Bands of Colour from Red to Violet



Bands of Colour from Red to Violet

Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet are the bands of colour we see in a rainbow.
Rainbows appear as bands of colour because our eyes tend to see some wavelengths of light as being brighter and so more distinct than others.
No! Most ranges of analogous colours will produce the impression of some colours being more predominant than others to an observer.

About the diagram

About the diagram
  • This diagram is about the fact that wavelengths of light within the visible spectrum often appear to form bands of colour.
  • Every wavelength of electromagnetic radiation (light) corresponds with a different colour we see in the world.
  • When an observer sees a continuous range of wavelengths they see bands of colour.
  • When all wavelengths within the visible spectrum are present an observer will often see six bands of colour – the colours of the rainbow, ROYGBV.
  • The list on the left of the diagram shows the range of wavelengths corresponding with each band of colour.
Remember that:
  • Objects appear to be different colours depending on the wavelengths that are reflected towards an observer.
  • The name given to light that contains all wavelengths of the visible spectrum is white light.
  • When all wavelengths contained in white light reflect off a neutral coloured surface then the object appears white to an observer.
  • When one or several bands of wavelengths reflect off a neutral coloured surface then the object appears coloured to an observer.
  • The colour an observer sees depends on the wavelengths of visible light emitted by a light source and on which of those wavelengths are reflected off an object.
  • Although a human observer can distinguish between many thousands of wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum our brains often produce the impression of bands of colour.
Let’s look at this in more detail:
  • An observer perceives bands of colour because:
    • The human eye is able to distinguish between some wavelengths of visible light better than others. Another factor is that some colours appear to be brighter than others to a human observer.
    • Colour is not a property of electromagnetic radiation, but a feature of visual perception.
    • It is the human brain that draws lines between different bands of colour when an observer looks at a rainbow for example.
    • A human observer can distinguish between colours corresponding with many thousands of single wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum. These colours are called spectral colours.
    • Combinations of wavelengths from different areas of the visible spectrum produce other colours when perceived by a human observer which are called non-spectral colours.
    • There is no property belonging to electromagnetic radiation that causes bands of colour to appear to an observer. The fact that we do see distinct bands is often described as an artefact of human colour vision.
    • The visible spectrum is formed of a smooth and continuous range of wavelengths that can be demonstrated to produce a smooth and continuous range of colours.
    • Cone cells in our eyes are particularly sensitive to red, green and blue wavelengths.
    • Our brains process information received from the eye to produce all the colours of the visible spectrum.

Some key terms


Things appear coloured to an observer because colour corresponds with a property of light that is visible to the human ...

Visible spectrum

The visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum is called the visible spectrum. The visible spectrum is the range of wavelengths ...

Bands of colour

An observer perceives bands of colour when visible light separates into its component wavelengths and the human eye distinguishes between ...

Visible light

Visible light is the range of wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation perceived as colour by human observers. Visible light is a ...

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