The watercolor effect: A new principle of grouping and figure-ground organization

Baingio Pinna, John S Werner, Lothar Spillmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


The watercolor effect is perceived when a dark (e.g., purple) contour is flanked by a lighter chromatic contour (e.g., orange). Under these conditions, the lighter color will assimilate over the entire enclosed area. This filling-in determines figure-ground organization when it is pitted against the classical Gestalt factors of proximity, good continuation, closure, symmetry, convexity, as well as amodal completion, and past experience. When it is combined with a given Gestalt factor, the resulting effect on figure-ground organization is stronger than for each factor alone. When the watercolor effect is induced by a dark red edge instead of an orange edge, its figural strength is reduced, but still stronger than without it. Finally, when a uniform surface is filled physically using the color of the orange fringe, figure-ground organization is not different from that for the purple contour only. These findings show that the watercolor effect induced by the edge could be an independent factor, different from the classical Gestalt factors of figure-ground organization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-52
Number of pages10
JournalVision Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2003


  • Color spreading
  • Figure-ground segregation
  • Filling-in
  • Gestalt factors
  • Good continuation
  • Grouping
  • Proximity
  • Watercolor effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


Dive into the research topics of 'The watercolor effect: A new principle of grouping and figure-ground organization'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this