The Colour of my True Love’s Page

Read at your own risk

This document dates from the early web period, and is kept for archival purposes only. It is no longer updated, and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate.
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Colors are tricky business on web pages. There are a lot of different color configurations out there, from black and white to millions. There are also lots of different people, some of whom have aesthetic reasons for preferring certain color combinations, others of whom have medical reasons.

Hey, teacher, leave them links alone!

If you mess with your pages’ background colors, you also need to mess with your link colors. Many people turn off link underlines, because they’re ugly, leaving just the color to warn them of links. Readers can also set the color of links on their page. So you can’t know what color the links are going to be unless you set them yourself.

The neat thing about publishing on the web, though, is that you don’t have to get a heart attack about all this. If you just leave it alone, readers will choose the background and link color that makes your page look best to them. When you take over the colors, you’re choosing what your reader feels is an inferior color. Maybe they are color-blind, and they’ve chosen the colors they can see best. Or maybe they are using a black and white monitor (they still exist) or a 16-color driver in Windows (there are millions still in use). If you override their color choice (or, more likely, the color that the browser determined was best for them), you may well have just made your page unreadable.

Ya load sixteen colors, whaddaya get?

You can’t always ensure that your million-color pictures look good on a sixteen-color computer, but you ought to try. For a long time, all Windows computers came set to sixteen colors. Even though they have the hardware already built in for 256 colors or more, the process of changing is too convoluted for most people to handle, so these computers remain at 16 colors only. Even Windows ’95 isn’t particularly reliable at changing ‘monitor depth’.

Black and white monitors abound as well, on old Macintoshes. Macintoshes last forever, far longer than comparable Windows computers. All but the very oldest Macintoshes can use web browsers at least up to Netscape 2, and, with enough memory, up to at least Netscape 4.

If you are good with graphics, consider experimenting with ways of making your pictures look good on low-quality monitors without hurting their appearance on high-quality monitors.

They can see right through you.

Transparency is very useful when it comes to letting the reader choose. If you’re setting up a special title, for example, you can make the words black (a reasonable choice) and set the background transparent. The readers’ background color will show through, making your text look like it belongs right there.

Transparent graphics must currently be GIFs. All web browsers now support transparent GIFs. You may want to choose a reasonable color (white is a good choice) in case there are still browsers out there that don’t handle transparencies. America On-Line, at one time, did not, since it converted GIFs to their own proprietary format before displaying them.

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