We contrast two theoretical positions on the relation between phenomenal and access consciousness. First, we discuss previous data supporting a mild Overflow position, according to which transient visual awareness can overflow report. These data are open to two interpretations: (i) observers transiently experience specific visual elements outside attentional focus without encoding them into working memory; (ii) no specific visual elements but only statistical summaries are experienced in such conditions. We present new data showing that under data-limited conditions observers cannot discriminate a simple relation (same versus different) without discriminating the elements themselves and, based on additional computational considerations, we argue that this supports the first interpretation: summary statistics (same/different) are grounded on the transient experience of elements. Second, we examine recent data from a variant of 'inattention blindness' and argue that contrary to widespread assumptions, it provides further support for Overflow by highlighting another factor, 'task relevance', which affects the ability to conceptualize and report (but not experience) visual elements.This article is part of the theme issue 'Perceptual consciousness and cognitive access'. © 2018 The Author(s).