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How to use high contrast in Windows 10 and 11

How to use high contrast mode/themes in Windows and what this looks like in frequently used applications.

While interning at a major tech company, I started using high contrast themes regularly while at work to make it easier for me to read text and interact with applications without getting eye strain too quickly. Even though some of the apps I used at my internship had a few bugs with high contrast mode, I found that I preferred high contrast mode over dark mode or similar display modes when working in my office, and would switch between display modes when screensharing or testing software. Here are my tips for using high contrast themes in Windows 10 and Windows 11, and how high contrast looks with frequently used applications at my internship.

How to enable high contrast in Windows 10 and Windows 11

High contrast mode/high contrast themes are a display feature in Windows 10 and Windows 11 that removes non-essential display graphics and formatting, allowing users to select color schemes for their device’s display, text, links, and similar items. This is ideal for users with low vision, light sensitivity, or diminished contrast vision, as well as for users who are working in low-light environments.

The next two sections are excerpts from the Microsoft Support page for high contrast themes/high contrast mode. High contrast mode is used in Windows 10, while high contrast themes are used in Windows 11. Both provide the same functionality.

To enable high contrast mode in Windows 10:

To enable high contrast themes in Windows 11:

What is removed in high contrast mode?

By default, the following visual elements are removed from the Windows interface in high contrast mode/high contrast themes:

Program icons and colors, images in the gallery/web browser, and similar visual items are not affected by high contrast mode and remain unchanged.

Related links

High contrast color palettes

In high contrast themes, each display item is assigned a color for improved readability. The colors of the following visual elements can be changed:

It’s worth noting that text color does not impact the readability of text in high contrast mode- previously, there was a bug where colored text would appear invisible when high contrast was enabled. However, users cannot change the font color in a document to display in a different color when high contrast is on.

Related links

Choosing custom colors for high contrast

There are four pre-made high contrast themes for Windows 10 and Windows 11, two that feature black backgrounds with light colored text, and two that feature white backgrounds with dark colored text. Color palettes can be customized by selecting the colored rectangles in the Ease of Access menu for high contrast mode/themes.

When determining the best colors for high contrast color schemes, I recommend talking to a vision professional such as a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), assistive technology specialist, low vision optometrist/low vision ophthalmologist, vision therapist, or similar professional to determine what color scheme will work best for an individual’s eye condition.

Using high contrast with other accessibility settings

High contrast mode can be used along with other accessibility settings such as Magnifier, keyboard shortcuts, custom mouse pointers/text cursors, custom icons, and large print sizes/display scaling. The only display setting that may be adversely affected by high contrast mode is invert screen, though high contrast mode often looks similar to an inverted screen so many users find that they don’t need to invert their screen to read text.

When I was using high contrast mode at my tech internship, I discovered that my device looked better at a lower resolution than it did with the default color scheme/display, which made it easier for me to use programs with larger display scaling/magnification.

Related links

How does high contrast look in different applications?

Wondering what high contrast mode looks like in different applications? Here is how high contrast mode looks in some of the most-used applications at my tech internship and in my college classes. In some applications, the text in high contrast mode appears invisible when the user is typing in a search box, but the text is visible again once the user finishes typing- this is typically due to custom themes in the web browser or other applications, and high contrast mode will prompt users to turn off themes for improved visibility.

For the purposes of these screenshots, I am displaying the default display modes for these applications with High Contrast #1 and without additional large text or custom toolbars/menus that I normally would use.

Veronica with Four Eyes Website

Screenshot of the post "My Microsoft Feature" as it is displayed in high contrast mode

These two screenshots show what my website looks like with high contrast mode enabled. The purple and white background has been replaced with a solid black background, with yellow text and blue hyperlinks. The fonts themselves remain consistent- only the color has changed.

Veronica With Four Eyes website navigation menu in high contrast. A search query for "not invisible text" is typed in the search bar

Microsoft Word

A screenshot of this post in Microsoft Word with high contrast mode enabled

Microsoft Word has a simpler color scheme in High Contrast mode, and the reading experience makes me think of the Microsoft Immersive Reader app, which is a simplified reading display that can be accessed in the “View” tab.

Microsoft Excel

Screenshot of the Flights of NY dataset in Microsoft Excel, displayed in high contrast mode

One significant thing I noticed when using Microsoft Excel with high contrast mode is that conditional formatting/color scales are not visible when high contrast themes are enabled. The colors of charts are also not visible, which demonstrates the importance of creating charts where color is not the sole mean of conveying information. This is a screenshot of the Flights of NY dataset that is frequently used in data science exercises, along with a random PivotChart I created.

Screenshot of a PivotChart in high contrast mode. The chart itself is displayed with yellow bars and text on a black background and is purely decorative/has no meaningful data

Microsoft Outlook

Screenshot of an email from Dropbox in Microsoft Outlook, displayed in high contrast mode

This is a screenshot of an email from Dropbox in my Microsoft Outlook inbox. The graphic colors are not affected by high contrast mode and remain intact. However, the display of Outlook is slightly altered at the top of the screen because I have a custom rainbow theme enabled for when I use the app in dark mode.

GMail/Google Workspace

Screenshot of a Paths to Technology newsletter in Gmail, displayed in high contrast mode

Another email screenshot, this is how a newsletter from Perkins School for the Blind appears in GMail/Google Workspace.

Related links

Other tips for using high contrast displays in Windows 10 and Windows 11

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com

Updated February 2024; original post published July 2019.

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