I promise there's no yellow in this optical illusion (honestly)

Now, we love a good optical illusion here at Creative Bloq, but sometimes we come across one that's so baffling that nobody can agree on what's going on, and some people can't see reality even after hours of staring. That's the case of this mind-bending illusion that's currently perplexing viewers on social media. 

Over on Reddit, someone posted the image below with a statement that at first seems to be an outright lie. "There is no yellow in this image," they say. But some people can't help seeing yellow even after doing everything they can to avoid it (see our favourite optical illusions for more mind benders once you've fried your brain with this one).

The optical illusion shared by u/-eumaeus on Reddit shows a striped rectangle containing three circles formed by different coloured backgrounds. The circles appear to be cyan, magenta and yellow, with other hues formed where they overlap. 

But we're told that no, that yellow is not yellow. And sure enough, if you zoom in close enough so that all you can see is a few stripes of the circle on the bottom right, you should be able to see that the colour isn't yellow, but is actually white. How does the illusion work? There's some debate about that. 

Some people reckon that we expect to see yellow because that's what we're used to in the CMYK colour model. Others suggest that it's because the background in the rest of the image is not actually white but slightly blue. Only the background in the last of the three circles is white, and the juxtaposition with the other colours – and with what we assume to be white in the rest of the pattern, makes it appear to be yellow.

Click top right to expand the optical illusion and zoom in (Image credit: u/-eumaeus on Reddit)

Confused? Well, some people still refuse to believe the colour isn't yellow. "What does it mean if I cover 90-95% of the yellow lines and still see yellow then? HELP!!!!." one person wrote. "I still see yellow too," someone else added. oh no, it's the rotating horse optical illusion all over again.

Thankfully, someone put the image into Photoshop to check exactly what's going on. They explain that what appears to be yellow is actually a very light grey, almost white (#f2f2f2~#fefefe). The background white is a very light blue/purple (#fdf8fb ~ #d5d1f6). The gradient between these colours along the edge of the circle passes through light yellow/light green. "It seems when having to choose between 'cold' white and 'warm' white, our brains assume "cold" white is the true white and yellows true white.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.