyes and brain has a simple method. In the retina we have special rod & cone cells which are able to percept a wide range of the light spectrum of the sun. The special nerve cells which are responsible for distinguish colors are the cone cells. 

Because our eye is not possible to differentiate all the waves separately the human vision has a perfect trick. We need only 3 cone cells to create all colors in our brain.

CONE cells of our eyes

S-CONE
creates out of 380 - 540 nm light rays a blue color vision

M-CONE
creates out of 440 - 670 nm light rays a green color vision

L-CONE 
creates out of 500 - 690 nm light rays a red color vision

and is also responsible for the continuously color vision to close the color wheel

Light Spectrum

The visible light spectrum starts from 380 nm and ends at 780 nm wavelength. In between this range all color from the visible light range are located. Our cone cells in the retina can percept different ranges of the full spectrum. Our brain is creating colors in the way how much each cone cell is stimulated. In case only the S-CONE is active we see a blue color. If the M-CONE and the L-CONE is active, we see a yellow color. 

WAVELENGTH         COLOR VISION     CONE CELL
400 nm VIOLET S-CONE and L-CONE
450 nm BLUE S-CONE 
480 nm CYAN S-CONE and M-CONE
530 nm  GREEN M-CONE
580 nm  YELLOW M-CONE and L-CONE
650 nm  RED  L-CONE 
The different color perception is based on the 3 different CONE´s in our retina. All colors are based on a mixture of the 3 stimulated CONE cells.

With the 3 color sensitive cells the brain can create all other colors from mixing this 3 colors together. One color represent one CONE cell. This mixing is an additive mix and works with colored light. For pigments we need to look deeper into some circumstances.

If you set the newly created colors, which are mixed out of two colors in between, then we get automatically the subtractive primary colors for print and mixing. This are YELLOW (2 CONES M+L), MAGENTA (L+S CONE) and CYAN (M+S CONE). 

The two color systems brings us to our CONE color wheel. Here you can find more information about our CONE COLOR SYSTEM.