Issue #114 July 25, 2006

PowerPoint Tip: The Challenge with White Backgrounds

I am often asked what color background someone should use for their PowerPoint slides. Many organizations use a white background because it prints well. That’s fine if you only print your presentations, but if you will be projecting your presentation, a white background can cause problems. Here are a few observations from a recent presentation that used a white background. The room was well lit, and turning down the lights wasn’t really an option since it would have made the room too dark for the audience to stay awake. Strong room lighting washes out colors, so the text color, even black, appears washed out and harder to see when using a white background. Second, a white background is the dominant color the audience sees, which is quite bright and can tire their eyes, making it harder for them to devote their full attention to you and your message. And finally, it is very hard for a projector and screen combination to create a true white color (it is one of the hardest colors to project properly). In the recent presentation, the combination of the projector and screen created a mottled faint blue effect instead of a true flat white. In my experience I have found that a dark background with white letters for text works best in different lighting situations. In a brightly lit room, the background will be faded, but the contrast of the white text with the faded background still seems to look better than using a white background. If you want to use a light background, I suggest you consider off-white colors such as beige, taupe, light sage, light blue or cream (we give examples of these colors in “Guide to PowerPoint”, available at If you are concerned about how a dark background will print, use the “Pure Black and White” print option and the printout will convert the background to white, all text to black and graphics to grayscale, giving you a pleasant looking handout. The challenge of a white background and what your alternatives are if you are forced to use a corporate template that has a white background are topics I will cover Friday on my web tutorial Customize the Look of Your Slides – find out more at