Windows High Contrast
Color Schemes


   This article is for vision-impaired amateur radio operators who want to learn whether a Windows high contrast color scheme will improve the readability of text on their computer monitor. Recent Windows operating systems include four high contrast options. These affect only the screen display, not the source files or the appearance of printouts.

   Some examples are shown in Figures 1 - 3 below.

 Figure 1. Windows Vista Basic example with normal contrast.

  Figure 2. High Contrast White color scheme.

    Figure 3. High Contrast Black color scheme.

   Strangely, the Windows high contrast schemes with a black background occasionally use colors with lower contrast than the original, as illustrated in Figure 4.

   Figure 4. High Contrast Black example.

   Here are the steps for using a high contrast color scheme on a PC:

   For Windows Vista and Windows 7 the first step is to learn what the current Desktop Background is and what the Appearance Settings are, so they can be restored. While the Desktop Background changes automatically when you select a high contrast color scheme, it is not restored automatically when you switch back to a standard color scheme. Right click on an unused area of Desktop → Personalize → Desktop Background. Make a note of the selection, including the "Location" listed in the menu box.

   Next, right click on the Desktop → Personalize → Window Color and Appearance. The current Color Scheme is highlighted in the menu. Also check for custom settings with the Effects and Advanced Buttons. The  Color Scheme Menu includes four high contrast options. Select one and click Apply. (If you are using the Windows Aero Scheme, the Appearance Settings Window does not appear at first. Click on the link "Open classic appearance properties" to see the high contrast color options.)

   The high contrast setting toggles off and on via the keyboard shortcut [Left Alt] + [Left Shift] + [Print Screen]. Again, when you switch high contrast off, the Desktop color is not restored. To reset it, Right Click on the Desktop → Personalization → Desktop Background.

   For Windows XP use the path Start → Control Panel → Accessibility Options → Display Tab → Settings. The High Contrast Appearance Scheme popup window shows that each of the high contrast schemes has 3 options—(1) no effect on font size, (2) large font size, and (3) extra large font size—for a total of 12 schemes. (Not every program uses font sizes controlled by Windows, so results will vary.) Make a selection and click OK. In the Accessibility Options Window place a tick in the "Use High Contrast" box, click Apply and OK. Unlike later versions of Windows, the Desktop Background returns to the previous setting automatically when you switch out of a high contrast scheme in Windows XP.


  Windows high contrast color schemes may improve the readability of your computer display. No additional software is required to try them out on a PC using the steps described above. If you find that high contrast is helpful, check out some of the third party screen magnifier programs, such as Magic, ZoomText, and ZoomText Express, that let you customize the colors.

Author Information

   Peter DeNeef, AE7PD, is an Extra Class amateur ratio operator in the U.S. This web site has no ads or conflicts of interest.
Email:  HamRadioAndVision "at" gmail "dot" com.

rev. 11/5/2011

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