Visual detection of a line target differing in orientation from a background of lines may be achieved speedily and effortlessly. Such performance is assumed to occur early in vision and to involve filter mechanisms acting in parallel over the visual field. This study establishes orientational limits on this performance and analytically derives some generic properties of the underlying filters. It was found that, in brief displays, target orientation detection thresholds increased approximately linearly with background orientation, from minima at 0 degrees (vertical) and 90 degrees, whereas background orientation detection thresholds decreased approximately linearly with target orientation, from maxima at 0 degrees and 90 degrees. Target and background threshold functions were exactly antisymmetric. These data are shown to indicate a model of early line processing dominated by two classes of orientation-sensitive filter with axes close to the vertical and horizontal and orientation-tuning half-widths each of approximately 30 degrees at half-height.