Black as a background

Jan 10, 2012

Is using black as a background in an elearning course a good or bad idea? I'm developing a How-to course on using a printed resource for sales employees. I started using black as backgound for a Wordle image I created because the words and colors really pop with a black background. Thoughts?

24 Replies
Jeanette Brooks

Hi Marty. Personally, I love black! I think it can be very striking if used with high-contrast colors and bold images.

But I think it's also important to consider what sort of content you need to convey. If your course has lots of text or is super long, a ton of black might start to feel too heavy. You might also want to do some poking around among your target learners, to make sure there's nothing about their learning environments or their hardware that would make it difficult for them to view your content if you use a lot of black backgrounds.

It might also be helpful to mock up a few sample slides and put them out here for the community to take a look at - that's a great way to get feedback on how to make a design impactful. Would love to see what you're working on!

David Becker

Why not use the key colors in your opening slide to give you a range of different background colors to work with? So you could have:


Red with a thin bar of black

Yellow with a thin bar of black etc

Each color could indicate a topic or a type of information.

or reverse the whole thing and have black screens, but with a small amount of the key color to indicate topics or information types.

Natalia Mueller

I also love black as a background.

A couple things, have you ever seen David's screenr where he uses wordle to fill silhouettes?

You could continue that element throughout your course with something like that.

Another thought, if the words you included in that image are main ideas in your course, you could have that graphic fade out leaving behind the words that make up your objectives

If you need to switch up the slide background design, you could have the full black background at the beginning of each section and then have the supporting slides contain a black frame/border while incorporating those bright colors throughout the course. 

I really like David's suggestion of each color representing a type of information.

Pete Monahan

I get lots of pushback from my clients on black backgrounds with contrasting text, stating that it's difficult to read,  and it drives me crazy. I usually try to point them to CNN, ESPN, etc. and show them that producers use black backgrounds with contrasting text because it is EASIER to read. Media moguls wouldn't use something on-screen that is difficult to read.

Lisa Wesley


I feel your pain.  I hold a degree in Graphic/Web design and one in Instructional Design.  Some of the managers I have worked with in the past didn't understand graphic design and therefore missed out on using me to my full potential.  In many cases they were getting a two for one on me. : )  I like the use of black with the bold text.  I also like the idea that David shared.  Makes me wonder if he is a graphic designer also.

James Brown

Black is a good solution on a computer screen but when you design always try and think where and how the slides will be displayed. If you throwing the image using a LCD projector I would strongly suggest you test it out to verify that the colors still pop. I have found that what looks good on the computer LCD doesn't hold the same quality on a projector screen and in those cases I have found a white background is actually a better solution.

True Disbeliever


I believe you.

Where is the quantified professional research re: dark background vs. light background?  Do the graphic artists have it?  The ophthalmologist?  The human factors people?

Few things in nature are self-illuminating, mostly white, or both.

So my intuitive guess is that, for a self-illuminated surface (e.g. LCD),  light text on a dark background more respects the way our eyes work than dark on light.

Best regards,

Daniel Brigham

Hi, Marty:

I too dig black and right after this I'm reading Jeanette's blog post on it.

A few ideas from Duarte's Slideology on dark backgrounds:


--formal (and I'd say classy, arty, with potential for drama)

--fewer opportunities for shadows

--great for large venues (i.e presentation venues)

Maybe you could do a black and white theme? That way you can the drama of black and the levity of white? That's what I'll do if my client gives me a little room to visually boogie.

By the way, I based my website on black, red, and gray colors. Might give you some ideas.

Steve Flowers

I like to use dark backgrounds situationally but tend to avoid pure black and pure white for backgrounds. Extremes on the spectrum don't leave any room for highlights or shadows and can produce contrast ratios that are fatiguing over time. Going just short of pure black and just short of pure white leaves room for a little extra detail and tempers harsh contrast.

When used by itself with high contrast colors, the black on the right (lightened black) looks totally black. It only looks lighter here because it's sitting next to a darker color.

Notice how both of the two on the right still leave room for a shading or shadow. Over longer periods of time and when straining to see smaller details, the black on the right won't make eyes (most eyes, some eye conditions work with super contrast) as tired as the one on the left.

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