Although the Ebbinghaus illusion is commonly used as an example of a simple size-contrast effect, previous studies have emphasised its complexity by identifying many factors that potentially influence the magnitude of the illusion. Here, in a series of three experiments, we attempt to simplify this complexity. In each trial, subjects saw a display comprising, on one side, a target stimulus surrounded by inducers and, on the other, an isolated probe stimulus. Their task was to indicate whether the probe appeared larger or smaller than the target. Probe size was adjusted with a one-up, one-down staircase procedure to find the point of subjective equality between probe and target. From these experiments, we argue that the apparent effects of inducer size are often confounded by the relative completeness of the inducing surround and that factors such as the similarity of the inducers and target are secondary. We suggest a simple model that can explain most of the data in terms of just two primary and independent factors: the relative size of the inducers and target, and the distance between the inducers and the target. The balance between these two factors determines whether the size of the target is underestimated or overestimated.