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I have seen that some web designs implement an almost black font color (hex #001c00) in their designs instead of a pure black color (hex #000).

Does the design actually benefit from this or is this practically the same as using a black color?

I am a hobbyist web designer and developer and can't seem to grasp the difference.

  • Hi deadsource, welcome to GD.SE and thanks for your great question! If you have any problems with or questions about the site, please have a look at the help center or ping one of us in Graphic Design Chat once your reputation reaches 20. Keep contributing and enjoy the site! – Vincent Apr 7 '15 at 17:44
  • Technically text is never pure black, it's almost always anti-aliased these days. – Pharap Apr 9 '15 at 15:59
  • I would ask, what's the purpose of using solid 000 over a shade? What if you could take it from 10 to 11? – Charlie Schliesser Aug 8 '15 at 20:58
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I always prefer a very dark grey to pure #000. The choice might look personal, but here's the theory behind it:

There are very little 100% black things in nature. All black objects you see have some for of light reflected on them, shadows are never completely black.

When you #000 in a design, it overpowers the other colors. It attracts too much attention, because it is not natural. Of course a website is not natural, but the brain reacts in a similar way nonetheless.

That's why lots of designers go for dark grey instead. You can do a search by color in sites like Dribbble. The difference is small, but noticeable: Dark grey is more frequent and looks better in lots of cases.

For example: Designing in the Dark: 10 Dark Sites and Their Color Schemes (none of them, I think, use #000 as part of their palette)

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    I think the problem is that f you use black you can not vary the color, so say you needed to shade it nope not possible to add shadow on black. In reality black is relative so you can nearly allays get blacker so even dark things can have shadows that are darker you only notice because your eyes readjust to fit this. Second its also more interesting – joojaa Apr 7 '15 at 18:42
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    While agree about the comment regarding pure black not appearing in nature, it really has nothing to do with screen colors. On paper, it's nearly always 100% black, so invalidates that theory.. On screen, often a dark gray is preferred. Why? Contrast is good, but too much contrast can make things difficult to read. On a screen, with projected light, 100% black on 100% white can feel extreme (compared to paper). – DA01 Apr 7 '15 at 20:27
  • +1 Here's another nice article to help hammer home this answer's point: ianstormtaylor.com/design-tip-never-use-black – Pharap Apr 8 '15 at 7:31
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    But from other side, if you are designing "dark theme" for AMOLED screens, 100% black is preferred as it reduces battery usage. – user11153 Apr 8 '15 at 14:08
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    This argument is often trotted out but it actually makes no sense. First, there are no letters in nature so why should we use claims about what colours exist in nature to decide what colour our man-made letters should be? Second, even if we tell a computer to output pure black, the actual colour seen by the user will be slightly off-black anyway, because of the residual colour of the screen, reflections and so on. And there's no silence in nature: should we use very quiet background sounds on all web pages? – David Richerby Apr 8 '15 at 23:46
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These are all interesting answers, but a tad esoteric. The reason is rather simple. Contrast is good for readability, but too much can be considered unnecessary at best, and detrimental at worst.

Nearly all printed text is black on white paper...but rarely is it pure white paper. It's often an off-white. And even then, because it's printed, it's using reflective light.

On screen, where it's projected light, 100% black with 100% white is the maximum possible contrast. This can be overpowering, hence the preference by many to use a dark gray on white, or black on light gray.

There are minimum contrast requirements to meet accessibility and general legibility standards. You definitely want to meet those, but that also doesn't mean you need to max the contrast out at 100%, either.

Plus, a lot of designers feel that it looks better. To relate back to print, dark gray text can be seen as a more luxurious look, as it's more expensive to print gray text on paper than black. (Gray text at small sizes typically requires a gray spot color).

Bottom line: using less than pure black black on white when on screen better emulates what we read offline, meets contrast requirements, and, for a lot of designers, just looks better.

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    "Gray text requires a spot colour"? Nice vibrant rich greys with a subtle hue, maybe, or at very small sizes or on low dpi print setups, but I've printed plain greys like C 0, M 0, Y 0, K 70% plenty of times with no issue. I've always felt the aesthetic value of off-black is in making the text lighter, cleaner and more approachable: another way to lighten the typographic 'colour' alongside whitespace and leading. +1 for everything else though – user568458 Apr 8 '15 at 11:46
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    @user568458 you rarely can get away printing text-size type with a screen of pure black. Large type/headlines, sure, but not body copy with most typefaces. – DA01 Apr 8 '15 at 15:24
  • Pardon? I'm not sure what you are talking about exactly but I can assure you that both magazines and newspapers are printed with 100% black text all the time. I think you're confusing this with another issue (mis-registration), which isn't an issue with 100% black text, or the workflow(s) you're using are suffering from (severe) color management issues. – David van Driessche Apr 8 '15 at 16:15
  • @DavidvanDriessche I'm in complete agreement with you. Not sure what you are referring to. – DA01 Apr 8 '15 at 16:23
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    @DavidvanDriessche: I think you've missed the words 'screen of'. – e100 Apr 27 '15 at 18:02
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Normally I wouldn't post in a question that has been answered as succinctly as this one, but I do think there is a bit of information to add here.

Coming from a graphic design background, there is also the concept of "warm" and "cool" grays. These are grays that have a higher presence of warm or cool colours in their mix respectively.

#111, #222, #333 - these are all examples of neutral dark grays

#221111 - an example of a warm gray

#111122 - an example of a cool gray

The gray that you specified: #001c00 is a cool gray tinted slightly with green.

As Vincent mentions, these slight sheens are not immediately picked up, but instead lend to the greater overall picture and feel.

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People subconsciously perceive details they do not consciously notice. A very slight sheen of a certain colour is perceived and can reinforce a colour scheme and thus a 'feel', a message or a mood.

You could ask the same question for why some papers are off-white, or for the use of different 'rich blacks' in print, and my answer would be similar.

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There are several reasons why this could be so

• To create atmosphere by looking more natural to the eye

• To be consistent with brand colours, perhaps this shade of black is used elsewhere across the design

• To look closer to print (slightly paler blacks are more reminiscent of the way black looks on a printed page)

• A mistake, the creator intended to use the darkest black but eyedroppered the colour from a region that was not actually true black

• In print, designers may use 99% black as it automatically knocks out ink areas below it

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