In most languages, 'cyan' is not a basic color term and it phenomenologically appears as a greenish vibrant hue of blue to most English speakers. Other English terms for this "borderline" hue region include blue green, aqua, turquoise,teal, and grue.
The web color cyan shown at right is a secondary color in the RGB color model, which uses combinations of red, green and blue light to create all the colors on computer and television displays. In X11 colors, this color is called both cyan and aqua. In the HTML color list, this same color is called aqua.
The web colors are more vivid than the cyan used in the CMYK color system, and the web colors cannot be accurately reproduced on a printed page. To reproduce the web color cyan in inks, it is necessary to add some white ink to the printer's cyan below, so when it is reproduced in printing, it is not a primary subtractive color. It is called aqua (a name in use since 1598) because it is a color commonly associated with water, such as the appearance of the water at a tropical beach.
Cyan is also one of the common inks used in four-color printing, along with magenta, yellow, and black; this set of colors is referred to as CMYK. In printing, the cyan ink is sometimes known as printer's cyan, process cyan, or process blue.
While both the additive secondary and the subtractive primary are called cyan, they can be substantially different from one another. Cyan printing ink is typically more saturated than the RGB secondary cyan, depending on what RGB color space and ink are considered. That is, process cyan is usually outside the RGB gamut, and there is no fixed conversion from CMYK primaries to RGB. Different formulations are used for printer's ink, so there can be variations in the printed color that is pure cyan ink. This is because real-world subtractive (unlike additive) color mixing does not consistently produce the same result when mixing apparently identical colors, since the specific frequencies filtered out to produce that color affect how it interacts with other colors. Phthalocyanine blue is one such commonly used pigment. A typical formulation of process cyan is shown in the color box at right.
In science and nature
Color of water
Pure water is nearly colorless. However, it does absorb slightly more red light than blue, giving large volumes of water a bluish tint; increased scattering of blue light due to fine particles in the water shifts the blue color toward green, for a typically cyan net color.
Cinecolor, a bi-pack color process, the photographer would load a standard camera with two films, one orthochromatic, dyed red, and a panchromatic strip behind it. Color light would expose the cyan record on the ortho stock, which also acted as a filter, exposing only red light to the panchromatic film stock.
Cyanosis is an abnormal blueness of the skin, usually a sign of poor oxygen intake; patients are typically described as being "cyanotic".
In the RGB color model, used to make colors on computer and TV displays, cyan is created by the combination of green and blue light.
The planet Uranus, seen from the Voyager 2 spacecraft. The cyan color comes from clouds of methane gas in the planet's atmosphere.
A surgical team in Germany. It has been suggested that surgeons and nurses adopted a cyan-colored gown and operating rooms because it is complementary to the color of red blood and thus reduced glare, though the evidence for this claim is limited.
The pigments in color photographs may degrade at different rates, potentially resulting in a cyan tint.