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Previous research has shown that graphemes (letters or letter clusters that correspond to a single phoneme) are salient psycholinguistic units underlying reading. Here, we report four experiments revolving around the letter detection task, where participants detect a target letter embedded in a nonword. We explore differences in the perceptual saliency of individual two-letter vowel graphemes, and find a large degree of variability, which we then quantify based on the behavioural data. In follow-up experiments, we explore visual and phonological factors, which may influence the saliency of two-letter graphemes, but do not come to any strong conclusions. In the last experiment, we replicate the findings and attempt to extend them to a more ecologically valid task of reading aloud, but find little relation between the performance of letter detection and any reading aloud outcomes. The results raise questions for future research about the early processing of graphemes. The discrepancy between the letter detection task and reading aloud, two tasks, which are often used to study the processes underlying reading, suggests that they tap different, and partially independent stages of the reading process.