Techniques and Tips

Transparent and Opaque Colors: How We Perceive Them

Transparent and Opaque Colors: How We Perceive Them

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Through the following illustrations, I hope to demonstrate what happens to transparent colors when they’re applied over opaque colors, over a dark base and over a white base.

Transparent Washes Over Opaque

With opaque colors, light will hit the first layer and bounce off, but will never get to the lower layers. In this case, the eyes will just see pink (magenta with white), but it will appear flat and “chalky.” (See illustrations A and B below.)

Transparent Colors Over a Dark Base

Transparent colors will allow a light source to pass through them. However, a dark base will absorb the light, leaving a dull, less vibrant final color. (See illustrations C and D below.)

Transparent Colors Over a White Base

White is opaque and reflective—it hides what is below it and bounces light back to the surface through the layers of color. In this example, when light travels through the magenta / yellow / magenta layers, the eye will see an orange mixture with a slight red tint. When you use transparent colors over a white base, you get a lot more glow and vibrancy, and your colors have more depth. (See E, showing transparent colors on a white schematic, and F below.)

Click here to learn more about transparent and opaque colors from David Kitler — featured in Artists Magazine and currently available for digital download.

Meet the Artists

David N. Kitler’s paintings are part of several corporate and private collections in North and South America and Europe. He’s a member of the Artists for Conservation Foundation, the Society of Animal Artists and the Group of Twelve. Besides painting in his studio in Calgary, Alberta, Kitler takes research trips with his wife. He also shares his passion for nature and art with his many students. For more information, visit his website at

Ively (Lee) Kitler is a management consultant specializing in marketing and communication strategies. Her love of travel and deep appreciation for all living things dovetail with her husband’s goal to showcase nature’s intricate beauty.

Watch the video: Monets Palette and Technique (June 2022).