Although there are still a few months left in 2022, we've already made our pick of the best optical illusions of the year. We can never have enough optical illusions, here at Creative Bloq and we've seen so many this year that we had to start compiling this collection already. We've seen everything, from accidental optical illusions to optical illusions that have been intentionally devised to baffle our brains. Here, we've made our pick of the best.
From a double illusion with apparently changing and disappearing white dots to a rotating horse and an impossible slide, we've rounded up our favourites. Some of them are new illusions created this year, and others are classics that have resurfaced on TikTok and other platforms, gaining a new legion of fans. Consider investing in the best graphic design software if you want to make your own.
The two-in-one optical illusion
Two optical illusions in one? Consider us impressed. This White dot illusion from contact lens supplier Lenstore (opens in new tab) can suck you in for hours if you're not careful. The gif shows a series of dots in a circle that can be made to either change colour or vanish completely depending on where you look.
Confused? Just choose one of the moving spots. To make the dots change colour, follow the light grey spot around the circle as it moves. After around 30 seconds, you're likely to see the rest of the dots turn a teal/green shade. To make all of the dots completely disappear, just stare at the cross in the centre of the circle for 30 seconds.
Thankfully, Lenstore has a nice scientific explanation for us to clear up what's happening here. It's something called the Troxler phenomenon, apparently, named after a Swiss. He found that the brain ignores visual scenes that remain static.
Balls roll up a hill in this 3D-printed optical illusion
Most optical illusions are 2D images, but this cracker from YouTuber StruckDuck is actually 3D-printed. The video appears to show a ball that can… roll up a slide? It seems impossible to believe, and you'll see in the video above, it turns out that the illusion needs to be seen at just the right angle to work. If you want to recreate it yourself, its creator is selling the STL files via Cults (opens in new tab).
The rotating horse optical illusion
@trippyhub (opens in new tab) ♬ original sound - luvandrew (opens in new tab)
This showstopper is a sure contender for best optical illusion of the year, proving hugely popular when we first pointed it out back in March. The TikTok video from TrippyHub (opens in new tab) (a more appropriate name would be impossible) asks simply, 'What direction is the horse rotating?'.
Oh, such a simple question, but we're still trying to work out the answer two months later. Most people seem to see the horse turn both ways, first going in one direction and then changing, but some say they see it move only in one direction and one astonished Tiktokker even claimed they could "control which way it moves."
Perplexed? We certainly were, but it's effectively an equestrian adaptation of the spinning ballerina illusion, which WhatisPsychology (opens in new tab) says exploits something called bistable perception. "Due to the image’s lack of visual cues for depth, the ambiguous 2-dimensional figure can be seen from two different perspectives," it says. Fine, but we want to know what direction the horse is actually turning!
Super Illusion Brothers
スーパー錯視ブラザーズ pic.twitter.com/bLkFhBOCeUNovember 20, 2020
Some of the best optical illusions we've been staring at this year are actually oldies, as in the case of this Twitter favourite from way way back in 2020. The gif – dubbed 'Super illusion brothers' – appears to depict a series of figures running and jumping off a set of steps. Only they aren't. The figures are actually completely still – and we've spent hours watching them to be very sure of that. They only appear to move because of the changing colours.
It's an ingenious trick that was shared by the prolific illusion artist @jagarikin (opens in new tab) on Twitter, it continues to blow minds today. It's a 'reverse-phi illusion', its creator says. According to Stanford University (opens in new tab), that's a "basic effect" which means that "If a bright point appears at one position, and then reappears at a position shifted to the right, we tend to see a single object moving left to right."
Basic it might be, we're still amazed. And @jagarikin has plenty more mind frazzling optical illusions too, including these similarly stationary 'rotating' cubes.
The illusory spiral optical illusion
This one is an all-time classic, but it's resurfaced on social media this year. Officially termed Pinna’s Illusory Intertwining Effect, it looks like a spiral, but it's actually a series of concentric circles. Just don't try to count them because it will probably give you a headache.
The illusion happens when our visual system receives contradictory stimuli, telling us both 'circle,' and 'spiral.' The angle of the slant in the black and white squares is consistent with what we expect in a spiral, and our brains are also more attuned to dealing with 3D images, so that's what we see, at least in our peripheral vision. See the head-spinning optical illusion here to see the full explanation and how many circles there are.
The 16th century optical illusion
From a classic optical illusion to an absolute antique. Most of the best optical illusions we've seen are all a bit of light-hearted fun that tell us something about how the eye and brain communicate (although there's no shortage of optical illusions that claim to be able to reveal all kinds of things about our personalities.
But this 16th-century optical illusion from the masterful painter Hans Holbein the Younger really does offer a poignant reflection on life. The 1533 painting shows Jean de Dinteville, French ambassador to England, and his friend, Georges de Selve. But take a look from a certain angle, and an anamorphic skull appears right in the foreground, only revealing itself at a particular angle (see the video).
It's quite a clever trick but with a deeper story behind it, reminding us of the finite nature of our existence; that worldly possessions, money and status mean nothing because we're all destined to become nothing more than worm food in the end. And with that cheery thought, you'll probably now want to see our selection of the best animal optical illusions for a pick me up.
We also have a list of all-time must-see optical illusions. And remember that our vision isn't the only sense that can be fooled. We also enjoyed these auditory illusions. If you're looking to make your own optical illusions, see the best current prices on Adobe's Creative Cloud suite of apps below to kit yourself out with the tools you need to start creating.