Is This Photo Black And White Or Color?

By Psquared - August 02, 2019

How good are your eyes? We hope that they’re in at least decent enough shape to continue reading this on whatever device you’re using, otherwise, what’s the point? Anyways, as good as you think your eyes are, we’re about to put them to the test. And no, you don’t have to worry. We’re not going to report the findings to the DMV or anything, so you can relax because your driver’s license isn’t at stake here. This is just for fun.

We’re not going to be testing how well you can see from a distance or up close, we’re going to be showing you something different entirely. For this test, it’s gonna be all about colors. And don’t worry if you don’t know the difference between mauve or chartreuse, because this isn’t about testing your knowledge of colors, just your ability to see if they’re there at all. Sounds easy, right? Well, just you wait…

Black And White


Okay, here’s the first test. Is this picture in color or is it in black and white?

Don’t fret, we’re not trying to trick you… just yet. Just guess one way or the other, and we’ll tell you how you did.

Did you guess black and white? If you did, then you are… correct! See, wasn’t that easy. But even though there’s no color, you can almost see in your head what color it should be if it was there, can’t you?



Keep that in mind, because it will become important pretty soon here. Anyways, onto question number two.

Is this color black and white or is it in color? Just like the last image, just give your best guess.

If you said this one is in color… correctomundo! See, we’re not trying to fool ya. Unless you are color blind, this has been cake so far. Now, here’s where it gets tricky. Take a look at this next pic and tell us what you see…



So, with those first two questions out of the way, your eyeballs should be nice and warmed up.

So, tell us what you see. Is this picture in color or is it in black and white? And again, we’re not trying to fool you.

However, even though we’re not trying to fool you, your brain is. It’s melding things together, making assumptions and filling in blanks that aren’t there for you. So, if you said this picture is in color, you are… wrong!



Yup, this picture is in black and white. Seeing it in color is just an optical illusion.

This was created by digital media artist and software developer Øyvind Kolås as a visual experiment, and the experiment was a success.

This image has gone viral, as countless people are stunned to find that this is actually a picture without color. So what exactly is going on here? How does this work? It all has to do with a specific technique.

Color Assimilation


The technique is something that Kolås calls the “colour assimilation grid illusion.” It’s devilishly simple and incredibly effective.

You see, it achieves its effect by simply laying a grid of selectively colored lines over an original black and white image.

Here’s an example of color assimilation when you layer colored lines over a colored image. As you can see, it can lead to some pretty trippy results, and your brain is left doing a lot of guess work to deal with seeing it.

Grid Lines


“An over-saturated colored grid overlaid on a grayscale image causes the grayscale cells to be perceived as having color,” Kolås explains on his Patreon page.

According to vision scientist Bart Anderson from the University of Sydney, the effect we’re seeing in this illusion isn’t surprising.

“The color system is what vision scientists refer to as “low pass,” i.e., many of the receptive fields that code color are quite large. So the grids get “averaged” with the achromatic background, which then gets attributed to that part of the image,” Anderson said.

Compressing Information


In other words, our brain kind of compresses visual information when we look at things, giving us an overall impression.

It’s kind of a tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) that our brain does to save time when we don’t take the effort to examine things more closely.

So in black and white photos, a little color goes a long way to trick our brains into telling our eyes what we’re seeing. And it doesn’t even have to be a full grid of color, either…

Diagonal Lines


While Kolås finds grids offer the best effect, he’s also played around with other ways of achieving the visual trick.

Here he simply adds diagonal colored lines to the black and white photo and, yup… we’re totally seeing it in color.

So, if any of you are in art school or need to color something and are in a bit of a hurry, you can save a ton of time by simply drawing a bunch of lines. And that’s not all!



You can also create the same effect by adding a bunch of colorful dots all over the image.

This is actually how comic books used to do it back in the day. Find any comic from the ’60s, look closely and you’ll notice they saved ink by coloring in this way.

“The raster of dots gives a nice analogy to half-toning as used in print, where color assimilation aids the optical mixture of colors that already happens before our visual system gets involved,” Kolås explains.

Horizontal Lines


We’ve seen grids, dots and diagonal lines. Would horizontal and vertical lines create the same optical illusion?

Welp, seeing is believing, even though we’ve gone to great lengths to show that you can’t always believe what you’re seeing.

Lines of any type can trick your brain into seeing black and white images in full color. But that leads us to an interesting thought. So far, every photo we’ve seen has been, well… just a photo. Is that the only way this can work?

In Motion


Not at all! It turns out that color assimilation is a technique that doesn’t just work on static images.

It even works on moving pictures. If you add a color grid to footage from a movie or TV show that’s in black and white, it will appear in color.

Kolås shows in a full-motion video that the grid overlay is able to trick the brain into thinking it’s seeing colorful footage, all by virtue of the “low pass” way our visual system attributes color.

The Dress


This isn’t the only image involving color that has gone viral and made the internet question its collective sanity.

Remember a few years ago when the hashtag dress broke the world wide web in a way that Kim Kardashian only wishes she could?

Of course you do! It was just an image of a dress, yet half the population saw it as being black and blue, while the other half saw it as gold and white. What was going on there?



Once again, our brains our to blame for the confusion. They’re trying to process one of two options.

Either, this is a blue/black dress in yellow light, or a white/gold dress with a blue shadow casted over top of it.

Our brains render these as about the same, so it makes a snap decision upon first viewing and shows you its initial reaction. That’s why you can look at it multiple times and see it different ways each time.

Color Challenge


Here’s another color challenge that you may have seen on the web in the past at some point.

It seems easy, but it’s insanely difficult. We want you to look at this chart and say the color of each word, not the word itself.

Go ahead and give it a go. Not as easy as you thought, huh? That’s because besides color assimilation and trying to make snap decisions to fill in the blanks, your brain is also in conflict with itself in its right and left hemispheres which each do different tasks.

Don't Believe Everything You See


So we’ll ask you one more time: how good are your eyes? We bet you feel differently about that question now.

You may be saying that your eyes are perfect, it’s just your brain that’s confusing them because it’s not as great as you thought it was.

Hey, don’t be too tough on your brain, now. If it wasn’t for it, you wouldn’t be able to learn all this cool stuff about how it and your eyes work. Oh, and living… it’s apparently kind of important for that, too.