homepage Welcome to WebmasterWorld Guest from
register, free tools, login, search, pro membership, help, library, announcements, recent posts, open posts,
Become a Pro Member
Home / Forums Index / WebmasterWorld / Accessibility and Usability
Forum Library, Charter, Moderators: ergophobe

Accessibility and Usability Forum

Is white text on black background bad?

 6:51 pm on Mar 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Some people told me that nobody likes white on black, but does it really matter?



 7:36 pm on Mar 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

might put this post in the Site Graphics + Multimedia Design forum, but...

Who are these evil people telling you not to use white on black? Those fiends! White on black is fine...

In practice though, I try never to use that OR black on white. in real life, every color is a little tainted, which accidentally makes things easier on the eyes. A less than 100% black ink, a less than 100 brightness paper... if you are going to have people read substantial chunks of text, tone it down a bit with #ddd on #000, or #000 on #e7e7e7.


 7:43 pm on Mar 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

This sounds a lot like a usability issue -- and we happen to have a Usability and Accesibility forum, so I'm moving this thread over there (well, here.)

And in the meantime, I know I read a solid study on exactly this issue within the last year. I'll be looking for it and post if I re-locate it.


 9:59 am on Mar 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

I believe that high contrast (black text on white bg or white text on black bg) makes it harder for people with dyslexia to read text.

Also as a personal preference if you plan to have long pages / an info site, I would avoid doing it that way as I personally find reading white text on black bg more tiring.


 7:15 pm on Mar 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

irideflatland said:
Some people told me that nobody likes white on black, but does it really matter?

Does it matter what your users prefer? I would certainly hope so. Does the choice of color matter? I think we all know so: Try reading dark-red text on a dark-brown background, or bright-red on dayglo-green. Some color choices are nearly impossible to read, and others just plain hurt.

Surprisingly, however, there is some indication that using white on black (or other light-text on dark-background combinations) is actually preferred by those with impaired vision.

It should be noted, however, that most "readability" studies have been done in the context of reflected-light text (wherein the light behind your shoulder illuminates the paper in front of you, reflecting the image back to you) rather than projected-light text (such as web pages presented to the user through a computer monitor).

In all cases, the text and the background should have a high contrast. Hue and saturation should (apparently) also be considered.

There is also some generalized color research available online:

Ironically, the last link above leads to a page with mid-green text on a yellow-green background. You have to wonder if the girl read her own article. *grin*

Don_Hoagie said:
...every color is a little tainted, which accidentally makes things easier on the eyes.

Having a little tint in the background, "toning down" the white, can be helpful. Light-gray text on a medium-gray background is generally less helpful.

(Note: This last is why many visually-impaired folks don't care for liquid-crystal displays. My grandmother, for instance, doesn't see it as "black on light gray", but as "dark gray on medium gray", and can't make it out. Which made helping her pick out a new microwave oven somewhat problematic, as "black on light gray" was apparently fashionable that year.)

le_gber said:
I believe that high contrast (black text on white bg or white text on black bg) makes it harder for people with dyslexia to read text.

Some say that too-high contrast is a problem for dyslexics, but too-low is a problem for everybody, and some other research suggests that dyslexics are fine with high-contrast text.

Hope that helps a bit!



 4:54 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

Just personally, I hate white on black. The only thing worse is dark blue on black (and yes, I have actually seen sites that use those colors...)

Too much contrast.


 5:41 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

Technically white on black is easier to read than black on white.

HOWEVER ... since the web ultimately has its roots in the printing industry where everything is black on white (since no one wanted to waste ink by printing all but the letters) it is therefore naturally easier for people to read black on white, since that's what they are used to.

The only thing we can argue is whether the stark white and deep shiny black on monitors is the ideal "black and white".


 9:42 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

High contrast is one thing, but SUPER HIGH is completely different. I vote no...don't use it.


 5:05 am on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

I found the study I was looking for, and stapel has already posted it as part of that superb list of resources. This is from the Software Usability Research Lab link:

However, most studies have shown that dark characters on a light background
are superior to light characters on a dark background (when the refresh rate is
fairly high). For example, Bauer and Cavonius (1980) found that participants
were 26% more accurate in reading text when they read it with dark characters
on a light background.

Reference: Bauer, D., & Cavonius, C., R. (1980). Improving the legibility of visual
display units through contrast reversal. In E. Grandjean, E. Vigliani (Eds.),
Ergonomic Aspects of Visual Display Terminals (pp. 137-142).
London: Taylor & Francis

Now does that still apply on today's LCD monitors?


 5:13 am on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

Here's another study:

Reading experience along with halation (the tendency of white
characters or text to "glow" when presented on a black background)
may account for the beneficial influence of negative contrast.


All right, a new word for me: halation! And yes, that describes exactly what I feel is the problem with light text, dark background.

PS - "negative contrast" refers to dark text on a light background in these studies.


 5:33 am on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

To understand the issue of white text on black backgrounds you have to go back well before the WWW to one of the seminal works on print advertising, Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy. If my memory serves me, Ogilvy discourraged the use of white text on a black back backgrounds except sparingly and as a highlighting tool.

Because Ogilvy was so highly regarded this quickly became a design standard, one which carried over onto the web during its infancy and before anyone had thought to conduct research studies on the viewing of CRT or, today, LCD monitors.

As an interesting aside, in the late 1980's and early 1990's it was fashionable to use white text on a blue background. WordPerfect is one of many examples that comes to mind. I do not know if white on blue was a result of studies, though I know I preferred white on blue, even for a few years past its popularity.


 8:09 am on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

Maybe I'm wrong, but I remember hearing of law suits in several schools who had black chalk boards because it hurt the students eye sight over long periods of time.

Maybe I'm wrong... but that was the reason I was told when all the blackboards were changed to 'greenboards' and some class rooms went to marker boards.

I could be wrong...

But other than that, I would have to say that most websites use white backgrounds. So when a visitor is browsing the web for a long period of time (visiting sites which have white backgrounds) and then suddenly visit a website with a black background, there is a visual problem; the visitors eyes don't focus fast enough for the change, etc. And as studies show, first impressions really are everything. And first impressions are made very quickly.


 8:47 am on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

I believe that high contrast (black text on white bg or white text on black bg) makes it harder for people with dyslexia to read text.

I suffer from dyslexia and have not suffered any dificulity, though my father who is (we think he was never tested when he was a kid!) does find it hard for white text on black


 9:32 am on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

I know a programmer friend of mine prefers white on black after he's been coding for several days. He turns off all the lights in the room, put on his sunglasses, and turns the contrast & brightness all the way up. He it reduces eye strain.

So, unless you're a coding fiend - I'd stick with black on white.


 10:18 am on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

It hurts my eyes and they are young.


 11:48 am on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

When I see white text on a black background I always worry if the page is going to print out correctly.


 11:55 am on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

example url: [phpinsider.com...] (not my personal url)
u may or may not see the effect, but the layout is what i'm decribing

the most serious eyes killer is:
the default bg of modern browser id white
some site hit a FOCUS, due to css or network issue, the background is white first, and black later.
there might be one big "main" table in "not so dark" color appears later...


 12:05 pm on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

I find that black text on white background works best if you also darken the border background of the page. Instead of having all white everywhere for those large 19 inch monitors, you get just a page of white in the middle, which to me is easier on the eyes.


 2:12 pm on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

I think hardware issues come into play. I've owned any number of monitors, and the most common mode of failure is being too dim, i.e., even with brightness cranked up to the max and contrast adjusted properly, the display still isn't bright enough. Under these conditions, white text on black becomes more difficult to read than usual, particularly for smaller fonts. Black on white remains very readable on a dim monitor.


 2:30 pm on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

Frankly, I would write some CSS to allow people to choose between 5 different content font colors. Default should be gray. That's my opinion. Better on eyes for me.


 2:42 pm on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

One thing I haven't seen mentioned is that many users with low vision actually find reading yellow text on a black background easier than other colour schemes.

Choosing a colour scheme to suit everyone is difficult, and if possible including a style sheet switcher offering different colour schemes is useful. Designing using CSS even if you don't do this lets users who don't like the black text on a white background create their own style sheets.


 4:10 pm on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

I can't read white text on black background and I'm 30. After a few lines, I get "shadows" in my vision (like the white lines have "burned" my eyes).


 5:34 pm on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

Ive been using white text on a black background on my site for years. When i redesigned the site a couple of years ago the number one comment from users was dont change the color scheme.

My original reason for doing it was that the site was also used for the web based admin and i found staring at a bright screen all day would hurt my eyes.

[edited by: encyclo at 7:49 pm (utc) on Mar. 28, 2006]


 8:08 pm on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

I find no subsitute for resting my eyes.


 9:57 pm on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

I have absolutely no problem with white text on black background - or any other combinations. As long as the page is written in semantic mark-up with external stylesheets. Then, I can always specify my own stylesheet and use it whenever I want to.

Puts your question into perspective, I would guess. :)


 12:37 pm on Mar 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

Personally, I hate white text on black backgrounds - which also applies to other "harsh" contrasts; even black on white can be doubted, I like not-quite-black on white best.

Beyond that, you need to think of the context - is there a colour scheme that suits you product in a particular way? What do you try to express with a particular colour scheme? Web design is not only about practical aspects or accessibility.


 1:57 am on Apr 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

If you are 40 or over (some of you must be), it's harder to read white on black. Better to design with all age groups in mind and keep it black on white.


 7:37 pm on Apr 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

It always scares me and makes me click back, I assume its a site about hacking 3d graphics :)


 8:43 pm on Apr 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

Before commiting to B/W, please look at it in Apple machine. I don't know why windows is marginally ok but mac is really bad with that combo.


 4:10 am on Apr 30, 2006 (gmt 0)

I'm helping my DH build an astrophotography site and we decided to go with a very dark blue background and lettering that is slightly grayer than stark white. You don't even notice it's not black and white but it's easier on the eyes.

Black or almost black really does show off those galaxies and nebulae a lot better than any other color.

Global Options:
 top home search open messages active posts  

Home / Forums Index / WebmasterWorld / Accessibility and Usability
rss feed

All trademarks and copyrights held by respective owners. Member comments are owned by the poster.
Home ¦ Free Tools ¦ Terms of Service ¦ Privacy Policy ¦ Report Problem ¦ About ¦ Library ¦ Newsletter
WebmasterWorld is a Developer Shed Community owned by Jim Boykin.
© Webmaster World 1996-2014 all rights reserved