How to reduce screen brightness is important if you have light sensitive eyes (some level of photophobia), or if you use your computer in dimmer environment. Either way extended computer screen viewing will likely cause eye strain (eye fatigue or computer vision syndrome). This post should help you solve your screen brightness and text-to-background eye strain problem principally by showing you how to change background color and text color in Windows 7 (affects Word, Excel, and other MS Office programs), Adobe Reader, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, … Windows 10 users see this post.
White background normally covers most of your screen’s surface to contrast with black text. However, high brightness contrast is the definition of glare which is a common cause of eye strain . To avoid or reduce eye strain it is therefore essential to reduce screen brightness and text-background contrast.
Although glare is a common cause of eye strain, each person seems to react differently to glare exposure. Therefore I do not pretend to provide the solution to your screen brightness problem. Instead this post is a collection of tips that should help you find the solution to your screen brightness problem.
- physical (blue light) filters to change text and background color
- reflection and glare-free computer lighting
- best blue blocking glasses
The post covers instructions on how to change background and text color in:
Windows and most other MS applications, namely Word, Excel, etc. (if you have experience with how to change background and text color in other operating systems and would to share it I would love to publish it as a guest post)
Google Chrome, and some additional tips on:
A quick test: how you respond to reduced screen brightness and different background colors
There is quick and easy way to determine whether reducing screen brightness will help you (more here). You will also get an idea of which background color might work for you.
1. Windows: how to change background color and text color
Here are the steps that should help you change the background in Windows. By following these steps you can also automatically change the background color in Word and other MS Office applications. PDF reader, Internet Explorer, and Firefox may also be set to use system’s text and background color settings.
Short instructions: Right click on desktop – Personalize – Window Color – Items (select each item and change background and text colors).
Note: In the images I will be using different text and background colors to give you a flavor of it (I hope not to cause confusion).
You can now click on the different themes to see how your background color, text color and all the rest changes.
1.2. To personalize Your theme I recommend that you start from one of the High Contrast themes (if you start from the other themes, the background in internet browsers won’t change automatically – my favorite starting theme has been the High Contrast Black theme).
Select the items one by one and change background and text colors for each of the items in the boxes to the right of the Item window. You can choose one of the preset colors (see below), or any color you whish by clicking on the Other… button.
Most changes are immediately visible in the preview section of the Color and Appearance window (top half).
For the changes to become effective click the Apply button, and when you are done click OK.
1.5. Save your new theme: click on the Unsaved Theme (top left theme in the Personalization window).
Next, right click it and choose either of the options that open a dialog box where you can name your new theme.
Further changes to your own background and text color theme
You can always go back and further change the background colors and text colors of your themes:
Open the Personalization window (step 1.1.). In the step 1.2. you select the theme that you want to tweak and proceed with the step 1.3..
Note that as soon as you start making changes to a theme Windows automatically creates a new theme called Unsaved Theme. If such a theme already exists it overrides it without prompting you. So if you have an Unsaved Theme that you want to keep make sure you save it first.
2. How to change PDF text and background color
When you change background color or text color in Windows, the theme change may not necessarily affect all the programs you might be using. One such application that we tend to use frequently is Adobe reader. If you use a dark background in Windows and then you open a pdf document, you will be blinded by the glare from the white background in your pdf reader, its default setting. If you continue reading black-on-white text your eyes will quickly strain. Luckily, you can change text and background color settings. You can also enable your Adobe Reader use system settings.
Short instructions: Open Adobe Reader – Edit – Preferences – Categories – Accessibility – Document Colors Options – check Replace Document Colors – change background and text color
2.2. In the Categories section (left column) of the Preferences window select Accessibility. Now you can see the Document Colors Options section, where you will be able to change background color and text color in your pdf reader.
2.3. Make sure the Replace Document Colors is checked.
2.4. Next, you have three options:
- use Windows Color Scheme; this is handy, if you want to change text and background color in your PDF reader with just one or (at most) two clicks by changing the color theme in Windows (see previous section). Unfortunately in the already open pdf documents, text and background color does not change automatically upon a system change in Windows. What you have to do is close and reopen the document for the colors to change.
- use High-Contrast colors; the four options include green, yellow or white text on black background or black text on white background.
- use Custom Color; clicking on this option will allow you to change text and background colors of your PDF reader to any color combination and will not follow the text/background changes you might make in Windows.
3. How to change background color and text color in Internet Explorer
To save your eyes from eye strain it is also handy to reduce screen brightness in your web browser. Next, I will show how to change text and background color in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Google Chrome.
By default Internet Explorer background and color change very well following text/background change in Windows (section 1). However, you also have the option to change background and text colors independently in Internet Explorer.
Short instructions: Tools – Internet Options – General – Appearance – Colors – change background and text colors
3.3. In the window Colors which opens up (see below) you have two options. You may use Windows background and text colors, in which case you want to have Use Windows checked.
4. Adjusting Firefox background color and text color
Short Instructions: Menu – Options – Content – Fonts and Colors – change text and background colors
4.3. In the Text and Background section you can either check the box Use system colors to have Firefox change text and background color in line with your chosen Windows theme (see section 1 above).
Alternatively you can uncheck Use system colors and set your preferred colors to appear in Firefox (you are allowed to choose from a palate of 70 colors).
I recommend that you also check Link Colors because the default colors are quite dark. If you will be using dark (black) background color you will have very difficult time reading hyperlinked text.
There is one drawback with respect to text and background colors in Firefox. Text and background colors don’t change automatically when you already have several pages loaded and you decide to change the color theme in Windows. To solve this problem you either have to individually reload the pages you want to view, or simply close and reopen Firefox (if your Firefox is set to open automatically all the windows and tabs from previous session).
5. How to change Google Chrome background color and text color
Short Instructions: Open the Change Colors extension (click here) in Google Chrome – Add to Chrome – Extensions – Change Color Options – change background color and text color
5.1. In Google Chrome open the Change Colors extension at this address: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/change-colors/jbmkekhehjedonbhoikhhkmlapalklgn
5.4. On the Adjust your preferences page set Use Web pages Colors to No and change background, text, and links colors. You do that by clicking on the color bar next to each item to open a color palette and select your preferred color. (You may use the slider next to the color palette to adjust the brightness of the color).
Alternatively, if you know your preferred color code in hex, you can type/paste it into the corresponding color bar.
In the preview box (to the right) you may see how your color selection will look.
5.6. For the changes to become effective click on the new eyedropper icon (right side of your address bar) and select Apply Override on All Pages from the drop down menu. You can also choose to apply the changed color settings only to one page or one domain.
6. How to change the theme in Google Chrome
Once you have started using your own colors you may notice that the light blue color of the standard theme (title bar, menu bar and the border around your Chrome browser window) is too bright or that it clashes with the text and background colors you have chosen. In this case you may easily find a more appropriate theme to further improve the appearance of your Chrome browser.
Short instructions: Menu – Settings – Get Themes – Select theme – Add to Chrome
6.1. Click on Menu and select Settings from the drop down menu (see instructions 5.2. above).
6.2. In the Settings page go to Appearance and click on the button Get themes.
6.3. Find the theme that suits you and click on it to load the theme’s page. Click on the Add to Chrome button in the upper right corner of the page to adopt the selected theme.
7. Change background color with a bluelight filter app
In reducing brightness by focusing principally on blue light emissions of your screen will have disproportionate positive effect on the relief you will perceive when compared to other ways of reducing brightness.
Therefore it is highly recommended that you instal a blue light filtering app, particularly if it uses color transform approach which offers better contrast.
There are two blue light filter apps that use color transform approach:
Essentially both apps do the same thing – i.e. reduce the amount of blue light emitted by your screen by lowering the correlated color temperature of whatever is displayed. This means that they make bright cold colors (white, blue) warmer (more yellowish or reddish).
Therefore both apps may be used for both eye strain and insomnia. However, there are some differences such that if your principal goal is to reduce brightness to avoid computer eye strain you might find Iris more suitable. In terms of preventing insomnia they are very similar.
Both also include a Dimming function which will let you dim your screen beyond the mere hardware capability.
Iris’ (commission link) basic app, Iris Mini, is free. But it only lets you reduce brightness to the level equivalent to a correlated color temperature to 3400K. That is enough to get a feel for the app. However, if you want to reduce screen brightness further you probably should get Iris Mini Pro ($2) or even Iris Pro ($10).
Iris is minimalistic and very easy to use.
The pre-set options of Correlated Color Temperature range from 1200K to 6500K (see below).
In addition its hidden features allow you to set any correlated color temperature you want all the way down to zero (0) K.
Another very useful option might be the invert feature, which inverts all the colors on your screen.
Iris is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It is also available for Android (but it uses transparent overlay approach, not color transform :(.
As a bluelight filter app, f.lux software (download here) benefits any user. There are abundant testimonials (written and on video) of satisfied f.lux software users. The app’s primary function is to adapt the color of your computer’s display to the time of day; warm at night and like sunlight during the day. It does so by regulating the amount of blue light emitted by the computer screen (exposure to blue light a few hours before going to spleep negatively affects sleep according to research).
In addition, if you have light sensitive eyes, or you often work in darker setting, you can use f.lux software to reduce computer screen brightness.
How to use f.lux software to lower background brightness
7.1. Click on the f.lux software icon in your task bar.
7.2. “Decrease brightness” of your screen by moving to the left the slider in 1. ADJUST YOUR LIGHTING FOR DAY AND NIGHT (left hand side of the f.lux software window – see red arrows in the image below).
7.3 You can also use f.lux to dim your screen beyond manufacturer’s settings by using Alt-PgDn and Alt-PgUp hotkeys (the effect is simmilar as with the application Dimmer – see below).
How to use f.lux software in a dark setting
7.4. Click on the f.lux software icon in your task bar.
7.6 In the menu that appears click on Darkroom Mode. Your screen will turn black with a tone of red for text, pictures, etc. – if your system (Windows) color theme is black text on white background.
f.lux software’s Darkroom Mode is also handy for programs that do not support changes in text and background color. If you have to use one of those applications you can also turn to f.lux software for help.
Similarly you can use Darkroom Mode for improved web browsing. If you use black/dark background (as I do) to reduce screen brightness you quickly notice that often some information (buttons, images) doesn’t appear. This is particularly disturbing on sites you do not know well. In these cases what you can do is to go to standard black text on white background theme (Windows, section 1) and enable Darkroom Mode in f.lux.
F.lux also allows you to make your screen dimmer (Alt+PgDn) or brighter (Alt+PgUp).
8. Reduce brightness of images and videos with T-bar
When you reduce the brightness of your screen by changing background color to a darker color, you often run into a problem of glare from bright images and videos (see image).
What you can do is use T-bar to shade slightly the images/videos as in the images below.
T-Bar is a colored bar which you can either drag around the screen or lock to your mouse. The color of the light filter can be chosen from pre-defined options and further tweaked to get the ideal color. The transparency level and the size of the bar can also be adjusted.
Dimmer is a very effective light filter app. It is as if you put grey tint sunglasses on. You can reduce screen brightness by adjusting the opacity/transparency of the filter with a convenient slider (see Dimmer’s configuration box below). The Dimmer is a full screen light filter app.
The ssOverlay is also a full screen filter app. It differes from Dimmer in that it alows you to reduce screen brightness in one of these eight colors: silver, red, lime, yellow, blue, fuchsia, aqua, and white. The settings are very easily adjusted (see below).
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