How to tell what colour 'that' dress actually is using Photoshop (it’s blue)

Digital Arts | 27 February 15

A dress that some people see as being blue-and-black and some see as white-and-gold has captured everyone’s imagination this morning. Here’s how to tell what colour it actually is, using Photoshop.

 A photo of a dress has polarised people across the Internet (and in the Digital Arts office). Looking at the photo below by Tumblr user swiked, some people see it as being blue-and-black. Others see it as gold and white. Neither can understand why the other sees it so differently. Arguments have ensued – online at least, we’re far too civilised to starting shout at each other about what colours it is (honest).

Wired has done a great job of explaining the science behind why you might see it differently from I – essentially your brain automatically discards what it thinks is a colour cast caused by the colour of the light in a place, like a neurological version of Photoshop’s Auto Color feature. So for fun I thought I’d try to use Photoshop to answer the question of what colour the dress is once and for all.

Opening the photo in Photoshop, I used the Color Picker on some randomly chosen parts of the dress to see what it is.

First off, the lighter area of the dress.

With RGB values of 124/135/167, 98/103/127 and 132/152/189 the lighter area of the dress is definitely between blue, gray and purple. Here they are on their own.

The darker area’s RGB values varies from 130/113/73 to 88/73/39 – yellowy browns that could conceivable be described as representing gold.

Again, here they are on their own.

However, the colour of the light and that most artificial lights in shops has a yellow hue means that you could assume that this is yellow light falling on a black dress. But unlike whether it’s blue or white, that’s an conscious decision, not a subconscious adjustment in your brain.

So the dress is either blue-and-gold/brown or blue-and-black. It’s definitely not white.

Though as that Wired article shows, it doesn’t matter who’s right – it’s what this tells us about how our eyes and brain work that’s truly fascinating.


Abby said: That's not the same dress. Compare the two and you will see that the tops parts don't match at all.

bob said: well done you used a camera raw editor on a jpeg and you think the white balance is legit...idiot

Fart Fartington said: People can't grasp that the "black" can be gold/brown IN THAT PICTURE even if it's not in real life. Just like I could mess with the settings and make everything a shade of red. Then the dress would be red, IN THAT PICTURE.The "white" is an illusion. We see a lot of things as blue because it's the easiest color to see, thus dryer lint and the sky or blue. So we assume the blue is an illusion and we're just seeing shadow. But we're not, it's actually blue. The gold/brown ISN'T an illusion- it's a color balance issue caused by taking a bad pic (understandable because it was intended to be a casual phone pic).You are correct, it's gold and light blue. If you assume it's white you're falling victim to an allusion. If you see that as black, it's an illusion as well. Here is a swatch cropped from the pic.

Joel Barrera said: kill yourself thanks

Chris E said: My brain is trying to auto-correct for bad lighting and a low-res image....idk?

ARgj said: The author says that we can conclude that the dress is definitely not white! I agree there was no white in the colour samples, but there wasnt any black either! So shall we conclude that the dress isn't black (even though we know it actually is)? Obviously the sampling here is flawed

anonymous said: Calling others 'Idiots' just because people percieve colors differently in one way or another, the real idiot are you. Watch out, Camera Raw pro here, LUL.

rd said: It's not, the dress is blue and black. (The sleeves are a jacket that was paired with it).

rd said: Except they've already found the dress online, and it's blue and black. ;) The sleeves are a jacket that's paired with it.

Matias Gonzalez said: Well, as a graphic designer and photographer, i thought it would be easier for everyone to manage what the real problem here is... the dress is white and gold, lit from behind, which leaves it with a nasty shadow, causing this "which color is it?" issue! Let's see another example, with another kindo of lighting, the one at sunset or sundown, usually called by photographers as "golden hour". Is that swan yellow, golden, brown, or simply is it white, with a yellowish light, and a shadow on it's front? Obviously, it is white! Got it? ;)

László Németh said: Just a tip only idiots think its gold white. It is Blue black just use a Whitebalance...It is same Photo, i just used camera raw editor to white balance it with pipet tool.

ambra blu said: i think the test has failed. he only picks the already lit colour. if the hue's blue, it makes sense that the photoshop tool will only pick up the blue. for the record, its white and gold.

SimonJary said: To me it's gold and light blue, but apparently it's black and blue - with the gold parts actually black. This Photoshop examination says gold. Anyway, thank God it's Friday!

Simon Eccles said: Using Photoshop's colour picker on that image certainly doesn't tell you what the real colours of the dress are. It just tells you what colours the camera sensor thought it was seeing, based on the automatic or manual white balance setting, coupled with whatever raw conversion or colour management was used before presenting the pic.If you want to see the actual colours of the photograph (though not necessarily the original dress colour) you don't need Photoshop: just use your hands to mask off the surrounding colours to just show the only dress. To me using that method, it's exactly what the Photoshop-derived patches say it is.Humans in the actual room with that dress would tend to see fairly accurate "real" colours, partly because our brains' white balance compensation is better than today's digital cameras, and partly because there would be a lot more visual clues in the room than just that narrowly cropped pic. Assuming the dress is worn by a human, the brain would be able to make a fairly accurate guess based on its experience of a wide range of skin colours in a wide range of lighting conditions.The exception is in lighting with an extreme colour cast or a narrow band of wavelengths, such as those emitted by sodium lamps, or lighting with a large UV component that causes fluorescence.Digital cameras also cannot compensate accurately for mixed lighting conditions, which these appear to be. For instance I often photograph exhibition stands at the NEC, where the high-up ceiling lights are some nasty yellow-pink sodium things, but the stand-level lamps tend to be whitish spot lamps and fluorescent tubes. Humans don't notice because their brains colour-compensate for whatever their focus of attention is. However, digital cameras can't cope. If you balance pics for the stand lighting then the shadows look deep orange. If you balance for neutral grey shadows, then the stand objects have a strong blue cast. Flash is a partial solution but not always appropriate.

B said: Strange, I'd say this is a subconscious decision.

youveseen said: i thought u were gonna use some advance method. but instead u used the eye dropper without first removing the yellow hue. this could be done in MS Paint