What does the world look like when you're color blind?

On the left is a picture of me with my bike, taken by my friend Laura Kling. On the right is the same image, as it would be seen by a person with protanopia — a relatively common (as in, still very rare) form of color blindness that affects the ability to see green, yellow, and red colors.

The Color Blindness Simulator will allow you to do this with your own photos.


      1. But do you have protanopia? There are different types of color blindness, which will let you distinguish different colors.

        Assuming they at least make things appear similar, playing with programs like this seems like a good way to get a feel for them.

        1. I have protanopia but I suspect that there are degrees to which you can be affected. There’s also some good research that shows that some component of color perception is learned too. So a person who is color blind (that lack or have defective L-cones) can probably learn to compensate for it to some degree. One example is the fact that people who work in occupations that require a fine attention to color, such as designers, painters, artists etc, can often make very fine distinctions between color that most other people can’t perceive when their eyes aren’t physically any better or worse at color perception.

          That said, as a color blind person who has worked in a color critical occupation for nearly 20 years, I certainly CAN see a significant difference between the two photos. The bike frame on the left looks bright red and the other looks black and I can see other subtle differences in the other colors as well.

    1. No. For a color blind viewer, both pictures are distorted. The ‘reference’ picture is distorted because the viewer is color blind. The ‘simulated’ picture is double-distorted: Once for the simulation, and then a second time by the viewer’s color blindness.

  1. Very cool simulator, could be useful when designing stuff for the color-blind.

    Of course if you subscribe to the philosophy of color irrealism everybody perceives color differently anyways.

  2. Photoshop also has this built in since CS4.  View Menu > Proof Setup, pick either of the two kinds of color blindness, and turn on Soft Proofing (Ctrl-/Cmd-Y)

  3. I am colorblind and can barely tell the pictures apart. the only difference I see is the bike looks darker on the right, brighter on the left.

    1.  Yes, and color blind people are often quite capable of using visual cues other than color to correctly assess the color of an object even when they do not see it as the rest of us do. “Hey, it’s that funny shade of gray that stands out only just a little that people make a big deal out of for some reason by calling it “red”. It’s very similar to another group of shades people call “green”. Why they care so much about this is a bit beyond me. I’m gonna put on my old blue sweatshirt and paint my walls yellow.”

      This skill at naming colors even without the proper mix of cones in the retina is why it sometimes takes something as complicated as the Ishihara plates to determine color blindness.

  4. Yes, this is pretty extreme. I’m “color blind” (fail those blotch tests where you’re supposed to read a number, I just see different colors), and I can obviously tell the difference between the two pictures. I dunno….

      1. Can you? They’re pictures so we have to take the author at her word, she says the one on the left with the red bike, green wall, pink zipper and sleeve is the real one. The one on the right with the black bike, marigold wall, blue-ish zipper sleeve is the color-blind one.

  5. My brother is color blind and I always wondered what it is like seeing the world through his eyes. I used to tease the hell out of him as a kid though.

  6. My husband is colorblind so I showed him both pictures and asked if they were different, but didn’t say anything about color. He said they looked the same. Once I told him what was different, he started noticing things, like the bike being a different color. However, I mentioned that the wall in the background was a different color, and he couldn’t tell that on his own, and could barely see it when he knew to look at it. Colorblindness is something that is hard to explain to someone that can “see” all colors, because they seem so different, so I really appreciate this post because it helps me understand him better. 

    1. I had a good guess that something was different on the background, but I couldn’t tell you what it was, I just know the color that I do see there is yellowish/greenish shade that I can never tell apart, so I strongly suspected that was a problem area.

  7. There are different flavors of colorblindness.  I have the most common type, deuteranomaly, and the two pictures are clearly different to me.
    If you were to quiz me about each of the colors in the picture on the left, some of my answers would not make sense to you.

    If you told me the bike on the left was green, I would have to get up close to my monitor, and look at for a little while to be sure it was red.  Or is it green?  Damn, now I’m not sure.

    1. Exactly.

      The bike on the left looks red to me — either because I know it’s red and I’m suggestible that way or (just as likely) because the “tone” is not quite right for a green bike, which would probably be darker.  But that’s just based on my experience with bike and other consumer item colors. If you insisted that really was a green bike, I couldn’t argue.

      Things like tape flags and map legends are where the real problems are.  The color choices can be arbitrary.

      1. When I was a child, I discovered a friend was colorblind because he kept mistaking Nigeria from Italy at pro evolution soccer! :-)

  8. if you’re colorblind and have a smartphone, take a look at the DanKam app, which uses “hue quantization” to force camera sensed colors into sections of the spectrum that use colorblind folks CAN tell apart. It’s very helpful when i need to tell if an LED is yellow or green or orange. attached is how it lets me see that the backround is green on the left and yellow/orange on the right.

  9. My husband is red/green color blind and it’s caused no end of “problems” for us.  For example the time I painted my nails chocolate brown and he gave me a little hassle for wearing black finger nail polish.  Or any of the times I’ve asked him for suggestions as to what shirt to wear and he says “the brown one” and then picks up a mint green shirt!  On a side note, I had no idea what the scientific names for colorblindness were and now I feel like I’ve got a huge gap in my education.  Time for some reading…..

    I think color and our perception of it is a fascinating subject.  Radio Lab did a really interesting episode about color and I highly recommend it.  You can find it here: http://www.radiolab.org/2012/may/21/

  10. Fascinating, I see the difference in the bikes easily, but until someone in the comments claimed the backgrounds differ I had no idea.  I still can’t see any difference in the background mind you, I just take it as truth that they are different.  (If pushed I’d guess the background is a kind of that color “green” that people claim exists.)

    -abs is pretty sure that “Green” is a conspiracy headed up by his wife, but how she managed to get so influential as to get almost everyone in the world to consistently agree on the existance of this “color Green” is beyond him, well, she is hot, so maybe that’s it

    1. As a red/green color blindy (slightly). The bikes are obvious, the zipper pull is obvious, the back walls I can tell apart, but only just.  They look quite similar to me.  I can tell they are different, but not by much. One looks like a green starburst candy, the other like an orangey yellow one.

      1. Ooooh!  You’re right, the zipper-pull IS different too!

        I see it as blue v. blue (maybe purple)

        -abs finds the whole phenomenom fascinating

  11. There is a very cool implementation of this available on iOS. It’s called Chromatic Vision Simulator, and it allows you to alter the camera feed in real time to simulate 3 different flavors of color blindness.

    It’s fun to walk around the house, the yard, looking at the world through other eyes.

  12. I grew up with an ancient black and white TV, and had no trouble distinguishing the colors it showed, but friends who were only used to color TV would always look at me weird if I pointed out the “red” car in a program. I don’t doubt that people who are color-blind have developed the skill of identifying common colors from the tonal qualities in the colors that they can see. My father has red-green color-blindness but seems to have no trouble reading resistor color codes, but can’t pick an appropriately coloured shirt to save his life. 

    1. I, on the other hand, was quite surprised to discover that the Wicked Witch of the West was green.

  13. Maggie,

    You should consider doing a post on the work of Jay Neitz and his colleagues at University of Washington (and U Florida I believe).  They have cured red/green color blindness in monkeys, and are set to begin trials (hopefully soon) on humans.  It’s amazing to see the videos of the monkeys now able to pass all the tests they couldn’t before.  Evidently it works by putting the missing color-blind-gene into a harmless virus and injecting into the eye, it “infects” the retina with the gene and a few weeks later–permanent full color vision. 

    Sounds kind of weird, but also kind of amazing. 4 years later, the monkeys are still fine and seeing full color.

    They first did it in 2009–tons of science news about it then, but haven’t seen much since other than the monkeys are still doing good and their working toward human trials.  I would love to see Boing Boing’s take on this and maybe get some more info on what the status is, and if you see any issues that didn’t come through in the main stream accounts. Especially seeing how many color blind boingers their are out there (My son is red/green color blind).

    One of many links on it.


  14. I’ve been trying to work out why these things don’t sit right with me. I show them to my friends every now and then. But they are little more than party tricks that elicit ooh’s and ah’s. This is not how I see the world. This is a relative approximation of what your eyes would see. Create a “what colour vision normal see” and I’d be aghast as well

  15. I found another useful freeware program to simulate color blindness. Unfortunately the menu is in german but I think it is still easy to use. You can download it at http://www.eyesyde.de/de/download.html?ber=6. A great advantage is that you can use “eye.syde” dynamically like a screen magnifying glass. You can convert everything you see on the screen, not only single pictures. 

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