Desktop icon text hard to read on white backgrounds

Bug #643836 reported by Andreas E. on 2010-09-20
This bug affects 5 people
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone
nautilus (Ubuntu)

Bug Description

If one uses a background of (not even very) bright colors and the default desktop icon font color, it is difficult to distinguish the icon text from the background, because the shadow is hard and only on the right border of each letter: Thus the left border of each letter "melts" into the background. This looks unprofessional.

Andreas E. (andreas-e) wrote :
Vish (vish) wrote :

Thank you for your bug report. This is a known upstream bug . You can track it and make comments at:

Changed in nautilus (Ubuntu):
importance: Undecided → Low
status: New → Triaged
Changed in hundredpapercuts:
importance: Undecided → Low
status: New → Triaged
Changed in nautilus:
importance: Unknown → Medium
status: Unknown → Confirmed
Yao Ziyuan (yaoziyuan) wrote :

It is actually not an upstream bug. The upstream (GNOME) provides some tricks that can lead to a near-perfect solution:

Put a "gtkrc-2.0" file in your home dir, with the following content:

style "desktop-icon"
 NautilusIconContainer::frame_text = 1
 text[NORMAL] = "#000000"
 NautilusIconContainer::normal_alpha = 128
class "GtkWidget" style "desktop-icon"

Then run "killall nautilus" to see the effect immediately.

This will set your desktop icon text color to black, and add a 50%-translucent, rounded box under icon text so that the icon text is always easily visible whether the wallpaper is light or dark.

I recommend Ubuntu automatically create such a gtkrc-2.0 file as soon as a new user is created.

Yao Ziyuan (yaoziyuan) wrote :

See screenshots attached to for effects of this method.

Vish (vish) on 2010-12-07
Changed in hundredpapercuts:
assignee: nobody → Papercuts Ninja (papercuts-ninja)
milestone: none → nt4-nautilus
Vish (vish) wrote :

Yao Ziyuan , It's not necessary that we should draw a bounding box to overcome this problem. KDE does this well without the box. There is already a patch which fixes this, see the screenshot of the patch in action: . But the effects still need a little fine-tuning.

Paul Sladen (sladen) on 2010-12-07
summary: - desktop icon text hard to read on white backgrounds
+ Nautilus Theme: desktop icon text hard to read on white backgrounds

Ziyaun: I think we'd want to do this in the system-wide theme files, rather than individually installing a theme override in each user's home directory. Thank you for figuring out a possible solution.

Julien Olivier (julo) wrote :

It's probably off-topic, but is there a way to have white text on a semi-transparent black background instead of the contrary?

Paul Sladen (sladen) wrote :

Julien: I suspect that white on 50% grey would have the same contrast as black on 50% grey. I'd encourage you to try it and provide feedback!

Julien Olivier (julo) wrote :

Well Paul, the reason I asked this question is because I tried changing the text color to white, and the contrast is way too low. Actually, the background doesn't look to me like a 50% grey but like a 50% white. I also tried to set the alpha to 255, and the background is now solid white.

Yao Ziyuan (yaoziyuan) wrote :

Julien Olivier:

The 50% translucency in my gtkrc-2.0 code will always makes the original region whiter. If the region was white, it will remain white; if the region was black, it will be whitened. Considering this, you should only set the text color to black, not white.

Some of the screenshots on show how it works on very light and very dark wallpapers:

All White:
All Black:

Yao Ziyuan (yaoziyuan) wrote :

Vish: I know that's the way Windows and KDE draw desktop icon text and I'm glad GNOME is going to do that too. But in my impression, GNOME changes very slowly; so in the meanwhile, major distros like Ubuntu probably should spearhead the patch (or consider the gtkrc-2.0 way).

Vish (vish) wrote :

Yao Ziyuan: No, GNOME does not move slowly. If someone submits the patch it will be fixed. Kindly, submit a patch and we can make sure this gets fixed, rather than settling for hacks. Once we settle for a hack , no one will push the bug to be fixed properly. There is already a patch on the upstream and it just needs tweaking.

summary: - Nautilus Theme: desktop icon text hard to read on white backgrounds
+ Desktop icon text hard to read on white backgrounds
Yao Ziyuan (yaoziyuan) wrote :

Vish: Yes but distros like Ubuntu should take care of the end user and shield the end user from shortfalls of the upstream. As long as the upstream doesn't release a fixed version, it's always valuable for an end-user distro to release a provisional hack in its repo.

Yao Ziyuan (yaoziyuan) wrote :

I see Ubuntu does a lot of UI customizations over the vanilla GNOME desktop from the upstream, and why can't this gtkrc-2.0 hack be part of it, until GNOME fixes itself?

Vish (vish) wrote :

Yao Ziyuan : I'm not convinced that the suggested gtkrc fix is better. Yes, it does make the words clearer, but IMO, the visual outcome doesnt seem more pleasing. We could very well minimize this problem by not shipping with a very light wallpaper.

The change you suggest cannot be done in nautilus and would need design consideration. Could you file a separate bug in the light-themes ? We can get a design review and consider it for a temporary fix.

Paul Sladen (sladen) wrote :

Ziyuan: the problem with adding "hacks" is that one has to maintain them. The types of customisation that Ubuntu (or any other distribution) does on the whole are themes and integration. This bug affects everyone, so ideally wants fixing upstream.

Yao Ziyuan (yaoziyuan) wrote :

Update: In the above gtkrc-2.0 file, reducing NautilusIconContainer::normal_alpha from 128 to 96 can improve appearance with dark wallpapers.

Yao Ziyuan (yaoziyuan) wrote :

This downplays the translucent text background's illumination, making them less outstanding on a dark wallpaper while still reflective of their text.

Changed in hundredpapercuts:
assignee: Papercuts Ninjas (papercuts-ninja) → nobody
Adolfo Jayme (fitojb) on 2014-05-26
Changed in nautilus (Ubuntu):
status: Triaged → Invalid
no longer affects: hundredpapercuts
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