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What is the best color for a white background?

Choosing the right color palette is crucial for any design project. When setting text on a white background, the color contrast is especially important for readability and accessibility. But beyond black text on white, what are the best text and accent colors to use? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the science and psychology behind color pairing, analyze data on the most readable options, and provide specific recommendations for choosing colors that work well with a white background.

How Color Contrast Affects Readability

Before diving into color recommendations, it’s important to understand how contrast affects readability. When text and background colors are too similar in brightness and hue, the text becomes harder to decipher. Low contrast is especially problematic for those with visual impairments. To ensure accessibility, many countries require minimum color contrast ratios for text according to the WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards.

The formula for calculating contrast ratios is:

(L1 + 0.05) / (L2 + 0.05)

Where L1 is the relative luminance of the lighter color, and L2 is the relative luminance of the darker color. A minimum ratio of 4.5:1 is recommended by WCAG for normal text, and 7:1 for large text (over 18pt or bold 14pt).

Higher contrast ratios are widely considered to be optimal for readability. Pure black text on a white background provides the maximum contrast ratio of 21:1. However, such high contrast can cause eye strain when reading long passages of text. Using a dark gray instead of pure black allows for strong contrast while reducing glare.

The Psychology of Color on White

Beyond readability, color choice also impacts psychology and aesthetics. Certain colors inherently project certain moods and emotions for viewers. Understanding these psychological impacts can help guide the selection of colors that align with the desired tone for a design.

Here is an overview of the general psychological associations of common colors:

  • Black: authority, power, elegance
  • Gray: neutrality, sophistication
  • Blue: calm, trust, intelligence
  • Green: nature, health, tranquility
  • Purple: creativity, wisdom, spirituality
  • Red: excitement, urgency, passion
  • Orange: fun, youthful, energetic
  • Brown: earthiness, durability, simplicity
  • Pink: feminine, gentle, comforting
  • Yellow: happiness, optimism, warmth

Some key considerations when selecting accent colors to pair with a white background:

  • Use a high contrast ratio for text colors
  • Avoid similarly bright or dull accent colors
  • Consider the desired tone – energetic, calming, elegant, etc.
  • Use accent colors sparingly to avoid visual clutter

Most Readable Text Colors on White

Now let’s analyze some specific data on the most readable text colors to use on white. The following table compares various text colors for readability by contrast ratio and relative luminance:

Text Color Contrast Ratio Relative Luminance
Black 21:1 0.05
Dark Gray 12:1 0.13
Gray 7:1 0.20
Medium Gray 5:1 0.26
Light Gray 4:1 0.35

Key takeaways:

  • Black provides the highest contrast, but can cause glare.
  • Dark gray offers strong contrast while reducing glare.
  • Light gray approaches the minimum 4.5:1 contrast ratio.
  • Medium gray and lighter shades fail to provide sufficient contrast.

For body text, dark gray to black is recommended. Headings can use a lighter shade of gray for hierarchy, as long as it maintains at least a 4.5:1 contrast ratio.

Most Readable Accent Colors on White

When choosing accent colors like buttons and call-to-action text, contrast is also critical for usability. Here are some accent color options with sufficient contrast on white:

Accent Color Contrast Ratio Relative Luminance
Dark Blue 8:1 0.11
Forest Green 12:1 0.15
Dark Purple 7:1 0.16
Deep Red 5:1 0.17
Dark Orange 6:1 0.19

Lighter shades of any accent color can be used for subordinate buttons or secondary CTAs. Just maintain at least a 4.5:1 contrast ratio between accent colors and the white background.

Accessible Color Combinations on White

Using the guidance and data provided, here are some accessible color palette examples to use on a white background:


  • Dark gray text
  • Medium blue CTA
  • Light gray accents


  • Black text
  • Deep purple CTA
  • Forest green accents


  • Black text
  • Vivid red CTA
  • Bright orange accents


  • Dark gray text
  • Light blue CTA
  • Seafoam green accents

These combinations use sufficiently contrasting colors that also align with the desired aesthetic and tone.

Tools and Resources

To close out, here are some helpful tools and resources for choosing color palettes and testing contrast ratios:

Properly selecting colors with adequate contrast is essential for accessibility and great design on a white background. Follow the recommendations in this guide to choose color palettes tailored to your project.


Choosing colors with sufficient contrast is crucial when setting text on a white background. Darker grays to black work best for body text, while headings can use lighter shades of gray. Accent colors should maintain at least 4.5:1 contrast for accessibility. Combining highly contrasting colors with suitable psychological associations creates attractive, readable designs on white. With an understanding of color theory and contrast principles, designers can confidently select palettes tailored to any project.