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Is Dark Mode Such A Good Idea?

I’ve decided to stop using dark mode across all of my devices, because research suggests that going to the dark side ain’t all that.

The darkness is everywhere. In fact, this very site that you’re on right now automagically flips to dark mode if you’re that way inclined. There’s lots of hyperbole flying around about why the darkness is better than basking in the warm glow of light mode.

You know what, I really love using dark mode because it’s easier to read, doesn’t strain my eyes and saves my battery.

Techbros everywhere

I was one of these techbros. I’ve used those very excuses in the past to justify my use of the darkness. But after doing some research on dark vs light, I’ve made the decision to stop using dark mode everywhere. Here’s why…

It’s Easier To Read

A nice dark screen with light text is easier to read, right? Well, according to multiple studies, that’s wrong apparently. The Nielson Norman Group, sum this up well in their post about dark mode, saying:

Results showed that light mode won across all dimensions: irrespective of age [of the individual], the positive contrast polarity [light mode] was better for both visual-acuity tasks and for proofreading tasks.

Humans have evolved to hunt during the day. On a biological level, our eyes prefer the contrast between a light background and dark foreground.

When I was in the military, a key tactic of camouflage was to never, under any circumstances, expose yourself on a hilltop or similar, where your silhouette could be easily identified. A dark blob on a light background is far easier for the human eye to see, than the reverse.

Eye Strain

Many people quote light mode as being a contributory factor to eye strain. Based on the reading I’ve done, this doesn’t appear to be true. The NN Group also cover eye strain in their post:

The human pupil is the gateway to the retina: through it, light reaches the eye. By default, the human pupil changes size depending on the amount of light in the environment: when there is a lot of light, it contracts and becomes narrower, and when it’s dark, it dilates to allow more light to get in. Smaller pupil sizes make the eyes less susceptible to spherical aberrations (in which the image appears unfocused) and increase the depth of field, so people don’t have to work so hard to focus on the text, which, in turn, means that their eyes are less likely to get tired.

Many people perceive light mode as the cause of eye strain. But blue light, among other things, is actually the cause of it most of the time. This is covered in more detail by Vice, where they say:

A 2018 study published in BMJ Open Ophthalmology notes that blue light could be a factor in eye tiredness, but cites dry eyes from not blinking for long periods as a more serious cause of eye strain, as well as too-small fonts, and conditions like uncorrected astigmatism.

That’s part of the reason why I use nice large fonts on this website. I hate it when a website loads with a 12px serif font that just looks like a blur, even when I have my glasses on.

A better remedy for eye strain would be to enable night light on your operating system, which will reduce the your screen’s blue light output. Also, take regular breaks and make sure you’re blinking often enough!

If headaches and eye strain persist, go see an optician. I had the same problem about a year ago; it turns out I am long-sighted and require glasses. Since then, my headaches and eye strain have pretty much stopped.

Dark Mode Saves Battery

Unless you’re using an OLED or AMOLED screen and your dark mode is truly black – not dark grey, not dark blue, BLACK. There is no difference in power consumption.

How many dark sites or applications actually use true black for their dark background? Not many. Most use either a dark grey, or dark blue. This site included.

MakeTechEasier elaborate on the whole OLED/AMOLED vs standard LCD argument. When an OLED/AMOLED pixel is black, it’s turned off, so no power is used. Yet power is still required for LCD to display black pixels.

Android Authority carried out tests using dark mode on a device with an AMOLED screen. The results showed a reduction in battery consumption by around 41%.

Credit: Android Authority

So although this argument holds some water, the majority of phones on the market are LCD. Around 30% of devices had AMOLED/OLED screens in 2019, and they are not projected to hit a majority market share until 2023 (source).

Conserving my device’s battery is the least of my concerns though. My health is far more important. Besides, I spend the vast majority of my time on my laptop or desktop, both of which have LCD screens. AMOLED/OLED is still rare in the laptop/desktop space.

Conclusion

According to the reading I’ve done, dark mode isn’t easier to read and it doesn’t prevent eye strain. However, in very specific circumstances it can improve battery life.

I’m sure there are people out there who genuinely need dark mode for a specific health condition. For that reason, there will continue to be a dark mode on this site.

But if you’re like me, and just prefer dark mode, you may be making things more difficult for yourself and actually damaging your eyes in the long run.

This post is day 04 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. If you want to get involved, you can get more info from https://100daystooffload.com.

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Comments

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  1. I mostly see after image lines when reading in the dark mode in iPhone 6s. It may differ between devices or screens.

  2. I just prefer the look of dark mode. I never knew people had these beliefs about it having any actual benefit over light mode. Use whatever you want 🙂

  3. Dark mode is meant to be used in low light situations. The best example is GPS displays in cars. They switch automatically to dark mode at night because the day time mode would be too bright. That being said, most developers I work with are using dark modes in their code editors.

    1. Agreed, which is what I do on this site. If you have dark mode enabled on your OS, the theme of this site will adapt.

  4. For me its more a practical thing, I can use my phone while I sleep my daughter, some times takes a while, and some other i just stay with her. So, can’t care less about the consumption of black pixels. I think contrast is very relative, but overall I have a good experience. But prefer not to read on screens. Actually I prefer not to read at all.

  5. Thre are circumstances when I prefer dark mode much more. Regardless of what research says I find it’s much easier to read light text on dark background at night time in unlit room. In light mode screen is just too bright. Contrast between the screen and environment is too great and causes much more strain that the contrast between screen background and text.

    PS: This site in dark mode still has light text inputs and the text is nearly invisible in them.

    1. Oh thanks for letting me know, I’ll fix that today.

      I’ve been going through a redesign, so there are a few bugs still.

  6. As a parent of a one-year-old, I’m finding almost all my discretionary reading/watching/listening time occurs in a very dark room while feeding a bottle of milk to a baby that is (hopefully) slowly falling asleep. iOS apps that don’t support dark mode are terrible.

  7. Nice article. I am generally selective about it. e.g. my terminal is dark where I write code, my text-editor(for general purpose writing) is light and phone is dark

  8. The option is there, and that it’s what counts, people are different, work environments are different. It’s just an option, if you don’t want to use it fine, but I would love to see even more options ( like the mentioned Sepia thing )

  9. In the old days, on Windows 98, the user could choose the default background color for windows. The applications installed, could use this default color for their own background. For an unknown reason, Microsoft has disabled this functionnality, forcing users to have “plain white” (255,255,255) backgrounds.

  10. After a lot of experiments I found that most comfortable mode for my eyes is when the brightness of display is same as the brightness of the outer environment. When I’m sitting near a bright window in a sunny day I always use light themes and I increase my display brightness to high values. When the sun goes behind the clouds I decrease the brightness. I constantly adjust the brightness of display during the day. At the evening and night time I switch to dark modes everywhere I can (most applications support dark themes, and I use “dark mode” extension for my browser). I completely don’t get all that holy wars on dark mode vs light mode. The only negative thing is that I have to manually adjust the brightness and switch to dark modes at the night time. While smartphone displays are adjusting automatically I wonder why computer displays are not.

  11. > Unless you’re using an OLED or AMOLED screen and your dark mode is truly black – not dark grey, not dark blue, BLACK. There is no difference in power consumption.

    This right here is bullshit. There is absolutely no difference between the power usage of #000000 and #010101 (well, technically it’s a difference of 0.000507%). The pixels don’t have to switch off to save battery.

    Not to mention that gamma correction reduces this even more — the difference in actual physical brightness of #000000 and #121212 (Google’s material design background colour) is not 7%, as you would get from just 0x12/0xff, but 0.28%, because it’s actually (0x12/0xff)^2.2.

    1. According to the research that Android Authority did (image with graph and link is in the post), using black saved battery.

    2. Yes, black saves battery compared to the light theme, as they showed in the picture: https://cdn57.androidauthority.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Reddit-Sync-710×350.jpg

      However, black does not save significantly more battery than just a dark grey. See this article on XDA: https://www.xda-developers.com/amoled-black-vs-gray-dark-mode/amp/

      The author established that both theoretically and in actual tests, the difference between power consumption of grey and true amoled black is minimal. (You will also note the 40% saving over a white background, which is the same result the android authority article presents)

  12. I disagree.

    In almost 30 years I used terminals, emacs, browser, all black text on white background.

    Then I got some eye problem (don’t know what that is in english, so no more on that), and all light display things started to irritate me strongly.

    In just a few days time I converted all to dark background and this is much better for me…

    … In addition to that, I did enlarged font sizes, et al… I have a bit better chance to do that than “ordinary” user (and no bitmap scaling !!!) so that helps me about eye strain due to too small content (actually this text block is a bit too small, but I don’t have to look this too long)

    1. From the research I did, dark mode is helpful for people with certain eye conditions. Maybe you fall into that bucket.

      What’s important though, dark mode or not, is that you found the right settings to make working at a computer more comfortable for you.

  13. I actually never used dark-mode in my IDE. I tried many times. Despite being pretty and all it is really hard to read. I see after-visions every time I read white letters on a dark background and it’s really straining my eyes (which are not pretty good).

    The only good thing dark-mode is good for is for media since you can focus on it. Reading text just in dark mode just hinders your focus on the same text, since the same very text surrounding it will serve as noise.

    And when your surrounding environment is dark – dark mode may be easier to be in, true. But i just use a bright theme with less “white” in it. And turning your screen into a “night-mode” (not dark) may help your eyes as well.

    Thank you for your article

    1. I know. I recently went through a re-design of my site. I’ll be re-implementing prefers-color-scheme over the next few days.

  14. Dark Mode is a wrong solution, because it solves the wrong problem. Having black characters on a clear background is a good thing, it is an enhancement from the white characters on black background, that we had on computer before 2000. The problem is, choosing a “pure white 6500K” for background is just plain stupidity, because it contains too much blue light. The solution: Amazon has found it, with the Kindle Reader for PC: Having a sepia background. Personnaly, I just turn down the blue light on my monitors for working, restoring it only for gaming or movies. And that’s it.

  15. A while back I noticed myself squinting at my screen and getting tired eyes, especially by the end of the day. I had read something along the same lines as this post, so I tried switching to light themes (especially in my editor / terminals which were dark). It’s been quite a few months and it seems much better, I’ve not felt that eye strain at all.

    Of course, dark screens look cooler….

  16. On the flip side, dark mode means a lot less blue light, which is good for long term eye health, and also for better sleep.

    1. 100% agree – that why I use blue light filters on my apps, which is mentioned in the post.

  17. It’s also a pain for developers to implement. In any significant app, first 95% takes 30 seconds, and the last 5% takes the rest of the week, or weeks.

    My time is not unlimited. I’d rather spend that time on more useful functionality.

  18. I don’t like dark themes for regular use, but when it’s getting dark outside my office ambient light becomes darker and i prefer dark themes so it won’t hurt my eyes as much.

    De reason i don’t turn on the light is because i want to reduce my night time computering, and to let my body know its time to sleep (i don’t know if there is such a thing actually).

    I tried the night light thing but i can’t stand the color change when browsing.

    1. Yeah, dark mode can be helpful when reading at night. The “Nightmode” colour shift is weird, but you soon get use to it, and many devices now are configured to sync it with the time of day so that it gradually turns on as it gets darker. When that’s enable, the shift from normal to the orange hue isn’t really that noticeable for me.

  19. So true. Computing has been “dark mode” in the past and it has abandoned for a reason. I also notice that if looking on white text on black background in a dimmed environment, that I see ghost lines for a while when looking at others things.

  20. I’m not sure if I can trust the reading ergonomic opinion of anyone who uses gray text on a white background. Can you please use something better for the quotes?
    Using pure black on AMOLEDs is usually not a good idea, because of smearing. The black will look like it’s bleeding when you scroll.

    1. The smearing is not really the OLED’s fault and not really a problem on quality OLED screens, there’s just a lot of lower quality screens on the marker where it’s visible

  21. I’ve looked into it as well and found that light mode is indeed easier to read and less straining DURING THE DAY IN A ROOM WITH A LOT OF LIGHT.
    The researches I red at the time though suggested that dark mode was less straining on the eyes at NIGHT / IN A DARK ROOM.
    I do use flu on my MacBook and I do agree that having the blue colors removed after sunset is probably more helpful than dark mode.
    Flux https://justgetflux.com

  22. Another reason to prefer light mode: It is *much* easier to read with an LCD projector or–as so common nowadays–when sharing a screen in a video call. Everyone. do your meeting attendees a favor. Be uncool and turn on light mode when you share your screen.

  23. Admittedly, I love dark mode aesthetically. However, when it comes to reading text, black text on a white background is noticeably easier for me to get through.

    1. Agreed. I have to say I’m not missing dark mode since making the switch. It does help at night some times, but “reading mode” within my browser easily fixes that.

    2. Totally agree. I think there’s a big difference in Dark mode for OS UI elements and reading.
      Following that – mind turning off dark mode on your site plz? 🤣
      It’s amazing how hard it is to actually not let sites pick up dark mode in the browser if the author is not offering a switch.

    3. Dark mode on this site is enabled if the person visiting the site uses a dark OS theme. I’ve considered using a switch, but it’s more JavaScript and I’m trying to keep the site lightweight wherever I can. 10 lines of CSS does the job for most people.

      You can make the site light be switching to “reading mode” in your browser and changing the colour. 🙂

  24. @kev @yarmo Your post Kev made me do a whole load of googling, and I switched to light mode on loads of stuff.My site is already light, but everything else (gtk, terminal, websites that support it, phone etc) was dark.I honestly never realised how much dark mode was straining my eyes.The hardest switch was terminal stuff, but I’m used to it now and life is good.

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