Understanding Success Criterion 1.4.6: Contrast (Enhanced)

Success Criterion 1.4.6 Contrast (Enhanced) (Level AAA): The visual presentation of text and images of text has a contrast ratio of at least 7:1, except for the following:

Large Text

Large-scale text and images of large-scale text have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1;


Text or images of text that are part of an inactive user interface component, that are pure decoration, that are not visible to anyone, or that are part of a picture that contains significant other visual content, have no contrast requirement.


Text that is part of a logo or brand name has no contrast requirement.


The intent of this Success Criterion is to provide enough contrast between text and its background so that it can be read by people with moderately low vision (who do not use contrast-enhancing assistive technology). For people without color deficiencies, hue and saturation have minimal or no effect on legibility as assessed by reading performance (Knoblauch et al., 1991). Color deficiencies can affect luminance contrast somewhat. Therefore, in the recommendation, the contrast is calculated in such a way that color is not a key factor so that people who have a color vision deficit will also have adequate contrast between the text and the background.

Text that is decorative and conveys no information is excluded. For example, if random words are used to create a background and the words could be rearranged or substituted without changing meaning, then it would be decorative and would not need to meet this criterion.

Text that is larger and has wider character strokes is easier to read at lower contrast. The contrast requirement for larger text is therefore lower. This allows authors to use a wider range of color choices for large text, which is helpful for design of pages, particularly titles. 18 point text or 14 point bold text is judged to be large enough to require a lower contrast ratio. (See The American Printing House for the Blind Guidelines for Large Printing and The Library of Congress Guidelines for Large Print under Resources). "18 point" and "bold" can both have different meanings in different fonts but, except for very thin or unusual fonts, they should be sufficient. Since there are so many different fonts, the general measures are used and a note regarding fancy or thin fonts is included.

The point size should be obtained from the user agent, or calculated based on font metrics as the user agent does when evaluating this success criterion. Point sizes are based on the CSS pt size as defined in CSS3 Values. The ratio between sizes in points and CSS pixels is 1pt = 1.333px, therefore 14pt and 18pt are equivalent to approximately 18.5px and 24px.

When fonts have anti-aliasing applied to make them look smoother, they can lose darkness or lightness. Thus, the actual contrast can be reduced. Thicker stem widths will reduce this effect (thin fonts could have the full stem lightened rather than just the ends). Using larger fonts and testing for legibility in user agents with font smoothing turned on is recommended.

Because different image editing applications default to different pixel densities (ex. 72 PPI or 96 PPI), specifying point sizes for fonts from within an image editing application can be unreliable when it comes to presenting text at a specific size. When creating images of large-scale text, authors should ensure that the text in the resulting image is roughly equivalent to 1.2 and 1.5 em or to 120% or 150% of the default size for body text as rendered by the browser.

The previously-mentioned contrast requirements for text also apply to images of text (text that has been rendered into pixels and then stored in an image format) as stated in Success Criterion 1.4.5

This requirement applies to situations in which images of text were intended to be understood as text. Incidental text, such as in photographs that happen to include a street sign, are not included. Nor is text that for some reason is designed to be invisible to all users. Stylized text, such as in corporate logos, should be treated in terms of its function on the page, which may or may not warrant including the content in the text alternative. Corporate visual guidelines beyond logo and logotype are not included in the exception.

In this provision there is an exception that reads "that are part of a picture that contains significant other visual content,". This exception is intended to separate pictures that have text in them from images of text that are done to replace text in order to get a particular look.

Although this Success Criterion only applies to text, similar issues occur for content presented in charts, graphs, diagrams, and other non-text-based information. Content presented in this manner should also have good contrast to ensure that more users can access the information.

Rationale for the Ratios Chosen

A contrast ratio of 3:1 is the minimum level recommended by [[ISO-9241-3]] and [[ANSI-HFES-100-1988]] for standard text and vision. The 4.5:1 ratio is used in Success Criterion 1.4.3 to account for the loss in contrast that results from moderately low visual acuity, congenital or acquired color deficiencies, or the loss of contrast sensitivity that typically accompanies aging.

The rationale is based on a) adoption of the 3:1 contrast ratio for minimum acceptable contrast for normal observers, in the ANSI standard, and b) the empirical finding that in the population, visual acuity of 20/40 is associated with a contrast sensitivity loss of roughly 1.5 [[ARDITI-FAYE]]. A user with 20/40 would thus require a contrast ratio of 3 * 1.5 = 4.5 to 1. Following analogous empirical findings and the same logic, the user with 20/80 visual acuity would require contrast of about 7:1.

Hues are perceived differently by users with color vision deficiencies (both congenital and acquired) resulting in different colors and relative luminance contrasts than for normally sighted users. Because of this, effective contrast and readability are different for this population. However, color deficiencies are so diverse that prescribing effective general use color pairs (for contrast) based on quantitative data is not feasible. Requiring good luminance contrast accommodates this by requiring contrast that is independent of color perception. Fortunately, most of the luminance contribution is from the mid and long wave receptors which largely overlap in their spectral responses. The result is that effective luminance contrast can generally be computed without regard to specific color deficiency, except for the use of predominantly long wavelength colors against darker colors (generally appearing black) for those who have protanopia. (We provide an advisory technique on avoiding red on black for that reason). For more information see [[ARDITI-KNOBLAUCH-1994]] [[ARDITI-KNOBLAUCH-1996]] [[ARDITI]].

The contrast ratio of 4.5:1 was chosen for level AA because it compensated for the loss in contrast sensitivity usually experienced by users with vision loss equivalent to approximately 20/40 vision. (20/40 calculates to approximately 4.5:1.) 20/40 is commonly reported as typical visual acuity of elders at roughly age 80. [[GITTINGS-FOZARD]]

The contrast ratio of 7:1 was chosen for level AAA because it compensated for the loss in contrast sensitivity usually experienced by users with vision loss equivalent to approximately 20/80 vision. People with more than this degree of vision loss usually use assistive technologies to access their content (and the assistive technologies usually have contrast enhancing, as well as magnification capability built into them). The 7:1 level therefore generally provides compensation for the loss in contrast sensitivity experienced by users with low vision who do not use assistive technology and provides contrast enhancement for color deficiency as well.

Calculations in [[ISO-9241-3]] and [[ANSI-HFES-100-1988]] are for body text. A relaxed contrast ratio is provided for text that is much larger.

Notes on formula

Conversion from nonlinear to linear RGB values is based on IEC/4WD 61966-2-1 [[IEC-4WD]] and on "A Standard Default Color Space for the Internet - sRGB" [[sRGB]].

The formula (L1/L2) for contrast is based on [[ISO-9241-3]] and [[ANSI-HFES-100-1988]] standards.

The ANSI/HFS 100-1988 standard calls for the contribution from ambient light to be included in the calculation of L1 and L2. The .05 value used is based on Typical Viewing Flare from [[IEC-4WD]] and the [[sRGB]] paper by M. Stokes et al.

This Success Criterion and its definitions use the terms "contrast ratio" and "relative luminance" rather than "luminance" to reflect the fact that Web content does not emit light itself. The contrast ratio gives a measure of the relative luminance that would result when displayed. (Because it is a ratio, it is dimensionless.)

Refer to related resources for a list of tools that utilize the contrast ratio to analyze the contrast of Web content.

See also 2.4.3: Focus Visible for techniques for indicating keyboard focus.



Related Resources

Resources are for information purposes only, no endorsement implied.


Each numbered item in this section represents a technique or combination of techniques that the WCAG Working Group deems sufficient for meeting this Success Criterion. However, it is not necessary to use these particular techniques. For information on using other techniques, see Understanding Techniques for WCAG Success Criteria, particularly the "Other Techniques" section.

Sufficient Techniques

Select the situation below that matches your content. Each situation includes techniques or combinations of techniques that are known and documented to be sufficient for that situation.

Situation A: text is less than 18 point if not bold and less than 14 point if bold

  1. Ensuring that contrast of at least 10:1 exists between text and background behind the text
  2. Not specifying background color, not specifying text color, and not using technology features that change those defaults
  3. Providing a control with a sufficient contrast ratio that allows users to switch to a presentation that uses sufficient contrast
  4. SL13

Situation B: text is as least 18 point if not bold and at least 14 point if bold

  1. Ensuring that a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 exists between text and background behind the text
  2. Not specifying background color, not specifying text color, and not using technology features that change those defaults
  3. Providing a control with a sufficient contrast ratio that allows users to switch to a presentation that uses sufficient contrast
  4. SL13

Advisory Techniques

Although not required for conformance, the following additional techniques should be considered in order to make content more accessible. Not all techniques can be used or would be effective in all situations.

  • G156
  • Using a higher contrast value for text that is over a patterned background (future link)
  • Using Unicode text and style sheets instead of images of text (future link)
  • Using a higher contrast values for lines in diagrams (future link)
  • Using greater contrast level for red-black text/background combinations
  • Using colors that are composed predominantly of mid spectral components for the light and spectral extremes (blue and red wavelengths) for the dark
  • Using a light pastel background rather than a white background behind black text to create sufficient but not extreme contrast (future link)
  • Making icons using simple line drawings that meet the contrast provisions for text (future link)
  • Providing sufficient contrast ratio in graphs and charts (future link)
  • Using a 3:1 contrast ratio or higher as the default presentation (future link)
  • Providing sufficient color contrast for empty text fields (future link)


The following are common mistakes that are considered failures of this Success Criterion by the WCAG Working Group.

Key Terms

contrast ratio

(L1 + 0.05) / (L2 + 0.05), where

Contrast ratios can range from 1 to 21 (commonly written 1:1 to 21:1).

Because authors do not have control over user settings as to how text is rendered (for example font smoothing or anti-aliasing), the contrast ratio for text can be evaluated with anti-aliasing turned off.

For the purpose of Success Criteria 1.4.3 and 1.4.6, contrast is measured with respect to the specified background over which the text is rendered in normal usage. If no background color is specified, then white is assumed.

Background color is the specified color of content over which the text is to be rendered in normal usage. It is a failure if no background color is specified when the text color is specified, because the user's default background color is unknown and cannot be evaluated for sufficient contrast. For the same reason, it is a failure if no text color is specified when a background color is specified.

When there is a border around the letter, the border can add contrast and would be used in calculating the contrast between the letter and its background. A narrow border around the letter would be used as the letter. A wide border around the letter that fills in the inner details of the letters acts as a halo and would be considered background.

WCAG conformance should be evaluated for color pairs specified in the content that an author would expect to appear adjacent in typical presentation. Authors need not consider unusual presentations, such as color changes made by the user agent, except where caused by authors' code.

image of text

text that has been rendered in a non-text form (e.g., an image) in order to achieve a particular visual effect

This does not include text that is part of a picture that contains significant other visual content.

A person's name on a nametag in a photograph.

pure decoration

serving only an aesthetic purpose, providing no information, and having no functionality

Text is only purely decorative if the words can be rearranged or substituted without changing their purpose.

The cover page of a dictionary has random words in very light text in the background.


sequence of characters that can be programmatically determined, where the sequence is expressing something in human language

user interface component

a part of the content that is perceived by users as a single control for a distinct function

Multiple user interface components may be implemented as a single programmatic element. Components here is not tied to programming techniques, but rather to what the user perceives as separate controls.

User interface components include form elements and links as well as components generated by scripts.

What is meant by "component" or "user interface component" here is also sometimes called "user interface element".

An applet has a "control" that can be used to move through content by line or page or random access. Since each of these would need to have a name and be settable independently, they would each be a "user interface component."