What Do Color Blind People See?

Most color blind people don't just see the world in black and white

Many people believe that anyone labeled as "color blind" is only able to see the colors of black and white. However, it is extremely rare to be totally color blind. Although there are exceptions, most people with color blindness are able to see colors other than black and white—they just perceive them in a different way.

An Ishihara Chart for testing color-blindness
SSPL / Getty Images

It's Not All Black and White

Color blind people seem to have trouble differentiating colors and may simply confuse one color with another. We all have cones in our eyes that enable us to see colors. We have red, blue, and green cones that help us to see those colors as well as combinations of those colors. In order to see all colors correctly, a person needs to have all three types of cones. 

A person who is color blind doesn't have normal cones or the cones don't work properly. If the cones fail to function correctly or make the wrong combinations, the brain doesn't receive the correct messages about the colors you are perceiving. For example, a color blind person may perceive a green leaf as gray or tan.

Color blindness is often inherited, but may also occur because of eye, nerve, or brain damage, or from exposure to certain chemicals. Although it is not thought of as a debilitating condition, color blindness can be very frustrating to a person affected by it.

Eye doctors can test for color blindness during an eye examination. One test is a picture made up of different colored dots. The doctor will ask you to identify a picture located in the center of the dots. If a patient cannot make out a picture, they may be considered to be color blind.

Types of Color Blindness

There are three different types of color blindness: red-green color blindness, yellow-blue color blindness, and complete color blindness. The type a person has depends on which cones in their eyes are missing or deficient.

The most common type of color blindness, red-green color blindness, occurs when the red and/or green cones are deficient. In yellow-blue color blindness, the blue cones are deficient, and in complete color blindness, all cones are deficient.

There are subtypes within each type of color blindness, too. The subtype that a person fits into depends on which colors they specifically have difficulty seeing.

A Word From Verywell

Did you know that boys are far more likely to be color blind than girls? Surprisingly, about 1 out of every 12 boys is at least a little color blind.

Boys are more affected because the gene for color blindness is located on the X chromosome. Since males only possess one X chromosome, they are more likely to be affected as they only need to have one defective gene. Females have two X chromosomes so they would need to have the defective gene on both of them to suffer from color blindness.

The sooner color blindness is detected, the better. Early diagnosis is crucial in preventing possible learning difficulties at school where adjustments can be made in order to help the student.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can a color blind person see a rainbow?

    Depending on the degree of color blindness a person has, they may be able to see all the colors of the rainbow, or they may only see a few. The colors they do see, however, may blend together a bit more or be perceived differently. For example, a person with color blindness may not see much of a difference between red and yellow hues.

  • Are dogs color blind?

    Dogs are thought to have dichromatic vision, meaning that they have two kinds of cones in their eyes whereas humans have three. Scientists believe that dogs see similar colors as a person with red-green color blindness. While they can distinguish yellow and blue from green, they may not see any difference at all between red, pink, and orange.

  • Can you outgrow color blindness?

    Color blindness is most often genetic and inherited at birth. It's not something that you can grow out of and there is no cure for it. However, most people are able to adapt to their color blindness over time.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Eye Institute. Types of Color Blindness.

  2. National Institutes of Health. New color vision pathway unveiled.

  3. American Optometric Association. Color vision deficiency.

  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine Genetics Home Reference. Color vision deficiency.

  5. Siniscalchi M, d'Ingeo S, Fornelli S, Quaranta A. Are dogs red-green colour blind?. R Soc Open Sci. 2017 Nov;4(11):1-11. doi:10.1098/rsos.170869

  6. National Eye Institute. Color blindness.

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.