Jun 302017
 

Dark editors are preferred over light theme editors by many developers. But where does this come from?

The very first command-lines had a dark background, and the color preference might have stuck around for that reason. Why dark? Well, the earliest computer interfaces were cathode ray tubes. The vacuum tube had a phosphorescent screen, normally a dark color which was lit by electron beams (‘electron guns’), making black the background color and the text amber, white, or green.

I remember when I was a kid, and we had these fat monitors- the CRT screen. CRT stands for Cathode Ray Tube. Ah! I didn’t know that!

For now I’ll stick to what I reckon works the best for me, and that is a dark theme that I’ve customized. For Visual Studio I use the classic StudioStyles site to create a base style that I can tweak later. ReSharper lets me tweak the syntax highlighting further. Sweet bananas.

For now I’ll stick to what I reckon works the best for me, and that is a dark theme that I’ve customized. For Visual Studio I use the classic StudioStyles site to create a base style that I can tweak later. ReSharper lets me tweak the syntax highlighting further. Sweet bananas.

But, is dark better than light? I’ll have to look into that as the answer isn’t straight forward. Many studies have shown that dark text on light background is less straining for the eyes. However, many of the studies were done back in the days, and displays have changed a lot since then. Also, does time of day matter? Does hue/tint matter? How is sleep affected? Are colors easier to distinguish on dark vs light? Does number of displays matter? Size? Vision health and defects (such as color blindness)? I’m going to look into this, so please share your thoughts and questions 🙂

  7 Responses to “(Not so) Stupid Question 300:Where does the preference for dark editors come from?”

  1. I find the dark background with colored text easy on the eyes for long durations. Interestingly, white text on black background isn’t so great for me- it leaves line after-images when I look away from the screen.

    On another note, command line interfaces like Powershell need work. I’m jealous of my Mac friends, who have the option of clean white background and high res black text. Their command line looks like Notepad, but better. Haven’t been able to replicate that on any Windows box.

  2. It’s an interesting observation about dark screens becoming more popular for coding. At first I thought that it was just a trend and then I tried it myself a couple of years ago and guess what? I won’t go back now.

    A dark screen is not as tiring (for me).

    In theory, more light will close your iris (nothing personal there – I mean iris in your eye of course:-) so the lens becomes like a pinhole camera and doesn’t need to work so hard to focus so – I don’t understand that aspect everything appears more restful with a dark background and lighter text.

    Anyway I started with BASIC, FORTRAN Assembler on CRTs 40 years ago which were normally green text on dark background (monochrome).

    Now I’m on VisualStudio (sometimes VS Code) with syntax highlighting, codelens, comments, attributes, string constants, string interpolation arguments, method names, keywords all with their own recognisable colours. I think for me it’s simply fewer photons blasting my retinas and the ones that do, are the data and not the background. Deep joy.

  3. Massively improved laptop battery life. White backgrounds guzzle batteries. Black backgrounds sip them.

  4. Light themes FTW.

  5. I used a light yellow background with almost black text for years, very comfortable, but as color scheme has become more advanced in editors and IDE I’ve switched over and now been using a dark theme for the last 5-6 years. When coding these days I prefer a dark theme, when writing I still prefer the light yellow background with almost black text.

    Here is a link to the Solarized project, both light and dark theme http://ethanschoonover.com/solarized

  6. Gooood question. I really wonder why even young developers use dark theming (as i think, they have no CRT experience 🙂 )

    I definitely prefer bright/light themes. By far easier to read and it creates a more positive mind for me 🙂

    I have the feeling, that this is a kind of religous discussion like the question for the best programming language or OS 🙂

  7. I find that the dark displays are easier on my eyes under fluorescent lighting or when I’m coding at night in my basement. They aren’t as good outside in the sun though.

    Dark themes also cut down on the glare on my glasses if I’m recording video.

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