Accessibility of printed material

If you intend to print your document, there are a few considerations to make it more accessible.

 Paper type/weight

The type and quality of paper you print onto can have accessibility implications. Some types of coloured and hand made paper can impair the contrast between the background paper and the text or image being printed. The contrast between text and background should be as high as possible to improve legibility.

What’s on the other side?  

If you are printing double sided onto relatively thin paper you may get show-through, where elements of the print on the opposite side can be seen through the paper. This can cause a visual distraction from the print on the top side, and can reduce the clarity of your text causing legibility issues. Ideally documents should be printed on stock of sufficient weight to prevent show-through.


Design and advertising take advantage of colour  to create moods and atmosphere eg  doctors’ surgeries are often decorated with blue or green as these are said to be calming colours.

For some people, colour is of limited importance due to colour vision deficiencies (colour blindness). It is important to be aware of how to design effectively with colour, to ensure the information is accessible to everyone.

Creating documents and images which contain high contrast between colours will make images, diagrams and documents more accessible than the same documents with low colour contrast. High colour contrast enables people who have colour vision deficiencies, use a screen reader or have dyslexia to see features they may otherwise miss easily.

Colour perception will vary from one individual to another, so it is difficult to recommend a colour palette that will work for everybody. Instead, here are some suggestions to help you achieve high colour contrast. These suggestions can be applied to images, documents and applications whether in print or on screen and will help make material accessible to as many people as possible.

High colour contrast

High contrast between colours is crucial to legibility and this can be achieved by enhancing the difference between the lightness and darkness of colours:

  • Black and white produces the highest possible contrast.
  • To help features stand out, exaggerate the lightness of light colours and darkness of dark colours when used next to each other as this will enhance contrast.
  • Avoid using colours which are similar in lightness or similar in darkness next to one another, even if they differ in colour, for example light green and light red, as some people with low vision or colour vision deficiencies may not be able to tell the difference between these colours.
  • Avoid using similar colours together, for example red and orange, or green and blue-green particularly if they do not vary in lightness as they will not be easy to distinguish.
  • Avoid using achromatic colours (black, white, grey) against colours of similar lightness or darkness, for example dark grey against black.

Good colour combinations

  • Light colours against black.
  • Dark colours against white.
  • Light or pale colours against very dark colours, for example, light pink against dark blue.

Poor colour combinations

  • The most common failing in colour recognition is the inability to distinguish or recognise red and green.
  • Avoid pastel colours against white or grey.
  • Avoid dark colours against black.
  • Avoid pastel colours together.
  • Avoid light or pale colours together.
  • Care must be taken with complimentary colours for example orange and blue of similar lightness, as they can appear to be jarring.

 Colour and text

  • Avoid using text on an image or patterned background as the colour contrast will vary and the shapes of the letters will be harder to identify or find – background should be solid.
  • Use high contrast between text and background colour.
  • Using a paper colour of 10% – 15% tint can help reduce glare which some people find difficult.
  • Reverse polarity, or white on black, can be beneficial for some users.

That glossy brochure…

The finish on your paper or any choice related to lamination or encapsulation can be critical for low vision use. As a general rule gloss finishes should be avoided wherever possible because of their reflective qualities. Any reflected light or image can interfere with the clarity of the printed document, and could impair legibility. Gloss finishes commonly present a barrier to printed information which could easily be removed. A quality Matt finish can make a document look good while not preventing access to the information on the page.

Clarity of print

Professional printers work hard to produce good quality output, and will have a system of checks to ensure they preserve a high level of print quality on any materials they produce. These types of checks are also a useful exercise to follow for any in-house or domestic printing performed. Things to look for include:

  • ink levels are consistently good across the page
  • all colours are printed appropriately and give the level of contrast intended on the original design
  • the alignment or registration of print, misalignment can cause blurring of text and images

 Preparing for other needs

No matter how well designed and produced your document is, any printed material will never meet the needs of all people. Some people will not be able to read print, and may prefer the same information in another format like braille or audio, or simply by accessing the electronic file. Whatever you are printing it is always a good idea to keep a text based electronic copy of your document.


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