Veronica With Four Eyes

Colored Paper and the Readability of Text

During my junior year of high school, I did a science project about how the color of paper can affect the readability of text.  This was the first time I really investigated how important contrast is when creating accessible documents, and it was fascinating.  It really helped me determine the colors of paper I preferred for my assignments.

When I presented this research to the science fair judges, I received an unexpected surprise. Three out of the five judges were colorblind!  Globally, one in twelve men and one in two hundred women are colorblind. The odds of encountering two men and one women who are colorblind in a room seemed to be one in a million.  My friends and family found this experience absolutely hilarious, and told me that it would be a great story to tell if I ever presented my research again, though I wasn’t very amused.


My interest in this topic began when I visited a neuro-opthalmologist at a large medical center who showed me an eye chart with different colored backgrounds.  They explained that people tend to see better on the eye chart with colored backgrounds because the colors helped reduce eye fatigue (from the white glare of the normal eye chart) and it was easier for the eyes to focus.  I was fascinated by this, and chose to do more research on it for my science fair project.  Over the years, I have learned even more about creating accessible materials and how important contrast is, and will be sharing some of the practical applications of my research below.

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What colors work best

Light yellow and light blue were found to be the paper colors that were the easiest to read off of.  It could easily be read in all lighting conditions. Plus, the effectiveness of the colors weren’t diminished if someone wore tinted glasses (like I do).  I have found it is easy to read on these colors for long periods of time, and all colors of my pens and markers show up sharp even on the colored paper.  Blue is best for large amounts of information or reading, while yellow works great for worksheets.

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What colors work less well

  • Neon bright colors often contribute to eye fatigue and the eyes may have trouble focusing on the page.
  • Darker colors, such as those found on conventional construction paper, may also be difficult to read.  The darker backgrounds obscure text, provide poor contrast, and make information difficult to process.

Using colored films

While this wasn’t part of my project, one of my teachers found that it was easier for me to read when they added a colored film to paper.  Because of the way fluorescent lighting was set up in some classrooms, I found these films difficult to use when the lights above me would reflect on top of the plastic. As a result, I very rarely used them while sitting at my desk.  Now that I am in college though, most of my classrooms don’t use fluorescent lighting. I have found myself reaching for these films more often when I have to read papers for long periods of time.

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Changing white intensity

Sharp white can be bad for eye fatigue. I have blue light filters on all of my main electronic devices, including my desktop computer, laptop computer,Android phone, and iPad.

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If I put it on a colored background, does this mean I don’t need large print?

NO!!  If you have low vision, please continue to use your preferred font sizes and image sizes, even if you use a colored paper.  The page color is supposed to make text easier to see, not to add any other difficulties.

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Bottom line, the page color can influence the readability of font, and by using light colors, the reader may find it easier to read for long periods of time and not have as much eye fatigue from glare.  Experiment with different papers and figure out which one works best.

how colored backgrounds improve the readability of text