Accurate SVG filters for color blindness simulation
Protanopia and deuteranopia are easy to implement with a single matrix multiplication, but tritanopia requires special care and a more subtle pipeline. Let's see how we can still implement the stateoftheart approach of Brettel et al. with SVG filters.
 Introduction
 Starting easy, implementing the Viénot 1999 filter
 Implementing Brettel 1997
 Conclusion
 Bibliography
Introduction
We have seen in Review of Open Source Color Blindness Simulations and Understanding LMSbased Color Blindness Simulations that a pretty accurate simulation of the 3 main color vision deficiencies (protanopia, deuteranopia and tritanopia) can be achieved by the (Brettel, Viénot, & Mollon, 1997) method, and that a simpler viable algorithm for protanopia and deuteranopia is given by (Viénot, Brettel, & Mollon, 1999).
Being able to do the CVD simulation via SVG filters is very handy to enable efficient browser extension (eg. Colorblindly) or even to implement the developer tools in Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. This makes it easy for web developers to check if their design is color blind friendly.
The SVG filters primitives are quite limited though, mostly matrix multiplication, convolution and blending.
The good news is that these CVD algorithms are pretty simple to implement, especially the Viénot 1999 one. It ends up being a single 3x3 matrix multiplication of the linear rgb values.
However the Brettel 1997 one is required for accurate tritanopia simulation, but unfortunately it’s a bit more complex. The direct implementation needs to convert the RGB values to the LMS color space (one 3x3 matrix multiplication), apply a dot product with the normal of the separation plane to choose one projection matrix among two possibilities, apply the selected projection matrix and go back to RGB from LMS (another 3x3 matrix multiplication). Let’s see how we can still implement that with an SVG filter.
Starting easy, implementing the Viénot 1999 filter
The overall setup of the CSS + SVG properties in HTML is not our main topic here, so I’ll refer to e.g. Simulating color vision deficiencies in the Blink Renderer if you want more details.
A reference html page is available in libDaltonLens, which can be visualized directly in this live demo.
This is what the code looks like for protanopia:
<filter id="protanopia" colorinterpolationfilters="linearRGB">
<feColorMatrix type="matrix" in="SourceGraphic" values="
0.10889,0.89111,0.00000,0,0
0.10889,0.89111,0.00000,0,0
0.00447,0.00447,1.00000,0,0
0,0,0,1,0"
/>
</filter>
feColorMatrix
specifies a 4x5 matrix that takes a vector [R G B A 1]
and
returns the transformed [R' G' B' A']
. As we’ve seen in previous articles it
is very important that the filter happens in the linear RGB space, hence the
colorinterpolationfilters="linearRGB"
attribute. It should be the default,
but it never hurts to be explicit.
Here the matrix content was dumped from DaltonLensPython, and it corresponds to a combined sequence of going from RGB to LMS, applying a projection and going back to RGB.
Implementing Brettel 1997
Instead of a single projection matrix, Brettel 1997 needs two, one for each halfplane in the LMS space. Here is the pseudocode:
lms = LMS_from_RGB . rgb
H = (planeSepNormal^t . lms >= 0) ? H1 : H2
lms_cvd = H . lms
rgb_cvd = RGB_from_LMS . lms_cvd
with LMS_from_RGB, RGB_from_LMS, H1 and H2
some constant 3x3 matrices (only depends on the CVD type), and planeSepNormal
a 3d vector representing the normal of the separation plane in the LMS space.
We don’t really have convenient conditionals with SVG filters, so it’s not straightforward to adapt. But first we can simplify this pipeline by combining the two possible sequences into just two 3x3 matrices:
rgb_cvd_from_rgb_1 = RGB_from_LMS . H1 . LMS_from_RGB
rgb_cvd_from_rgb_2 = RGB_from_LMS . H2 . LMS_from_RGB
Then our problem becomes to choose between these two, and this can also be written without explicitly going to LMS:
planeSepNormal . lms = planeSepNormal^t . LMS_from_RGB . rgb
= planeSepNormal_rgb . rgb
planeSepNormal_rgb
is still a constant 3d vector and it can be precomputed. Now the overall pipeline becomes:
H = (planeSepNormal_rgb . rgb >= 0) ? rgb_cvd_from_rgb_1 : rgb_cvd_from_rgb_2
rgb_cvd = H . rgb
Ok, that seems easier! The feature which is the closest to a conditional in the SVG filter is feBlend
. It takes two images as an input, and will combine then depending on the alpha values of each image. So instead of applying a conditional to each pixel, we can just generate two images, one with rgb_cvd_from_rgb_1
, another one with rgb_cvd_from_rgb_2
, and make sure that the first image has alpha=1
when we should indeed pick the pixel from that first image, and alpha=0
when we should take the value from the second image.
Our condition is (planeSepNormal_rgb . rgb >= 0)
, we just need to transform that into an alpha
that is either 0 or 1. Computing alpha = planeSepNormal_rgb . rgb
is easy, we can just add planeSepNormal_rgb
to the fourth row of the feColorMatrix
. But then we need to threshold that so that alpha becomes 1 if it’s higher than 0.
The primitive we can use to threshold is feComponentTransfer
and feFunc
. It has a discrete
mode that can map slices of the input range into specific values. For example <feFuncA type="discrete" tableValues="0 1"/>
would split the input range in two, and transform the alpha channel such that values between 0 and 0.5 become 0 and values between 0.5 and 1 become 1.
So one idea is to make the fourth row of feColorMatrix
also include a 0.5 offset, such that alpha = planeSepNormal_rgb . rgb + 0.5
. Then we can threshold that: values below 0.5 to 0 and values above it to 1.
This almost works, but has two caveats:

The original alpha information is lost. So this only works if the input graphics is fully opaque. Even worse, there is a weird situation with Google Chrome where some extra padding with zero transparency will get transformed (sounds like a bug). We can workaround that one by keeping the original alpha, but subtracting 0.5 to it. This way if it was zero, it’ll remain zero.

Images are stored as 32 bit RGBA (8 bit per channel) with premultiplied alpha, which means that the intermediate rgb will be multiplied by a value centered around 0.5 and clamped + rounded to [0,255]. To avoid losing too much precision we can make it a bit higher, e.g. 0.8 and use a threshold that transforms values higher than 0.8 into 1 with
<feFuncA type="discrete" tableValues="0 0 0 0 1"/>
.
Combined together, we get this:
<filter id="tritanopia" colorinterpolationfilters="linearRGB">
<!
Projection on plane 1.
alpha < 0.8 means we should use the projection on plane 2
>
<feColorMatrix type="matrix" in="SourceGraphic" result="ProjectionOnPlane1" values="
1.01354, 0.14268, 0.15622, 0, 0
0.01181, 0.87561, 0.13619, 0, 0
0.07707, 0.81208, 0.11085, 0, 0
7.92482, 5.66475, 2.26007, 1, 0.2"
<! That last row is computing alpha >
/>
<!
Binarize alpha. 5 values means the last chunk will start at 0.8.
All the values below 0.8 will become 0 (correspond to the dot
product with the separation plane being negative) and above will become 1
>
<feComponentTransfer in="ProjectionOnPlane1" result="ProjectionOnPlane1">
<feFuncA type="discrete" tableValues="0 0 0 0 1"/>
</feComponentTransfer>
<! Project on the second plane. >
<feColorMatrix type="matrix" in="SourceGraphic" result="ProjectionOnPlane2" values="
0.93337, 0.19999, 0.13336, 0, 0
0.05809, 0.82565, 0.11626, 0, 0
0.37923, 1.13825, 0.24098, 0, 0
0,0,0,1,0"
/>
<! Blend the two projections, picking one or the other depending on alpha. >
<feBlend in="ProjectionOnPlane1" in2="ProjectionOnPlane2" mode="normal"/>
</filter>
Conclusion
This filter does the job overall for opaque content and is pretty efficient. We still need to address the loss of the alpha channel to actually use it to render entire webpages. I tried to play around with an additional blending to transfer the alpha channel of the source image to the final image, but without success so far, and I ran out of time for this experiment. Let me know if you have an idea!
Bibliography
 Brettel, H., Viénot, F., & Mollon, J. D. (1997). Computerized simulation of color appearance for dichromats. Journal of the Optical Society of America. A, Optics, Image Science, and Vision, 14(10), 2647–2655. https://doi.org/10.1364/josaa.14.002647
 Viénot, F., Brettel, H., & Mollon, J. D. (1999). Digital video colourmaps for checking the legibility of displays by dichromats. Color Research & Application, 24(4), 243–252.