I’ve been feeling insecure about my skills the last couple weeks, so I’ve gone down a deep hole of design and typography design. I found this interesting article from uxmovement.com, which claims that using white text on a black background for paragraph text (or anywhere where there’s large chunks of text to read at once) reduces legibility. They say that this is because with white text “the light that hits each word reflects and scatters into each other”.

The comments are the interesting point. Several people point out that if we’re talking about a screen, then there’s not going to be light “bouncing off” white text. Screens produce white by producing light, not bouncing it; light from the room isn’t going to bounce off light from the screen. The part that’s going to reflect light is going to be the dark parts of the screen, which can be a problem, but if you’re in a dark room, reading light text on dark is preferable to avoid eyestrain. That, the comments say, is why so many programmers prefer the black background (and they often work in the dark).

So I started thinking about other places where black backgrounds are normal. And it occurred to me that I was one of those dark-room-using, screen-based creators. A huge proportion of my realistic work, particularly before I had a screen with a strong backlight like I have now, were on black backgrounds.

Then I started thinking about comic books and graphic novels, and the trend toward black gutters. (The gutters, for those of you who don’t know, are the spaces between the frames). I’ve never much liked black gutters. Some older comic artist once said something like (and I wish I could find the original quote) “pages need space; if you fill your gutters with black, there’s no where for your eye to rest”. (You can actually see, I think, in my work where I read and processed this. My gutters suddenly double in size.)

The thing is, if you’re an artist, working on your bright screen in a darker room (which you probably are to reduce glare), black is what you want to rest your eyes on. So it makes sense that many digital artists would choose black gutters for their books.

I imagine I would have made the same choices… except that I don’t read comics the same place I draw. If I’m reading, I’m relaxing. I’m probably not in the dark corner where my desk is. I might even be reading in print. On paper, black is additive, and could feel more “busy”. In the light parts of my room, dark pages reflect my own face back at me, which is incredibly distracting.

I’m not saying that dark pages, or black gutters are bad. At least, not universally. Clearly there are some places where they’re not the best choice. I guess I just wanted to write this down, so I remember to take it into account in the future.