Classical approaches to transparency perception assume that transparency constitutes a perceptual dimension corresponding to the physical dimension of transmittance. Here I present an alternative theory, termed gamut relativity, that naturally explains key aspects of transparency perception. Rather than being computed as values along a perceptual dimension corresponding to transmittance, gamut relativity postulates that transparency is built directly into the fabric of the visual system’s representation of surface color. The theory, originally developed to explain properties of brightness and lightness perception, proposes how the relativity of the achromatic color gamut in a perceptual blackness–whiteness space underlies the representation of foreground and background surface layers. Whereas brightness and lightness perception were previously reanalyzed in terms of the relativity of the achromatic color gamut with respect to illumination level, transparency perception is here reinterpreted in terms of relativity with respect to physical transmittance. The relativity of the achromatic color gamut thus emerges as a fundamental computational principle underlying surface perception. A duality theorem relates the definition of transparency provided in gamut relativity with the classical definition underlying the physical blending models of computer graphics.
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