Perceived colour

The perceived colour of an object, surface or area within the field of vision is an attribute of visual perception. First and foremost, perceived colour refers to what an observer sees in any given situation and so is a subjective experience.

  • It is the human ability to perceive and distinguish between colours that provides an important basis for the way that we sense and make sense of the world.
  • A distinction can be made between the physical properties of things in the world around us and how they appear to a human observer. So when talking about perceived colour, a distinction can be made between:
  • Perceived colour can be described by chromatic colour names such as pink, orange, brown, green, blue, purple, etc., or by achromatic colour names such as black, grey or white etc. Colour names can be qualified by adjectives such as dark, dim, light, bright etc.
  • Colour perception consists of any combination of chromatic and achromatic content.
  • Perceived colour depends on the spectral distribution of a colour stimulus and so the range and mixture of wavelengths and intensities of light that enter the eye.
  • Colour perception tends to provide visual information that is most important to an observer rather than information that is always objectively accurate.
  • Perceived colour depends on factors such as the size, shape and structure of all the objects in view, the composition and texture of their surfaces, their position and orientation in relation to one another, their location within the field of view of an observer and the direction of incident light.
  • Colour perception can be affected by the state of adaptation of an observer’s visual system. An example of this is when the photosensitive cells embedded in the retina become fatigued from long exposure to strong colour and then produce an after-image when we look away.
  • Perceived colour is strongly influenced by factors such as an observer’s expectations, priorities, current activities, recollections and previous experience.
  • Perceived colour is defined in the International Lighting Vocabulary of the CIE (The International Commission on Illumination) as a characteristic of visual perception that can be described by attributes of hue, brightness (or lightness) and colourfulness (saturation or chroma).