In general the pages of a book are white and the words of the book are black enter image description here

Why is it not the other way around

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What are the possible reasons that books were designed this way ,

Why is the black word white background favoured over white word black background??

  • 3
    Apart from the shedload of ink? Jan 29, 2014 at 17:57

4 Answers 4


What are the possible reasons that books were designed this way

This history of publishing goes back to manuscripts. Monks would use calligraphy to replicate the text from one book into a new book. It was likely impractical to die parchment and impractical to create a white ink.

That was followed by the era of moveable type. Again, it was likely still impractical to have black paper and a truly opaque, white ink.

Which leads us today, with offset printing and digital printing. Again, it's still impractical to have died paper and white, opaque inks and toners...as well as impractical to print in reverse, as it would simply take too much ink and be difficult for most printers to handle.

It's not so much a UX issues as an issue of practical implementation.

Further to all of that, a black page would make taking notes difficult, would prohibit easy highlighting, would be difficult to read in low light, etc, etc.

However, we now have eBooks. And now it's finally practical. And, as such, it's now typically an option on most eBook readers and tablets.

  • @CodeMaverick that is true of projected light (a screen) but paper is reflective light. A mostly black page isn't going to reflect as much light to generate enough contrast in low-light situations.
    – DA01
    Jan 29, 2014 at 21:06

Cost : It is cheaper to print black words on white paper then it is to print white words on black paper ( Intiution , feel free to cite sources to agree or disagree with me )

Legacy : Readers are used to reading books of black words with white background


White on black provides higher contrast (America Association for the Blind) references this.

Black on white is cheaper to print.

White on black (on screen) uses less electricity.

People are generally used to black on white, this can cause users to feel it is more strenuous to read when inversed.

If it's large article styled text, I'd go with black on white. Short headline text, I think white on black is fine. But this is just my preferences.


Answers above are true, but there is also an issue with long term readability due to eye fatigue. Light text on dark backgrounds should only be used for highlighting and shorter pieces of text. This also meets the guidelines of the National Institute on Aging as well as the National Library of Medicine in the US. There is a great series of articles by Pabini Gabriel-Petit touching on some of the basics of color theory. http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2006/01/color-theory-for-digital-displays-a-quick-reference-part-i.php

  • I disagree with your eye fatigue statement regarding light text on dark background. I'm a developer and I specifically use dark color themes in my editors due to how much eye fatigue I get with dark text on light (white) backgrounds. That said, if you're smart you use colors that aren't true white or true black, which I tend to think I am, and thus, I don't. =D Jan 29, 2014 at 19:27
  • There are a lot of factors involved. But you are setting to a "positive luminance" screen with high contrast which can make edges of small type appear a bit blurred, especially with seriffed fonts. The ambient light around your display plays a big role as well and you may have set things up to how it is most comfortable for you. I would guess you don't have color syntax highlighting; that would cause even more issues. But really, the level of eye strain depends on context and most often the older you get, the more you need "negative luminance" contrast: colorusage.arc.nasa.gov/bkg_1.php
    – Mark Sloan
    Jan 30, 2014 at 0:07
  • Well, I actually do use color syntax highlighting. My Visual Studio color scheme is a self-customized version of the Son of Obsidian theme. Jan 30, 2014 at 0:54
  • That is nice, not a complete black it seems to lower the edge vibration. It is interesting to see how this works for you in different lighting conditions. Are you in a bright office or do you work in lower light? Compared to a white background with color syntax highlighting, the color here is much brighter. If you wear glasses it can change how the light reaches your eye as well. Fascinating stuff.
    – Mark Sloan
    Jan 30, 2014 at 18:18
  • Yea, I brought my colors down to the level of mutedness the black was. Still the same colors, but just not as bright/bold. I like it so much, I've even done the same to my SQL Server Management Studio editor. I work in an office that changes the lighting based on who's here so the darker it is, the better my eyes feel. The brighter it is, the worse my eyes feel, but that's typically from looking at sites like this that have a high contrast of white. As far as glasses, I wear them b/c my contacts tend to dry out while focusing on code and that causes migraines for me. Jan 30, 2014 at 18:27

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