High contrast themes

Windows supports high contrast themes for the OS and apps that users may choose to enable. High contrast themes use a small palette of contrasting colors that makes the interface easier to see.

Calculator shown in light theme and High Contrast Black theme.

Calculator shown in light theme and High Contrast Black theme.

You can switch to a high contrast theme by using Settings > Ease of access > High contrast.

Note

Don't confuse high contrast themes with light and dark themes, which allow a much larger color palette that isn't considered to have high contrast. For more light and dark themes, see the article on color.

While common controls come with full high contrast support for free, care needs to be taken while customizing your UI. The most common high contrast bug is caused by hard-coding a color on a control inline.

<!-- Don't do this! -->
<Grid Background="#E6E6E6">

<!-- Instead, create BrandedPageBackgroundBrush and do this. -->
<Grid Background="{ThemeResource BrandedPageBackgroundBrush}">

When the #E6E6E6 color is set inline in the first example, the Grid will retain that background color in all themes. If the user switches to the High Contrast Black theme, they'll expect your app to have a black background. Since #E6E6E6 is almost white, some users may not be able to interact with your app.

In the second example, the {ThemeResource} markup extension is used to reference a color in the ThemeDictionaries collection, a dedicated property of a ResourceDictionary element. ThemeDictionaries allows XAML to automatically swap colors for you based on the user's current theme.

Theme dictionaries

When you need to change a color from its system default, create a ThemeDictionaries collection for your app.

  1. Start by creating the proper plumbing, if it doesn't already exist. In App.xaml, create a ThemeDictionaries collection, including Default and HighContrast at a minimum.
  2. In Default, create the type of Brush you need, usually a SolidColorBrush. Give it a x:Key name specific to what it is being used for.
  3. Assign the Color you want for it.
  4. Copy that Brush into HighContrast.
<Application.Resources>
    <ResourceDictionary>
        <ResourceDictionary.ThemeDictionaries>
            <!-- Default is a fallback if a more precise theme isn't called
            out below -->
            <ResourceDictionary x:Key="Default">
                <SolidColorBrush x:Key="BrandedPageBackgroundBrush" Color="#E6E6E6" />
            </ResourceDictionary>

            <!-- Optional, Light is used in light theme.
            If included, Default will be used for Dark theme -->
            <ResourceDictionary x:Key="Light">
                <SolidColorBrush x:Key="BrandedPageBackgroundBrush" Color="#E6E6E6" />
            </ResourceDictionary>

            <!-- HighContrast is used in all high contrast themes -->
            <ResourceDictionary x:Key="HighContrast">
                <SolidColorBrush x:Key="BrandedPageBackgroundBrush" Color="#E6E6E6" />
            </ResourceDictionary>
        </ResourceDictionary.ThemeDictionaries>
    </ResourceDictionary>
</Application.Resources>

The last step is to determine what color to use in high contrast, which is covered in the next section.

Note

HighContrast is not the only available key name. There's also HighContrastBlack, HighContrastWhite, and HighContrastCustom. In most cases, HighContrast is all you need.

High contrast colors

On the Settings > Ease of access > High contrast page, there are 4 high contrast themes by default.

High-contrast settings

After the user selects an option, the page shows a preview.

High-contrast resources

Every color swatch on the preview can be clicked to change its value. Every swatch also directly maps to an XAML color resource.

Each SystemColor*Color resource is a variable that automatically updates color when the user switches high contrast themes. Following are guidelines for where and when to use each resource.

Resource Usage
SystemColorWindowTextColor Body copy, headings, lists; any text that can't be interacted with
SystemColorHotlightColor Hyperlinks
SystemColorGrayTextColor Disabled UI
SystemColorHighlightTextColor Foreground color for text or UI that's in progress, selected, or currently being interacted with
SystemColorHighlightColor Background color for text or UI that's in progress, selected, or currently being interacted with
SystemColorButtonTextColor Foreground color for buttons; any UI that can be interacted with
SystemColorButtonFaceColor Background color for buttons; any UI that can be interacted with
SystemColorWindowColor Background of pages, panes, popups, and bars


It's often helpful to look to existing apps, Start, or the common controls to see how others have solved high contrast design problems that are similar to your own.

Do

  • Respect the background/foreground pairs where possible.
  • Test in all 4 high contrast themes while your app is running. The user should not have to restart your app when they switch themes.
  • Be consistent.

Don't

  • Hard code a color in the HighContrast theme; use the SystemColor*Color resources.
  • Choose a color resource for aesthetics. Remember, they change with the theme!
  • Don't use SystemColorGrayTextColor for body copy that's secondary or acts as a hint.

To continue the earlier example, you need to pick a resource for BrandedPageBackgroundBrush. Because the name indicates that it will be used for a background, SystemColorWindowColor is a good choice.

<Application.Resources>
    <ResourceDictionary>
        <ResourceDictionary.ThemeDictionaries>
            <!-- Default is a fallback if a more precise theme isn't called
            out below -->
            <ResourceDictionary x:Key="Default">
                <SolidColorBrush x:Key="BrandedPageBackgroundBrush" Color="#E6E6E6" />
            </ResourceDictionary>

            <!-- Optional, Light is used in light theme.
            If included, Default will be used for Dark theme -->
            <ResourceDictionary x:Key="Light">
                <SolidColorBrush x:Key="BrandedPageBackgroundBrush" Color="#E6E6E6" />
            </ResourceDictionary>

            <!-- HighContrast is used in all high contrast themes -->
            <ResourceDictionary x:Key="HighContrast">
                <SolidColorBrush x:Key="BrandedPageBackgroundBrush" Color="{ThemeResource SystemColorWindowColor}" />
            </ResourceDictionary>
        </ResourceDictionary.ThemeDictionaries>
    </ResourceDictionary>
</Application.Resources>

Later in your app, you can now set the background.

<Grid Background="{ThemeResource BrandedPageBackgroundBrush}">

Note how {ThemeResource} is used twice, once to reference SystemColorWindowColor and again to reference BrandedPageBackgroundBrush. Both are required for your app to theme correctly at run time. This is a good time to test out the functionality in your app. The Grid's background will automatically update as you switch to a high contrast theme. It will also update when switching between different high contrast themes.

When to use borders

Pages, panes, popups, and bars should all use SystemColorWindowColor for their background in high contrast. Add a high contrast-only border where necessary to preserve important boundaries in your UI.

A navigation pane separated from the rest of the page

The navigation pane and the page both share the same background color in high contrast. A high contrast-only border to divide them is essential.

List items

In high contrast, items in a ListView have their background set to SystemColorHighlightColor when they are hovered, pressed, or selected. Complex list items commonly have a bug where the content of the list item fails to invert its color when the item is hovered, pressed, or selected. This makes the item impossible to read.

Simple list in light theme and High Contrast Black theme

A simple list in light theme (left) and High Contrast Black theme (right). The second item is selected; note how its text color is inverted in high contrast.

List items with colored text

One culprit is setting TextBlock.Foreground in the ListView's DataTemplate. This is commonly done to establish visual hierarchy. The Foreground property is set on the ListViewItem, and TextBlocks in the DataTemplate inherit the correct Foreground color when the item is hovered, pressed, or selected. However, setting Foreground breaks the inheritance.

Complex list in light theme and High Contrast Black theme

Complex list in light theme (left) and High Contrast Black theme (right). In high contrast, the second line of the selected item failed to invert.

You can work around this by setting Foreground conditionally via a Style that's in a ThemeDictionaries collection. Because the Foreground is not set by SecondaryBodyTextBlockStyle in HighContrast, its color will correctly invert.

<!-- In App.xaml... -->
<ResourceDictionary.ThemeDictionaries>
    <ResourceDictionary x:Key="Default">
        <Style
            x:Key="SecondaryBodyTextBlockStyle"
            TargetType="TextBlock"
            BasedOn="{StaticResource BodyTextBlockStyle}">
            <Setter Property="Foreground" Value="{StaticResource SystemControlForegroundBaseMediumBrush}" />
        </Style>
    </ResourceDictionary>

    <ResourceDictionary x:Key="Light">
        <Style
            x:Key="SecondaryBodyTextBlockStyle"
            TargetType="TextBlock"
            BasedOn="{StaticResource BodyTextBlockStyle}">
            <Setter Property="Foreground" Value="{StaticResource SystemControlForegroundBaseMediumBrush}" />
        </Style>
    </ResourceDictionary>

    <ResourceDictionary x:Key="HighContrast">
        <!-- The Foreground Setter is omitted in HighContrast -->
        <Style
            x:Key="SecondaryBodyTextBlockStyle"
            TargetType="TextBlock"
            BasedOn="{StaticResource BodyTextBlockStyle}" />
    </ResourceDictionary>
</ResourceDictionary.ThemeDictionaries>

<!-- Usage in your DataTemplate... -->
<DataTemplate>
    <StackPanel>
        <TextBlock Style="{StaticResource BodyTextBlockStyle}" Text="Double line list item" />

        <!-- Note how ThemeResource is used to reference the Style -->
        <TextBlock Style="{ThemeResource SecondaryBodyTextBlockStyle}" Text="Second line of text" />
    </StackPanel>
</DataTemplate>

Detecting high contrast

You can programmatically check if the current theme is a high contrast theme by using members of the AccessibilitySettings class.

Note

Make sure you call the AccessibilitySettings constructor from a scope where the app is initialized and is already displaying content.