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What are Impossible Colors?

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Impossible colors are colors that normally can not be perceived but that can be seen under special circumstances. Color perception is the result of physical structures in the eye and processes in the brain that interpret color. These processes don't capture all colors that can physically exist. Impossible colors are situations whereby people report being able to see colors that are beyond normal perception. The following are examples.

Complementary Color Combinations

Complement colors are two colors that cancel each other out. When mixed together they appear as grey. For example, there is normally no reddish-green or bluish-yellow as these both look grey to our eyes. However, there are techniques that may allow people to see these colors as colorful as opposed to grey. One technique is to stare at a color until your eyes tire and then look at its complementary color. This is commonly said to work with yellow and blue.

Impossibly Dark

Staring at a color causes an afterimage of the complementary color. For example, staring at yellow causes a blue afterimage. If you then look at pure black, you may see a blue that is as dark as pure black. This is normally not possible as blue is always has a lightness to it.

Impossibly Bright

Staring at a color to create a complementary afterimage and then staring at white can make a color seem as bright as white.

Impossibly Colorful

Staring at blue to create an orange afterimage and then looking at orange can result in a perception of "more orange than orange." These are commonly described as hypercolors.
Overview: Impossible Colors
Colors that can't normally be seen that may appear in special circumstances.
Related Concepts

Color Theory

This is the complete list of articles we have written about color theory.
Analogous Color
Color Combinations
Color Depth
Color Harmony
Color is Real
Color Perception
Color Purity
Color Saturation
Color Scheme
Color Space
Color Symbolism
Color Temperature
Complementary Colors
Corporate Colors
Heat Map
Impossible Colors
Monochromatic Color
Primary Colors
Rainbow Colors
Spectral Color
Tints And Shades
Visible Spectrum
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Color Theory

An overview of color theory.

Color Theory Definition

Definitions of color theory.

Color Theory

The study of color mixing and the visual effects of color.

Color Harmony

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The definition of color.

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A definition of color symbolism with examples.

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A definition of sensory design with examples.

Rainbow Colors

An overview of the colors of the rainbow including a few common myths.


A large collection of color palettes.

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A list of visual design techniques, elements and considerations.


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The difference between symmetry and balance.

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An overview of proportion and scale in design.

Design Contrast

The basic ways to create contrast in a design.

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A definition of visual communication with examples.

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The common elements of information design.

Modern Design

The defining characteristics of modern design.
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