Scott Hanselman

Changing your colors in Visual Studio.NET - Black versus White

September 07, 2006 Comment on this post [31] Posted in Musings
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UPDATE: for a great growing community of Visual Studio Styles and Themes. You can create, import and export themes in your browser!

VsbeforefontsI run my Visual Studio.NET with Consolas 15pt and have since I discovered Consolas. I like to run at a big(ger) font for a few reasons. First, it looks best at 15pt. 16pt? Crap. 13pt? Please. I also run it with a white (paper-like) background and the default colors. I also tend to run FullScreen with SHIFT-ALT-ENTER.

More and more though I hear that folks are vibing on the black background again. Personally, I've always found the black blackground folks to be a little creepy - just a little too black t-shirt, if you know what I mean.

Lately, though, it seems, that folks I respect have been trying the black background thing. A while back Atwood blogged about this.

There's a lovely theme for Mac folks running TextMate using the Monaco Font by this fellow at Vibrant Ink.

Folks with "TextMate Envy" can get a free Monaco Font for Windows here. Since that was so easy to find, I figured I'd try black background world also. But not just "switch to black background," no, no, that'd be too simplistic. I need to pump up the color on the foreground as well.


Now, that doesn't look too bad. Here's what I did from Tools|Options inside Visual Studio.NET

  • Changed the font to Monaco in Environment|Fonts and Colors under "Text Editor"
  • Changed:
    • Plain Text - White
    • Line Numbers - Silver
    • Comments - 213,0,213 (Purpley)
    • Identifier - 253,223,57 (Mustardy)
    • Keyword - 244,122,0 (Orangey)
    • Operator - White
    • String - Lime
    • UserTypes - 179,179,0 (Mustardy)

I think I'll leave it like this for a while and see what happens.

Feel free to post links to a screenshot of your colors and fonts in your editor in the comments. Put the link to your screenshot in the Home Page field in the comment and your name in the comments will automatically turn into a hyperlink.

Now, gray background people? Well, they're just freaks. ;)

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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September 07, 2006 10:55
Have you seen this from Dave Reed? :)
"Join the Dark Side of Visual Studio"
September 07, 2006 11:27
That Monaco font is really not good IMO. It's too whimsical and kinda.. Comic Sans-y.

In my research into white vs. black backgrounds I found that the key thing is *contrast*, as in you want some contrast, but not too much of it. Avoid pure blacks on pure whites.

My current scheme is more or less here

Although I've succumbed to the inevitable ClearType now.
September 07, 2006 13:45
What about this blue Turno Pascal like Visual Studio?
September 07, 2006 15:26
I just can't stand the whole black background; makes my eyes hurt and weep in just a few minutes. So I guess that makes me a white backgrounf kind of guy.

That said, I never run with the default colors in VS, either; I rather have it a little bit more costumized to bring out a few things.
September 07, 2006 15:36
My old glasses were a bit off, prescription-wise, and scratched up, too. As a result, I was getting frequent eye strain. At first, I thought it was due to the huge, bright screen on my new laptop, so I switched VS.NET over to use a black background. Then I installed a bunch of beta crap, and now I can't change it again. I rather like it...except for the fact that in XML modes, quotes are also black. :p
September 07, 2006 15:51
Borland's Turbo C IDE colours where always a favorite - nice and easy on the eye and also providing the right amount of contrast...example here;

Yellow/White/Green on blue rocks!
September 07, 2006 16:31
Thanks, Scott, really cool looking and eyes keeping VS theme
September 07, 2006 17:23
I think Craig hit the nail.
For the last 6 months I've been perceiving an increasing rate of eyelash fall, with all its unwanted side effects such as eye pricking, etc. I blame it on the 10+ hours/day on the computer. Although I cannot prove it scientifically, I suspect an inappropriate combination of radiation/brightness/contrast/background colors/font colors/font types and sizes are the culprit of my lash fall and eye strain. I was seen by an ophtalmologist and he prescribed a couple of meds and glasses. Too soon to tell if they're effective. For the time being my lash fall and eye strain continue. Monitors I work on? 19" Samsung SyncMaster 997MB's.

What measures have you taken guys to protect your eyes from monitor glare/radiation ?

September 07, 2006 17:38
I've been using a black background for all my IDE's for about 5 years now. I find it very easy on the eye strain factor.

I also have all my Windows "appearance" colors shaded downward to heavier grays and and have eliminated almost all large white areas (for the programs that support color changing).

It's also helpful to have ambient light behind your monitors (desk lamp), to help make your visual perspective more 3D. If your room light source is behind you, shining on your monitors, than it makes your vision very "flat" and contributes to more eye strain.

Note: you'll probably find a black background is difficult to read when doing a standup presentation with a Projector.

Good luck.

September 07, 2006 18:58
I'm in the Borland IDE style camp. I've been changing my IDE's to this for years. Heck, I'm so old school, I even change my font to FIXEDSYS. :)

September 07, 2006 19:42
Add me to the list of those still in love with the Borland color schemes. Before Delphi8 forced us to migrate to Visual Studio, I was a big fan of the Twilight scheme, so I did my best to re-create it in VS.
September 07, 2006 19:49
Hey, Scott, by the way, why don't you export your font settings from VS and share that? sure would save those that want to try out your style some time :)
September 07, 2006 20:24
Yes :) Finally the dark background gains some ground. I blogged about this a while ago. You can download my theme for VS2005 as well as VS2003. Click my name and look at the August archives (sorry, the full url didnt fit). Or go here:
September 07, 2006 23:20
I have tried black background a few times but always returned to visual studios default theme.

But I tried again and I think I like my result this time so I will try it out for a few days (click my name link to view a screenshot).
September 08, 2006 2:22
This is my current settings
September 08, 2006 3:39
I love black backgrounds. Much easier on the eyes once you are used to it.

Scott, you should change the background color on Notepad2 as well. I did and never looked back.
September 08, 2006 9:39
Black backgrounds tend to cause halation for me much worse than white backgrounds. Partly, I think, because I wear glasses. But as long as the contrast is set appropriately, they are equally readable.

We need to have some sort of "hotornot" website for IDE color schemes, along with links to download the exported VS2005 settings for that scheme.
September 08, 2006 12:35
Never thought I would even think on these lines. Now you have me experimenting with different colors. Hmmm. Productive use of company time :) LOL. Love the black theme though. Thanks.
September 08, 2006 15:27
Jeff, I like that idea a lot. I've been searching for good color schemes a while. I think the one Scott suggested is not sophisticated enough.
September 08, 2006 17:51
Jeff, that sounds like a pretty cool idea, I'd say. I'd certainly like to see it, and contribute my own couple of schemes!
September 08, 2006 20:29
Vibrant Ink for VS 2005:
September 09, 2006 1:31
We had a study performed some years ago for our AutoCAD users. Historically most AutoCAD users have used a black background and some white but we found that most users appreciated a grayish background because that didn't make the contrast agains the walls and other stuff around the monitor too big. Most users continued using a gray like background color and it might be a good idea for coders as well. I'll give it a try. Then of course the contrast need to be good for the text so good colors are required to find.
September 09, 2006 15:50
The white background is an attempt to mimic a piece of paper, which does not take into account the fundamental difference of emmited light versus reflected light. Movie credits always use a black background, as do most lighted signs. It is simply much easier on the eye to have the vast majority of the screenspace not lit.
September 09, 2006 19:04
Aaron can you upload your settings please?

September 10, 2006 7:54
I've always gone with the black background... far more comfortable when you're at the screen 12 hours a day. Also I make sure that literal string and magic numbers are in bold red - just so they stick out like a sore thumb. Don't want too many of those in my code if I can help it.
September 10, 2006 10:15
Hey dcave,

Try these settings (let me know if it doesn't work).


September 11, 2006 19:48
I'm one of the gray background people... my eyes have been glad for some time now.
September 12, 2006 20:07
My Autumn colors for vs2k5 / resharper. Errors show up red background with black text to offset them. More of what you see in everyday coding is in the bottom few lines.
September 12, 2006 20:09
text input field max length for url exceeded... here's full url.
September 13, 2006 18:33
I'm being treated for an eye issue that requires keeping one eye dialated for a few weeks. Switching to the black background is MUCH better for me right now. However, I can't find a way to change the intellisense popups to match, so they come on screen like a blinding white beacon. Does anyone know if you can change them too>
September 19, 2006 21:00
We set up an "Is your IDE Hot or Not?" site here--

Please contribute! I'm setting up the Vibrant Ink theme now for download.

Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.