» When Green Isn't Your Color: Being a Colorblind Pony Fan

Friendship is Magic has a fantastic cast in Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie. They’re quirky, outspoken, neurotic, and nuanced. And colorful? Sure, I guess. There’s the blue one, the white one, the, um, the other blue one, the tan one, the…pale green one? This is harder than I thought. At least Pinkie’s got the answer right there in her name. When you look at My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic through the eyes of the colorblind, you gain a new understanding for how the show communicates its themes. Read on for more!

See, I’m a colorblind pony fan. While most people’s eyes contain millions of cone cells sensitive to the red, green, and blue wavelengths that make up the visible light spectrum, my eyes are missing an entire swath of these tiny photoreceptors. This condition, deuteranopia, affects approximately 1% of males and an even smaller percentage of females. My world isn’t black-and-white like The Wizard of Oz’s Kansas, but it’s skewed enough that countless everyday cues become incomprehensible. I don’t know if the power indicator on my Nintendo Wii is on or off. I’m paralyzed by paint swatches and fabric samples. And unless you’re cosplaying as Ronald McDonald, I can’t tell if you have red hair.

Leaves and Berries colorblind simulation

It can be difficult to explain, but I’ve found that the pictures at this link do a good job of approximating the world seen by those with deuteranopia in a way others can understand. If you have normal vision, you might be struck by how drab the rightmost images on that page seem when compared to their left-side originals. But people with deuteranopia can’t perceive any difference at all, and are left wondering what they’re missing.

I might not be able to spot redheads, but to be honest this visual deficiency doesn’t cause too many headaches. I had grown to love Friendship is Magic based on the strength of its characters, not the variety of its palette. But because this show employs a careful approach to visual design, color is one of the languages the artists and animators use to communicate. And, in time, I realized that I hadn’t understood entire paragraphs of the conversation.

Deuteranope Simulation of My_Little_Pony_Theme_Song

That’s a simulated deuteranopia image created with the Vischeck tool. Most fans see bizarre color changes in this picture, some of them unpleasant. But those with deuteranopia simply see a normal frame from the TV show they love — the same pose they’ve seen dozens of times during the opening credits. (This is such an issue that I needed someone with normal vision to verify that I’d correctly uploaded the color-shifted image for this article, not the original screenshot.)

You can probably see that specific colors get lost upon transitioning to a deuteranopia view. I can’t see them, of course, but when this subject came up in The Round Stable’s forums, user Aramek helpfully outlined the major shifts. Twilight is now a close match for Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy’s mane has lost its luster. And Pinkie Pie is hardly pink at all.

Why does it matter? I admit my first reaction was simply to shrug my shoulders. People with deuteranopia are missing the necessary optical cones for full-spectrum vision and, barring a miracle in sci-fi nanosurgery, will never be able to see standard colors. So what’s the point in dwelling on what seems like a matter of aesthetics? But other fans of the show soon clued me in to the fact that the designers and animators of Friendship is Magic use color to convey a wide range of emotional nuance. And a lot of that is centered around Pinkie.

Pinkie Pie Family colorblind simulation

I hadn’t realized that Pinkie’s mane isn’t just floofier than those of the other characters, it’s more vibrant too. Even in a still frame, Pinkie is designed to stand out in a crowd. This announces her in-your-face personality before she unleashes her physical tics and vocal mannerisms, and it’s a quality that adds humor to her interactions with dull-brown characters like Cranky Doodle Donkey. The comparison shots above, showing Pinkie with her parents and sisters, illustrate how a deuteranopia viewer would miss the fact that Pinkie is clearly the oddball in her severe, Mennonite-inspired family. Pinkie’s hot-pink hue, which she carried for years before a sonic rainboom gave her a motivational jump-start, is actually a mark of destiny.

Pinkie Pie Discorded colorblind simulation

When you watch Discord’s corruption of the characters in “Return of Harmony,” you’ll note that the scene loses its punch for colorblind viewers. To us, the villain appears to be barely nudging a Photoshop slider. The purpose of the color-draining is to telegraph Pinkie’s distress and the overall “wrongness” of Discord’s tampering, but it’s a trick I’d barely noticed. Jokes can get muddled too — when “Ponyville Confidential” aired, I had to check online before I could be sure whether Mayor Mare had pink hair that she dyed gray, or gray hair that she dyed pink.

The color associations in the show don’t stop with Pinkie Pie. The pigments selected for each pony’s coat, mane, and eyes convey intangible information every time that character steps on screen. A colorblind person can’t detect these emotional halos, but forum user Scuderia Ferrarity helped explain some of the fundamentals:

  • Rarity: Her combination of white and purple evokes purity and regal formality.
  • Fluttershy: The pairing of light yellow and light pink create an association that is soft, young, and feminine.
  • Applejack: Orange and tan are appropriately earthy colors, and carry connotations of Halloween and harvest season.
  • Pinkie Pie: Her electrifying shade of pink is aggressively loud and girly, like the Barbie aisle of a Toys “R” Us.

Maybe you hadn’t thought about these associations consciously, but it’s almost certain that they registered in your psyche. On Friendship is Magic, a character’s color combo can convey as much information as their outfit, their body type, or their voice.

Deuteranope Simulation of Twilight-Sparkle-my-little-pony-friendship-is-magic-20571945-570-402

Take Twilight Sparkle. I’ve never been able to see the color purple, so people like me have no frame of reference for what we’re missing. When purple is indistinguishable from blue you end up calling everything blue, and the concept that purple is actually a distinct color is as alien to me as the third dimension would be to a resident of Flatland. But as soon as I understood that royal overtones are traditionally associated with purple, it clicked how it’s a fitting combo for Twilight, the favored protégé of Princess Celestia. The fact that Twilight has two stripes in her hair, not just one, is something I only realized after directed prompting.

Do the color-shifted images in this article look strange to you? If they do, remember that it’s only because they look different to you. Because colorblindness is genetic, people like me have seen the world this way since birth. Sure, I’d love to do a Freaky Friday body-swap and borrow somebody’s eyes for a day. But it doesn’t bring me down, since it’s impossible to feel a sense of loss over something you’ve never experienced.

So if you have normal vision, take a minute to appreciate an aspect of Friendship is Magic‘s visual design which you might not have considered before. And if you have deutranopia like me? Don’t despair! As it turns out, so do ponies.

“This shade of brown should only be used for accents”? Yeah, you’re not fooling me, Rarity. 

Share your thoughts

  1. Great article! I had never considered how the pony colors play into their characters. Color sightedness is wasted on people who can see colors.

    I noticed that you were lamenting the lack of colorblind options in video games. I’d like to point out League of Legends for having an apparently competent colorblind mode. I can’t say that it actually works for colorblind people, because I don’t know any, but it might be what you’re looking for.


    • Thanks for the link about LoL colorblind mode! Based on the screenshots it actually looks pretty good. Most developers don’t want to ruin the aesthetics of their game with a colorblind mode and make only tiny tweaks if anything, but this one appears to move toward blue-yellow instead of red-green which is a huge improvement.

  2. You completely blew my mind when I saw the images of the mane six and read that it was “altered” to simulate color-deficiency as it looked completely normal to me. I never think about the fact that my perception of the world is almost always different than everybody else’s until someone brings it up. Now it’s driving me crazy thinking about what other’s actually see as the “right” colors when they watch the show lol.

    I never fully realized that I was “colorblind” until my senior year in high school when we performed Ishihara tests in A&P. Beforehand I always knew it was difficult to discern the red/green on some traffic lights, to discern certain colors on graphs/maps, and that what I thought was one color was sometimes another as others would point out but I just figured I just dumb when it comes to color knowledge. I never really considered that I might have a color deficiency.

    It’s always kind of interesting (and sometimes annoying depending on the person) when others “correct” me whenever I get a color “wrong”. Others will be amazed that I cannot discern a difference between a group of colors or properly identify a color they’re pointing at. My favorites are “what’s it’s like to be colorblind? Do you see in black and white?”, “What color is that? How can you think that’s *insert color here*!?”. They can get quite annoying.

    • Thanks Justin — I knew this article would snare some fellow deuteranopes! I completely sympathize with you when people ask “what color is that?” since it’s like you’re speaking two different languages.

    • Try being 40% hearing deficient!!!!! I wore hearing aids between age 6-13, and had to be taught separate to everyone else, loneliest years of my life. I no longer use them because I get extreme migraines and I take noise-sensitive subjects-YAY I’M IN THE MAINSTREAM!!! and on top of that I am autistic. Everyone always yells in my ear “CAN YOU HEAR ME?” “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?” WHAT IS IT LIKE?” “WHAT CAN’T YOU HEAR?” I am cringing, people. If I am cringing, you are talking too loud, and too close. I know I cant tell the difference between fish,wish,and dish. Also, I cant understand whispers from fake ones. South African accents screw me up, but I don’t know what I can’t hear!!!! Hearing aids just make things louder, so “w” is quieter than “f”. People hear “I’m autistic” and think “Oh! Autistic people are normally artistic too!” No. Just no. I do think the fact that I get words messed up has HELPED my writing, as I am a hobby writer. It helps me to know what words go where as I am constantly thinking “so, what word am I missing?” But seriously, “can you hear me?” Well, if I COULDN’T hear you, I probably wouldn’t reply.

  3. Thanks for sharing! I’m colourblind, though not quite to the degree shown here. I’ve seen the article containing that first pictures of the berries, and although I can see the difference, I’m definitely in the middle. I can just barely tell the difference between blue and purple, for example, so I really enjoyed this article! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Amazing Article, you have made me very grateful that I can see colors. Never take anything in life for granted. *attempts to hug eyes*

  5. Dear sir.
    Do “classic” color correction features help in this situation? If so, “hue”, “gamma”, “saturation”, and similar can be found in VLC under tools -> effects and filters -> video effects -> enable image adjust.
    They exist in most media players.

    For gaming, and everything else, you can set these system wide. Most graphics cards have these. It probably dates back from the CRT era. http://img48.imageshack.us/img48/9439/nvidia8jl.jpg http://i56.tinypic.com/ifquqx.jpg

    Some video editing software can replace areas of red (or degrees of “redness”) with the same color filled with a texture. Such as adding poker dots to fills of red, triangles to fills of blue, or more subtle “hints” proportionate to the amount of RGBs. (couldn’t find an example of a good filter for this one).

    Any help?

    • Hi, thanks for this great comment. Those kinds of color-correction tools help a little, in the sense that if I adjust the settings I might see differences I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise (like a number hidden in a bunch of colored dots). But at the same time they don’t really help with something like this, since they don’t let you “see” the actual colors that others see and therefore you lose all the emotional nuance. But for something like gaming it could be helpful in identifying icons or team colors.

  6. Great article! I “suffer” from a very mild form of colorblindness. I think it’s deuteranomaly. I’ve never been formally diagnosed, and didn’t even know until my first job after college where it was discovered that under specific lighting I couldn’t see minute amounts of red. Which was unfortunately a requirement of the job. My boss asked me if I was colorblind, and I honestly didn’t know, so she sent me to the company nurse to be checked and I was. I’d been tested in elementary school, but since I can still pass some but not all of the tests for deuteranopia I slipped through.

    Makes me wonder how much has slipped by. Fortunately MLP is colorful enough that I can catch most everything.

  7. I’d do anything to find a cure for you people. The vibrant colors of the show, and the world in general, are something nobody should live without. I believe the answer lies with stem cells, so maybe you’ll get to experience the world for what it really looks like in your life time.

    • Most of us just live normally and are quite content with what we see. I’m not totally colorblind, but I have great difficulty yet I feel that I don’t need any special cure. There is a very good chance that advances in nanotechnology and their use in optic research will reach the point of aiding in these cases though, since there has recently been a case of some blind people being cured through electronic chips to correspond light into pixels and send that information to the brain to stimulate a poor form of vision, so there is hope yet for the future.

  8. This actually hit sort of close to home – my dad is partially red/green colorblind. Not totally, but he has big trouble telling between some shades of green and red, and blue/purple. This is a really good peek into the world (and show) as y’all see it.

  9. Wow. Yeah, this hit me spot-on. I’ve known I’m color-deficient since I was a kid, but it never occurred to me how much I was missing in MLP.

    Example: Twi has two stripes in her mane?!?! REALLY!?1?! And Rarity’s hair isn’t blue?!?! X.X

    That said, I might have to download… all these pictures. These are wonderful examples.

    • I know, it’s weird, isn’t it? :) Can you really not see the two stripes in Twi’s mane? I can see the second stripe with my particular kind of colorblindness but only if I squint really hard.

  10. I am a color blid pony fan too. I get made fun of for it at school to. But i have plenty of friends who are bronys and they understand that im color blind. I have just learned to live with it.

    • Thanks for the comment Zoe! Definitely something that you just learn to live with. What else can you do?

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  12. This is a nice insight to what people have to deal with. I use the words “deal with” lightly since like the article stated, they have been living with it from birth.

    (Reading other comments made me think of this) the game Zuma, by PopCap, has a colour-blind mode which I prefer to play with, even though I am not colour-blind, as it gives a better distinction between the colours.

    I have had met my fare share of people with visions issues. I have met people whom are colour-blind and they live their life no differently from anyone else’s. I also have a friend with such bad vision that his glasses are almost a centimeter thick, complete tunnel vision, described as putting two toilet paper rolls over your eyes, and he said he will be completely blind in 5 years, he is 17 or 18 now.

    Genetics can be an interesting topic to say the least.

  13. This was nice to read, if just to be reminded of what we have, and to be considerate to those who don’t. As you somewhat mentioned; it’s better that you have never seen red then to of seen it once and then lost the ability.

    I have pretty terrible nearsightedness. I remember when I first got my glasses around the age of 5 or some such, my mouth dropped in amazement and awe that this is how people see the world. It’s a pinnacle moment in my mind, putting them on and clearly seeing a car drive past on the road out the window; it was crazy, preconceiving something you never could of the past (or that I could of remembered due to age).

    Now 22, I’ve stepped into the shower forgetting I had my glasses on more times than I can count, because it’s just not something I even think about, they are an extension of self at this point. I assume this is the similar feeling you have to not seeing red, that’s just how it is.

    While yes, there are procedures to fix my condition (pretty common condition, really), I doubt I’ll have the money for that for quite some time. Either way, I’m in no rush. :) It’s just a part of me as much as any other thing is.

  14. Very interesting. Being the non-color blind person I am, I really didn’t think much about how dull the show could look to you guys. And man, Pinkie is almost hidden in the background on the group image! Great article! And it would be interesting to see full episodes like this…

  15. I remember reading a science article that said they found a way for some animal (mouse, I think) that had eye problems (couldn’t see full color) to have the recepters build and repair (or make if lacking) and then the brain made new connections so it could understand the new signals the eyes were giving it. They said the same proccess could be done to have them see ultraviolet with more research. No idea when humans will come into the mix.

  16. This was really eye-opening to me. I confess that color-blindness is one of those things I get to conveniently forget, and regular eyesight something I take for granted. This essay presents a unique, nuanced view, and it makes me wonder what your experience with other cartoons is like when these visual cues are lost.

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