The internet has gone into meltdown over the colour magenta. And we’re totally confused.

It started as a question on Tumblr.

Magenta

If you think pink. You’re wrong. That’s magenta.

But, if you answered Magenta, you’re wrong too.

Your brain is playing tricks on you. Yes, that’s right. Magenta, my favourite “colour” in the crayon box is actually an impossible made-up colour. Anyone else confused? You’re not alone. 

According to Wikipedia, Magenta is one of several “impossible colours”. It’s not really there. Your brain is just making it up.

Let the internet peeps explain…

Magenta has no wavelength. It is actually a combination of red and violet light sent to our brains at the same time. So our brain has to make a choice and come up with something approximate. Magenta is your brain’s guess at colour.

Here’s the official Wikipedia entry on Magenta

Magenta (/məˈɛntə/) is a colour that is variously defined as purplish-red,[1] reddish-purple or mauvishcrimson.[2] On colour wheels of the RGB (additive) and CMY (subtractive) colour models, it is located midway between red and blue. It is one of the four colours of ink used in colour printing by an inkjet printer, along with yellowblack, and cyan, to make all the other colours. The tone of magenta used in printing is called “printer’s magenta”. Magenta is technically not a colour, it has no wavelength of its own although it is classified as a colour by many and it is easier to call it one.

Magenta took its name from an aniline dye made and patented in 1859 by the French chemist François-Emmanuel Verguin, who originally called it fuchsine. It was renamed to celebrate the Italian-French victory at the Battle of Magenta fought between the French and Austrians on June 4, 1859, near the Italian town of Magenta in Lombardy.[3][4] A virtually identical colour, called roseine, was created in 1860 by two British chemists: Chambers Nicolson and George Maule.

Wait, what? So Magenta really isn’t real? How do I see it then?

Light spectrum magenta

This is the spectrum of light. It’s what you see when you see a rainbow. Despite that silly song: Red and Yellow and Pink and Green, Purple and Orange and Blue, I can sing a rainbow… PINK or Magenta does not actually exist in a rainbow.

The human eye has THREE colour cones that detect colour: red, blue and green. Everything else – that’s made up by your brain. It’s a guess. A good guess, unless you are colourblind.

What about yellow then? Are you messing with me now?

Yellow is weird too. Yellow IS on the spectrum of light, but our eyes technically can’t see it. They don’t have a yellow cone. So yellow is what your brain decides as the best guess of the equal combination of red and green light.

Magenta brain

What’s even cooler is that some animals, such as the goldfish, have more colour cones in their eyes than humans. So if they could talk – they could tell us what the colours actually look like.

Want to know more? Try looking up “impossible colours” on the web.

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Author

Alison Godfrey has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 20 years. She loves coffee, wine, skiing and spending time with her husband, two children and their dog. But she's still not sure about the cat. He's pretty cranky.

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