Are surfaces' colours judged from weighted averages of the light that they reflect to the eyes and the colour contrast at their borders? To find out we asked subjects to set the colour and luminance of test disks to match reference disks, on various backgrounds, and analysed the variability in their settings. Most of the variability between repeated settings was in luminance. The standard deviations in the set colour were smallest when the disk and background were the same colour, irrespective of the colour itself. Matches were equally precise for greenish or reddish disks on a grey background, as for grey disks on a greenish or reddish background. The precision was less dependent on the colour contrast at the disks' borders when the backgrounds were more complex and when there was a large luminance contrast at the disks' borders. Subjects were less precise when different colours surrounded the two disks. These findings are consistent with the perceived colour at any position being a weighted average of the local cone excitation ratio and the change in the cone excitation ratio at the borders of the surface in question. However, the involved weights must be variable and depend systematically on parameters such as the luminance contrast at the surface's borders and other chromatic contrasts within the scene. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.