What color text on what color background maximizes screen readability while minimizing eyestrain?
January 19, 2009 3:26 PM   Subscribe

What color text on what color background maximizes screen readability while minimizing eyestrain?

I've probably seen a dozen different answers to this question. The green-on-yellow suggested by this study seems like an especially poor choice.
posted by Joe Beese to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
i'd go with old black on white. I think it may come down to personal preference though.

I'll sometimes use large blocks of body text on a website and just town it down from black to a dark, dark gray.
posted by joelf at 3:33 PM on January 19, 2009

I happen to like white-on-green. >.>

No, seriously. The three combinations I find easiest to deal with are the AskMe green/white, the MeTa grey/white, or standard white/black. White text on black is hard for me to focus on, and honestly, the MeFi blue is TERRIBLE for my eyes for any period of time.
posted by Night_owl at 3:39 PM on January 19, 2009

My graphic designer friend, when he did a website for me a few years ago, told me that light green on dark green is one of the least straining color schemes.

You know, sort of like the color scheme here.
posted by Netzapper at 3:45 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Black text on grey background.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 3:47 PM on January 19, 2009

I've heard it's white on green (much like the screen you're looking at now!). Apparently there was a study several years ago that green is a better background than black, and subsequently schools across the U.S. changed blackboards to...greenboards. Traditional black on white works best for paper (or e-ink), but with a monitor the white is too straining on the eyes after a while.
posted by zardoz at 3:52 PM on January 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

I came here to make the "you gotta problem with white-on-green?" joke too. For reading on a screen, especially on a small screen like a PDA or iPhone, I greatly prefer white-on-black, actually.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:59 PM on January 19, 2009

(Note: this page is now the third hit for screen readability color on Google. You're a star!)

What kind of screen readability? How much text, at what size, to be read for what periods of time?

Legibility is generally thought to be best delivered on screen by light text on a dark background. Think of film credits versus the typical dark text on white paper. But while this is bright and legible, reading more than a movie credits' worth of text could be too much.

People have idiosyncratic responses to colour, too. I use the MeFi "professional" template of black text on white because I find the huge colour fields of the standard template too distracting. (My favourite colour is orange. It feels SO wrong to opt for monochromatic MeFi, but it's what my eyes need when I read a lot).

I think a tint of colour, pale grey or cream and black text using a good, open font feels best. WCityMike has created a MeFi template using grey that is pretty easy on the eyes, although I would prefer the background to be even paler, so I guess I should tweak my copy soon. There's discussion about it here. Those of you not as easily distracted by colour may find that white on soft, dark green works well, as in AskMe. There's a slightly old but interesting discussion of the topic here.
posted by maudlin at 4:01 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

You'll never get any consensus on that. However, as a sufferer of astigmatism, I can tell you that dark text on a light background are much more comfortable for people like me than light text on a dark background. In the latter case, all the characters are surrounded by light flares because of my eyes, whereas that's not visible in the case of dark letters on a light background.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:05 PM on January 19, 2009

Grey text on a black background is the most readable by a long shot, in my opinion.
posted by Electrius at 4:31 PM on January 19, 2009

When working on the Home Computer Project at TI many years ago, an informal study showed black on cyan was preferred by users.
posted by davcoo at 5:09 PM on January 19, 2009

I'd say probably yellow text on a black background.

If strain is related to the amount of light the eyes receive, a dark background might cause less duress. Yellow triggers both the red and green receptors fairly strongly, so you'll get a strong response from them.

But most science in the area of "readability" and such is crap. I imagine a lot of it has to do with the presentation of the text in question. A projector, for example, has to compete with light scattering through the room, so white-on-black probably has higher contrast than black-on-white in practice. Similarly, computer monitors work on RGB so you don't get yellow light, you get red and green mixed together. In which case, you may as well add in blue to maximize contrast, or take out red and minimize theoretical strain.
posted by pwnguin at 5:16 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd never given it much thought, but white on dark green actually is rather pleasant.

Looking at my e-mail screen with black on white, the white actually seems a bit harsh, especially compared to the AskMeFi scheme. Black on off-white (like this box I'm typing in now) probably isn't too bad.

I hate white on black. Whenever I see a page with that scheme, I'll sometimes highlight the whole page in order to reverse the colors and make it more readable.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 5:44 PM on January 19, 2009

There's quite a lot going on when text is presented on screen:

Bright areas eat into dark areas, so light text on dark ground makes the letters seem larger and perhaps fuzzier, while dark text on light ground erodes the letters and makes them seem sharper. Astigmatism (even a tiny bit) makes this worse.
High-resolution monitors have made this pretty moot.

Video white is a mixture of the red green and blue phosphors, so it is kind of impure. But see MS cleartext for making lemonade out of this lemon.

Saturated colors are eventually really irritating, especially in the background.

A large hue difference between fore- and background causes horizontal shifting and ringing (spurious dark or light edges) effects, and should be avoided. You can see this better with a magnifying glass held in front of the screen.

I use text=#804040 background=#e0d099 (brown text on tan) for most shells,
and colorless text=#404040 background=#e0e0e0 (dark on light grays) for others.

My PDA reader uses white text on black, and I adjust the brightness to keep it comfortable.
posted by hexatron at 6:28 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My graphic designer friend, when he did a website for me a few years ago, told me that light green on dark green is one of the least straining color schemes.

I just tried this in Q10 and it was like a deep tissue massage for my rods and cones. If it wasn't such a subjective question, I'd be strongly tempted to mark this as best answer.

BTW, that complete customizability over text and background color is a killer feature - even if you find the idea of full-screen editors a bit precious.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:37 PM on January 19, 2009

Just be careful not to choose a color scheme where the converted greyscale ends up being more difficult for people with color blindness... which is like, what, 5-10% of the whole world?
posted by Ky at 9:02 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Black (#000000) on white (#ffffff) is nice but the contrast is too high. I prefer something like #eeeeee on #222222.

I also find it interesting that some people out there insist on white on black because black draws less power. To each his own.
posted by valadil at 6:48 AM on January 20, 2009

I'm no expert on color, not even a novice. But I do take pains to make interfaces that draw the eye appropriately, so I do lots of color work on screens. (I write programs for myself, and my eyes are temperamental). I highly favor darker text on pastel backgrounds. The end result (it is typical that I am coloring different areas in different pastels) is my screens look like something out of a 1960's elementary textbook. It works! (understand, the goal is to make it easy for the eye to glance and grab the desired information with minimal searching. This reduces much eye strain for myself).
posted by Goofyy at 7:41 AM on January 20, 2009

Old fashioined, WordPerfect-style, white on dark blue. I was heartbroken when I discovered this feature was missing from Word 2007 - if anyone knows how to get it back (plugin?) then please let me know!
posted by alby at 9:40 AM on January 20, 2009

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