Color has always been a mystery to me. As a child, I always figured that making something red was simply adding “red color” to or on it. University was when I really started to understand that colors in biology were made of chemical pigments, each with a unique chemical structure. They all absorbed a different part of the visible light spectrum, and what they didn’t absorb is what we could see. So a red ball would be absorbing blues and greens (and all the colors of ROYGBIV except R), and reflecting reds.
When Enchroma reached out to us to showcase their color-blindness glasses, I jumped at the opportunity. Two of my research labmates are color blind, and they volunteered to help. Abdullah Syed is a PhD student and Julien Couture-Senécal is an undergraduate summer student. We work in the Chan Lab at the University of Toronto, and we use light and its spectrum every day to measure the materials we make.
Abdullah and Julien tried the pair intended for indoors first, in a chemistry laboratory environment where brightly coloured liquids and plastics were aplenty. (It’s of note that Abdullah tried the Enchroma glasses on top of his regular prescription glasses. Enchroma told us the glasses do not work worn over the top of prescription glasses as peripheral light enters the eye, skewing the ratio of light, but we tried it this way anyhow. Enchroma does make glasses that fit over prescription eyewear. Julien wore contacts, which are okay.)
First, a few obvious differences were noted, namely that select oranges became much more red and vibrant. Interestingly, the Enchroma glasses also brought out a subtle hue of blue-green in a chromatography column that was invisible without them. So, the glasses work and are sometimes useful.
But images on a computer monitor, such as fluorescence microscopy images filled with reds and greens and blues, didn’t look any different. Nor did the color blind test with the colored dots and numbers (Ishihara test) seem any easier when we did it on a computer monitor using the indoor glasses.
We were slightly dejected, but when we went outside, things started to happen. Suddenly, both testers started noticing differences they hadn’t seen before. “Those flowers in the shadows – I normally wouldn’t have seen them because the [red] flower petals blend in with the [green] leaves. I think I could’ve if I stared for a long time to think about it, but with the glasses, the red petals really pop as red.”
Abdullah Syed is a microscopy and imaging expert. He ran the glasses through a UV-Visible spectrophotometer to see how light was being modified as it passes through the glasses. Just as Enchroma describes on their website, these glasses block out a region between red and green that removes the overlapped region and as such, allows for much more discrimination in these colors. He hypothesized that the reason these glasses didn’t work for computer monitors is because monitors transmit colors as a mix of pure red, green, and blue (RGB) pixels. Pure colors have sharp spectra that wouldn’t be filtered out by the Enchroma glasses, so it would make no difference. Comparing the transmitting spectra of the Enchroma glasses with the spectra coming out of a monitor, we see that the glasses block precisely in the regions that monitors don’t produce. No wonder they didn’t make Ishihara test easier. The reason why the glasses worked better outdoors is because nature produces colors in much more continuous spectra than mixing pure RGB dyes together.
In the end, would it help? Both parties said “maybe.” Mostly, the world looks the same to them. Subtle differences emerged when they looked longer and more carefully. For example, a gradient of red to pink in salvia flowers was surprisingly not recognized until the glasses were worn.
Julien said it would be helpful for enjoying the world more, especially on a vacation to the great outdoors, because they make colors more vibrant and beautiful. Abdullah said it helps, but he would need to relearn which colors were what with the glasses. For example, he saw a yellow-brown wooden door as a questionable “green?” with the glasses, but as a duller gray without. For the price, neither of them would buy them, but keep in mind that both are students that get excited about free pizza.
So these glasses work as described to enhance colors in people with color-blindness, but our testers aren’t sure if they’re worth it. The price is high but that might be because the technology is new and likely takes considerable manufacturing to produce. Given that Abdullah and Julien have already learned to adapt to the colour-blinded way they view the world, these glasses aren’t worth their investment. What do we recommend? If you have the extra cash, then pick up a pair and see the world more vibrantly for a cool experience, but don’t expect it to be all rainbows and butterflies.
Product page: Enchroma…