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Why A Dark Blog Theme?

pthree-org-screenshot.pngI just received an email from a concerned reader about the theme of my blog. With the utmost respect, I am posting the body of the email text here, then the justification of why I chose an overall dark theme for my blog. I am not posting this to embarrass the person sending the email, nor to belittle. Rather, I wold like to teach and to inform. Here is the email:

Please, PLEASE...use black on white not white on black for the web page. White on black is much harder to read, especially if you are older and using spectacles. Some of the worst are yellow on black...... Just ordinary black text on white background is easy and simple to read. It's why books are printed the same way. Linuxformat magazine also has this 'thing' about printing critical text on coloured backgrounds so it becomes almost impossible to read...artistically correct, but practically very bad.

The concern is having white text on a very dark background, and that for the older generation, it becomes difficult to read, especially if wearing vision correction. I do not dispute the validity of that argument. I can imagine that it may be more difficult to read the text. As such, there are a couple solutions for overcoming this, without me changing my theme.

1) Most modern Internet browsers will support increasing and decreasing text sizes. For Firefox, it's as easy as navigating to the "View" menu, highlighting the "Text Size" submenu and clicking "Increase". You will notice also, that there is a keyboard shortcut bound to increasing and decreasing the text. This is done with 'ctrl-+' and 'ctrl--' respectively.

2) Being a blog, it has an XML-based feed. I syndicate 3 different XML feed standards, so you can choose one to your liking. I would recommend using the feed through Feedburner, as it helps me track some statistics about my readership (click on the large square button on the right beneath "Subscribe"). With this XML feed, you can use it to read my posts through a different application, rather than your browser. Liferea is a great feed reader for Gnome, with Akregator for KDE. With these applications, you can read several feeds in one spot without having to navigate to the web pages. But, the point of this, is most XML feed readers use dark text on light backgrounds. So, if it's easier for you to read text in that manner, I would suggest using my XML feed with a feed reader that can syndicate the content.

The reason, simple put, is this: staring into a computer monitor, means looking into light. Light is powering your display, whether be plasma, LCD, CRT or whatever. The technical details behind producing the light may be different, but the result is the same: light waves entering the pupil. Now, in all seriousness, you wouldn't stare into a Philips light bulb trying to read the text while the light is powered on, would you? So, why do we do it with our computers? Well, I don't really know, except, maybe we are trying to reproduce printed text, such as a book page or a newspaper. But, unlike printed text, staring into a bright monitor while trying to read text is bad for your vision.

Studies have shown, and I don't think I need to cite sources, that staring into a computer monitor all day long in degrading to your vision. People who generally sit a computers for their career most the day end up needed correctional lenses to fix their vision. This is due to the nature of the computer screen being brighter than the environment. Just as looking at the Sun can permanently damage your vision, so can staring at a computer monitor.

So, by reducing the light that comes out of the monitor, you can effectively reduce the chance for eye damage. By reducing light, less light colors should be visible, with dark colors taking up the majority of space. Turning down your monitor's brightness can be one solution to achieve this. Another, can be reversing your desktop theme to use dark colors (charcoal gray or black) as backgrounds, and light text. The same contrast is received, as is with black text on a white background, but you are saving your vision for degradation.

There is a side effect, however, to light text on dark backgrounds. You will read the text about 30% slower than you would, reading the same text, but reversing the contrast. I don't know why this is, other than to say, that you will recognize a positive exposed photograph about 40% faster than the same photograph exposed as a negative. It is probably something to do with what we recognize as familiar versus foreign.

So, being concerned about my own vision, and the vision of my readers, I chose a dark background with light text. I still find the text readable and contrasting. I'm not concerned, really, about the speed at which you read my posts, but more, the safety of your vision. This theme is an excellent theme, that maintains that level of safety. Trust me, however, when I say, that I did not pick this theme, because it was artistic or aesthetically pleasing. The reason was based solely on my health, and the health of you.

In conclusion, I won't be changing my blog's theme anytime soon. If I do, it will be only because the functionality of this theme has gotten outdated or I have gotten sick of it. But, it would still be replaced with another similar theme of dark backgrounds and light text. Again, I mean not to offend or hurt the sender of that email, but rather, wish to inform my readers about why I chose this theme. Hopefully, our vision will be better off, because of it.

{ 36 } Comments

  1. maniacmusician using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 5, 2007 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Well, if this reader uses Beryl, a simple "Super + N" will Negative-ify the page, making the background light and the text dark.

    Personally, for me, white text on dark background is actually easier to read. Especially with a low-contrast setup like yours (it's not white vs black, it's a dark shade of white and a light shade of black)

  2. Jason Brower using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 5, 2007 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    As you may well now... firefox can load different css styesheets. Could perhaps show how that is done for us in ubuntu land and for the reader with the reading issue. You could use a feed reader like I do. That takes things into the power of the user for the theme there.

  3. Pharao using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    IMHO light text on dark background is easier to read

  4. Mike using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    Your theme is fine for me too.

  5. Jonathan Carter using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    I use a dark background with white text on my blog too. I prefer darker themes, since too much brightness on my screen tend to give me headaches. I seem to be able to better concentrate too with a darker theme.

    I also understand though, that this isn't ideal for everyone. I think Firefox should include more accessibility features, and be able to detect when light text is on a dark background, and prompt the user to invert it.

  6. Duane using Konqueror 3.5 on Kubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    As the other posters, I find that a dark background and a light text is easier for me to read. My eyes are sensitive to light normally, so a darker background helps me.

  7. Ukubuntu using Internet Explorer 7.0 on Windows XP | April 6, 2007 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Of course there is another reason why dark backgrounds have a beneficial effect. I am pretty sure I heard that it takes more energy to show white on screen than black. This then means that light backgrounds contribute more to global warming than predominantly dark presentations. I think Google was sleighted on this very issue, especially when it is one of the most viewd sites around.

  8. Murray Cumming using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    You want to reduce damage to peoples' eyesight by making the text harder to read? It's not the light that damages the eyes, it the straining.

  9. Balaam's Miracle using Opera 9.10 on GNU/Linux | April 6, 2007 at 4:04 am | Permalink

    With Opera you can disable styles if you find a certain page hard to read. I use it often.

    Another advantage to Opera is that if you zoom in or out of a page (using just the + or - key), not only the text zooms, but also the images and often Flash objects as well. zoom ranges from 20% to 1000% of the original size and returning to the default zoom amount (100%, but this amount can be set differently in the config) is as easy as hitting numpad *.
    And let's not forget the exellent built-in RSS reader that Opera has.

    By default it is the ultimate toolbox for surfing the web, reading RSS feeds, mail, news, and whatnot.
    In short, i would be lost without Opera.

  10. AnonymousCoward using Firefox 1.5.0.10 on Fedora | April 6, 2007 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    "Studies have shown, and I don’t think I need to cite sources, that staring into a computer monitor all day long in degrading to your vision."

    Translation: My brother's friend's cousin's dog's uncle once told me that light on dark is better and I'm too lazy to discover it's a geek myth. I mean seriously, alarm bells didn't go off in your head as you wrote that sentence?

    Spend some quality time with Google and you'll discover tha while nothing is absolute, most studies show dark on light is more readable.
    http://hubel.sfasu.edu/research/AHNCUR.html
    http://psychology.wichita.edu/optimalweb/text.htm
    http://66.102.9.104/search?q=cache:_vtLpN0DqwgJ:hubel.sfasu.edu/research/AHNCUR.html+color+reading+black+blue+white+research&hl=en&gl=uk&ct=clnk&cd=2
    http://www.markboulton.co.uk/journal/comments/five_simple_steps_to_better_typography/
    http://www.456bereastreet.com/archive/200608/light_text_on_dark_background_vs_readability/

    Besides, your theme isn't light on dark. It's low contrast gray on gray. I'm not telling you to change, but don't kid yourself, your theme isn't the most readable possible.

  11. Timucin Kizilay using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    White text on dark background on a computer monitor is better for the eyes. You're right, we are looking at a big light bulb (monitor) for many hours.
    The black text on white paper is easier to read becouse on paper, we are looking at reflected light, the paper is not the source of the light but it reflects it. But the computer monitor is the source of the light.
    And it's easier to produce good contrasted black text on white paper than using black paper and white ink. That's why most of the printed mediums are black text on white paper.

  12. dbr using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Windows XP | April 6, 2007 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    Although it's not perfect, I quickly shoved together a Firefox user-style for this site (Not sure if other browsers use a similar header-bit, I don't image they'll be much different, how ever)

    Basically, on Windows, you put the following in C:\Documents and Settings\Username\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\something.default\chrome\userContent.css
    And on Linux I'm sure it's something like..
    ~/.Mozilla/Firefox/Profiles/something.default/Chrome/userContent.css

    Or, with a slightly less long path, use an Firefox extension like Stylish : https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2108

    Then, go to the end of your userContent.css file, and paste :

    /* Start of http://www.pthree.org black-on-white theme */
    @namespace url(http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml);
    @-moz-document domain("pthree.org"), domain("www.pthree.org")
    {

    blockquote
    {
    background-color:#999999 !important;
    }

    .main {
    background:#ffffff none repeat scroll 0% !important;
    color:#000000 !important
    }

    .post h1 a
    {
    color: #000000 !important;
    }

    .post h1 a:hover
    {
    color:#333333 !important;
    }

    #commentsform
    {
    background: #999999;
    }
    }

    /* End of http://www.pthree.org black-on-white theme */

    Like I said, not perfect, but it makes the main post and comments look decent, everything else stays as it is (The comment preview area looks a little odd, but it's still usable)
    [Sorry about the slightly long comment]

  13. Francis Giannaros using Konqueror 3.5 on GNU/Linux | April 6, 2007 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    Your argument is completely flawed since it completely ignores the fact that other applications on the desktop, and 99+% of web pages are _not_ dark. What is far more damaging than a very bright screen is quick transitions between a very dark screen, and a bright one. The pupil needs to dilate or contract too quickly, and this causes _severe_ strain after time. A quick analogy is going for a sprint without a warmup or without jogging first.

    Your website is black -- great. My desktop is white and the vast majority of others' are too. In this scenario, having your site open in a browser at full screen, then going to another page is extremely problematic and -- over time -- harmful to your eyes.

    I'm not trying to say a fully white background is good -- quite the contrary. The ideal background is just off-white, to reduce glare.

  14. seele using Konqueror 3.5 on Kubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    White on black is much harder to read, especially if you are older and using spectacles.

    Hmm.. this actually isn't true. Too much luminance is actually a problem for some older users and too big of font isn't all that great either.

    The only problem I can see with the design of this website is that the contrast between the dark gray background and light gray text is a little low, combined with font which by default is a little small. Font size is still a bit tricky, because it shouldn't be huge either. Fonts which are too big do not show as much content on the screen which effect readability and understanding.

    If you were really interested in keeping a black theme, you could tweak the contrast a little and maybe bump up the font size a notch -- or just let people read it via RSS (which is probably 80% of your traffic anyway :)

    References:

    Redish & Chisnell (2004) "Designing Website for Older Adults: A Review of Recent Research". http://www.aarp.com/olderwiserwired

    Kurniawan & Zaphiris (2005) "Research-Derived Web Design Guidelines for Older People". in Proc. of ACM SIGACCESS 2005.

  15. Aaron using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    AnonymousCoward- This isn't an essay, and certainly not a Wikipedia article. While citing sources to your claims as a blogger gives you credibility, my point is not to cite sources and do research. The information is there, as you have pointed out, and it's easy to find using Google.

    "My brother’s friend’s cousin’s dog’s uncle once told me" is just silly. Believe me or not, I don't care.

  16. Aaron using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    dbr- Thanks! That's really cool. I might just offer a reverse of the current theme, expanding on what you built here, for those who do prefer dark text on light backgrounds. Thanks for that work!

  17. Aaron using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Francis Giannaros- You make a good point. However, your point is based on conformity. "Because everyone else is jumping off a cliff, you should too" isn't exactly the attitude that I lead in life.

    Lighter text on darker backgrounds is better on the eyes, so as such, I am taking a stand with my website to improve your eye care. With this knowledge that you now have, you can do with it as you will. What you should do, is make your desktop darker, and encourage websites to do the same.

    Conformity for me, just because everyone else is doing it, just isn't an option.

  18. Aaron using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    Murray Cumming- Your eyes strain less in this environment than that of ubuntuforums.org, for example.

  19. AnonymousCoward using Firefox 1.5.0.10 on Fedora | April 6, 2007 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    If you'd left it at "I think my site looks nice", I wouldn't have a problem. Instead, you tried to claim "my site is scientifically better" and then try to use non-existent studies to back your claim. You can do better.

  20. Andrea Micheloni using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    What about letting users choose their own favourite theme, with a small switcher? It's not hard work to code it, and it's pleasant..

  21. Hieu Hoang using Opera 9.20 on GNU/Linux 64 bits | April 6, 2007 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    One small problem with RSS feeds: the feeder needs one feed for each post's comment thread.

  22. Aaron using Debian IceWeasel 2.0.0.3 on Debian GNU/Linux 64 bits | April 6, 2007 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Hieu Hoang- Not so. I have a comments feed that publishes all comments posted. You can syndicate that feed here:

    http://www.pthree.org/comments/feed/

  23. graphic designer using Firefox 1.5.0.9 on Windows XP | April 6, 2007 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    hi!
    normally, i don't engage in discussions like this but since you are saying:

    The reason was based solely on my health, and the health of you.

    i took it somewhat personally.

    frankly, you are wrong, and AnonymousCoward is right: black on white is better for reading than white on black. he/she even attached some very good urls.

    and

    and I don’t think I need to cite sources,

    yes, you don't have to publish your sources but it's a good habit to do so in order to transparently show where your ideas are comming from to receive an insightful critique - we all are searching for *a* truth, right?

    ps: and the reason why books are printed black on white and not the other way around is because it's cheaper.

    pps: that example with photographs is just ridiculous - you read/recognize slower because it is more difficult to.

    no offense, though.

    best regards,

    another anonymous covard

  24. John Gill using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I have used light on dark for many years and always found it much easier on my eyes.

    In the last couple of years I was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a neuro-muscular disease. MG invariably affects muscles in the eyes. I am pretty sensitive to light at times and very much prefer light on dark.

    Beryl with Super-n to switch to a negative of a page is huge help.

    I would like to know how paper ended up white, I have always assumed it was just a matter of what was easier to create dark inks to mark light paper. I would be surprised if it was done for ergonomic regions.

    However, judging by the comments some people have a strong preference for dark on light.

    So lets have more of the beryl magic.

  25. Kevin using Firefox 1.5.0.11 on Ubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Yes, staring at a computer monitor all day long can degrade your vision. Yes, having the monitor being brighter than the environment contributes to eyestrain -- that is why it is recommended that you do not watch television or use a monitor in a completely darkened room.

    *However,* all of this does not mean that looking at a monitor is, in any way, like looking at the sun. Looking at the sun will burn your retina, which no corrective lenses can fix. Eye strain and the ability to focus is a different thing entirely.

  26. keturn using Firefox 1.5.0.11 on Ubuntu | April 6, 2007 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Also, I hadn't heard the phrase "computer vision syndrome" before today, but this seems relevant:

    Our eyes have little problem focusing on most printed material, which is characterized by dense black characters with well-defined edges. Healthy eyes can easily maintain focus on the printed page. Characters on a computer screen, however, don't have this contrast or well-defined edges. These characters (pixels) are brightest at the center and diminish in intensity toward their edges. This makes it very difficult for our eyes to maintain focus and remain fixed onto these images. Instead our eyes drift out to a point called the "resting point of accommodation" or RPA.

    Our eyes involuntarily move to the RPA, and then strain to regain focus on the screen. This continuous flexing of the eyes' focusing muscles creates fatigue and the burning, tired-eyes feeling that is so common after long hours at the computer.

  27. Aaron using Debian IceWeasel 2.0.0.3 on Debian GNU/Linux 64 bits | April 6, 2007 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Kevin- Obviously, looking at the monitor is in no way similar to looking at the sun. The reference is an analogy, that bright light, and the inability to focus, can damage optical vision, either which may or may not be repairable.

  28. Zeth using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | April 13, 2007 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    I personally do not mind white on black or black on white.

    However, for the original reader, if they are using firefox, they can just click "View" > "Page Style" > "No style"

    Job done, black on white.

  29. bhappy using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on GNU/Linux | April 30, 2007 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    The best decision is to use some feed reader (as I always do) or Stylish (my way if I have to use a browser and don't really like the style), as someone already stated earlier :)...

  30. Jason using Firefox 2.0.0.3 on Ubuntu | May 7, 2007 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh my god, somebody else who ACTUALLY GETS IT!

    I have to prefix this by saying;
    I use a computer daily, I'm in the same boat as many of the other readers, and I attempt to practice what I preach through tolerable means.

    I can't believe so many people stare into a light source and then are surprised when their eyes hurt. I try to run my computer at 0 brightness, and about 50% contrast. (YMMV with regard to different models of screens).

    There is a definite problem when it comes to color, much of it is washed out and you lose some detail. It's a small problem, and I think the point I'm at is a good blend of acceptable color tone, but not blinding bright.

    I cry whenever I see a monitor at damn near 100%/100% settings. It's sticking out like the local sun for the room/office/whatever.

    Just as the author of this post said, you don't stare at a light bulb, you don't stare at the sun, so don't stare at a computer screen which is turned all the way up. The only time your face should be white washed is if there are no lights on (not to mention, you probably shouldn't use the computer too much with the lights off, that's even worse...).

  31. Michael Buckley using Firefox 2.0.0.4 on Windows XP | July 2, 2007 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    I am not sure is this argument is valid. Would you want to read in bad light? I don't think so.

    If he really was doing it purely for not causing eye strain, he would make the font size bigger!

  32. Jason using Firefox 2.0.0.4 on Mac OS | July 2, 2007 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    You missed the point.

    Text on a screen using Dark colors is words different than light colors in a book in low light.

    The fact is that your monitor is illuminated, and dark colors aren't like a lack of light in the room.

    And yes, he would make the font size bigger, but you can do that too.
    Hold Ctrl and press + (or rather, hold Ctrl and press equals (=) ).

  33. Michael Buckley using Firefox 2.0.0.6 on Windows XP | August 19, 2007 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    Or press Ctrl and use the mouse wheel or....

    And I don't think I am missing the point. Studies have shown we reed white text on black slower ... I wonder why?

  34. XP Themes using Firefox 2.0.0.12 on Windows XP | March 21, 2008 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    nice theme

  35. Web Developer - Shom using Firefox 3.0.8 on Windows XP | April 8, 2009 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    In my opinion an easy to read text not only depends on the background and text color but also the size of the text and font style are equally important.

  36. Pamela Scoot using Firefox 3.0.8 on Windows XP | April 9, 2009 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Thank your for your clarification on using the black color in your blog. You also stated how to over come the problem who has vision correction. I like the black color theme in design and development sites . It can't be felt if you don't actually go through some black them site likeweb2designers.us. Thank you and awaiting next post.

{ 1 } Trackback

  1. [...] Aaron Toponce argues that light text on a dark background is less painful for your eyes and changed his blog theme to that colour. Interesting stuff, I have my gnome-terminal set to black but most graphical apps are the other way around, the brightness of the backgrounds can be a bit off-putting I agree. [...]

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