Optical Illusions That'll Make Your Mind Melt

Our brains are complex, beautiful, and tricky little machines. They are incredibly intelligent and can decipher an absurd amount of information. However, the same abilities that make our brains such powerful tools also make them incredibly easy to fool. Just by adjusting some lines, changing some colors, or adding some shadows, you can see something that isn’t truly there. These are just a few of the brilliant tricks behind optical illusions. A lot of what we assume is reality is actually our brain making assumptions and estimations. So why not take a look — or several — and see if you can uncover the secret behind some incredible illusions?

Unique headshot

You probably wouldn’t want this surreal headshot on your resume. This takes a front-on view of a man while carving out his profile, with all of the features in the same place.


Shake your head

When you first look at this picture, you might just see some parallel black and white lines. However, shake your head and you might just uncover a hidden message! As you’ll soon see, parallel lines aren’t the only way to hide images from your brain.


Purple waves

At first glance, you probably thought this orange and purple pattern was expanding outward. Layering certain colors and patterns can trick the brain into seeing a still image as animated.


New look

Sometimes a new perspective is all you need to solve a problem. Look too closely and you’ll only see a bunch of black dots. However, take a step back and you may just get a “new look.”


The controversial dress

Oh, the dress at the center of so much controversy. This viral image confounded the internet, is it white and gold or black and blue? In reality, the dress was blue and black!


Hide and seek

Trying to solve an optical illusion often feels like playing hide and seek. Just like hide and seek, you’re in for a reward if you know where to look.


How many prongs?

A perfect example of the  classic impossible trident! How many tines does the fork actually have?


Balls and hearts

This one is particularly tricky! Is it moving or not? Depending on where you look, the tunnel or balls rotate and spin.


Faces or tree?

A classic illusion of hidden faces. This one is particularly interesting since the slopes of the brows also indicate a male and female face.


Older woman or princess?

One of the oldest and greatest optical illusions, this clever drawing may resemble an older woman or a young princess depending on its rotation. Isn’t it awesome how a mouth can become forehead wrinkles with just a change in perspective?

Optical illusion. Young beautiful princess or old ugly woman? Vector illustration.

Spinning circles

As you look around this image, each of the circles begins to spin in a specific direction. Thanks to the ever-changing patterns and sizes, some even look like funnels.


Face or animal?

Using a simple concept, certain shapes indicate different images. Is that a furry creature or a unique hairstyle?


The more you look, the less you see

With a lot of illusions, trying too hard to find the secret can prevent you from seeing it entirely. Try relaxing your eyes and taking a step back and you might just find the trick.


Purple flower

This brilliant explosion of purple and yellow looks as though it is growing. A surprising amount of patterns can trick your brain.


Faces or goblet?

Another classic optical illusion, which relies on figure-ground perception. If you look in the center, you’ll see a goblet. On the sides are two heads in profile.


Stay safe

Two classic illusions, combined into one. Swapping some line widths and colors makes it easy to hide a message. Can you find the hidden message behind the waving patterns?


Roots, branches, and faces

A new riff on an old classic, plus a shape illusion. Like before, looking in the center reveals one image while the sides reveal others.


A hidden letter

All it takes is inverting the direction of some lines to tuck away an image. Stare too long and those straight lines may start taking on a bit of a zig-zag, revealing a secret.


Profile or headshot?

Another interesting take on the human face. No matter how you look at it, you can perfectly see half of a human face.

Surrealistic portrait front with cut out profile of woman.

Polka dot ball

Depending on where you look, this unique ball looks as though it’s rolling across the background. If you’re having difficulty seeing it, try to adjust how hard you’re focusing.


Circles and lines

This illusion is a feast for the eyes. Depending on where your glance falls, you may reveal different circles or bars.


Cafe wall illusion

One of the greatest optical illusions! Are the lines between each row slanting? Though they may look slanted, they’re actually perfectly parallel.


Face or butterfly?

Is this a butterfly, some faces, or a Rorschach test? Another great example of figure-ground perception, with a bit of a twist.


Wavy letters

Our brains are remarkably good at discovering and completing patterns. Just by thickening a wave pattern, you can see a shape emerge from the background.

Letter A - Optical illusion font set

Color test

This is an illusion with a purpose. These incredible circles are a common test for colorblindness. People with certain color deficiencies may not be able to see the line snaking through the image.


Another hidden letter

If you follow the lines, you may just see a hidden letter. The best part of it is that none of the lines draw the letter. Your brain automatically completes a pattern that isn’t fully there!


Playing with perspective

Our brains understand that things become smaller when they are further away. If you’re able to emulate that, even identical tables can look like two completely different sizes.

Optical illusion - two table top surfaces appear to be different size although they are not - with explanation on the right

Disappearing dot

Take some time and stare at one of the yellow dots. If you focus hard enough, the other yellow circles mysteriously vanish.


Elephant legs

You’ve seen an impossible fork, so how about an impossible elephant? Not only does this elephant seem to have more legs than it should, but its feet don’t exist at all.


What side is darker?

Did you know that our perception of a color changes based on its surroundings? While one side of the inner gradient bar seems lighter than the other side, it's all the same color.

Peg, Heywise Staff

Article WriterPeg, Heywise Staff

Don’t let her focus on food-related quizzes fool you, Peg is a pro in many arenas. Even though she spends most of her free time whipping up delicious cookies and concocting new recipes for easy but impressive gluten-free cakes, Peg’s brain holds a vast collection of knowledge about everything from baby animals to what you need to know to graduate from different school grades. While she’s the first to admit everything she reads doesn’t necessarily stick in her head, Peg keeps her mind fresh by reading the Financial Post and Globe and Mail on the regular, and coming up with fantastic ideas for new quizzes. She’s a secret fan of gossip, too, so watch out for her intense celeb topics!

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