Home Page Construction Set /ERIC'S TIPS FOR WEB AUTHORS

Background Images

  1. Think carefully before using background images. Background tiling is neat, and if used appropriately, backgrounds can enhance both the practical and asthetic value of your pages. However, it is very easy to make slow, "colorblind," and, in some cases, unreadable pages. So, if you decide to use a background, you should take care to use images that are both simple and small.

  2. Consider using a solid background color instead. Just modify your page's <BODY> tag:
    <BODY BGCOLOR="#rrggbb">

    where rrggbb is the hexadecimal representation of the 0-255 spectrum of red, green, and blue. Don't worry if that sounds difficult: Use the BEACH RaT RGB to Hexadecimal Converter or Get Hexed! to do the conversion. You may also use the HYPE Color Specifier or the Colour Selector Page to help you choose an attractive solid background.

  3. Don't forget that not every browser supports backgrounds. Thus, don't put a critical image in the background because some browser users will never see it (furthermore, unless those readers look at the source, they will never know it even exists). Keep in mind that backgrounds are meant to enhance text, not replace it! Also, in certain circumstances, browsers may not display the background even if they support background tiling (such as if image loading is turned off, or if the background contains non-ditherable colors).

  4. If you do decide to go with a background, keep it small (under 25 Kb)! Interlacing will help by making the background seem to load faster. JPEG images are fine (in fact, they may be preferable) for backgrounds. Don't even think about using a single GIF background to avoid tiling--it may look cool, but most people will abort before it's done loading. A small background doesn't necessarily mean boring or unattractive. Some of the best patterns I've seen are under 10 KB.

  5. Don't assume that a background will look the same on every platform. A background that looks good on your specific browser may look horrible on another system. Even worse, it may make the text impossible to read, even if you take care to pick contrasting color schemes.

    Case in point: I used to have this image as the background for the HPCS: [HPCS Background GIF]. I didn't think there would be a problem, especially since I was using black text. However, I soon discovered that the page text was indecipherable on Macs with greyscale or 16.7 million color displays. Although the background looked fine on all other flavors of Netscape, for some reason it caused a serious usability problem. So I opted for a solid background color instead. The moral of the story is that you should extensively test your pages for compatibility on as many different browsers and computer platforms as possible.

  6. "Ramping-up," and "color fade-in" will no longer work. In Netscape Navigator 1.1, there was a bug that allowed page creators to have more than one <BODY> tag in their documents. The net result was that you could cause background colors to change several times before the page was drawn (supposedly creating a colorful effect--I was never very impressed with this). Well, no longer! Netscape has acknowledged that this is bad HTML since there can only be one <BODY> tag per document. Thus, Netscape, beginning with version 1.2b1, only recognizes the first <BODY> tag.

    One "feature" that this bug allowed was multiple text colors. Recent version of Netscape Navigator now support multiple text colors in the same document using the <FONT COLOR> tag.

  7. If you use a background texture, always include a BGCOLOR argument in the <BODY> tag. The BGCOLOR will load before the texture, providing a visual cue to the reader that something is going to happen (a very important cue when the network connection is slow). Although some browsers can now load the body elements before the background, using a BGCOLOR argument will have an important secondary function: specifying the background color if the background tile cannot load. If you do not include BGCOLOR and the texture cannot load, Netscape will automatically default to the standard (grey) background and link colors. An example <BODY> tag that will avoid that:
    <BODY BGCOLOR="#87CEEB" TEXT="#000000" LINK="#FFF8DC"
     VLINK="#0000CD" ALINK="FFD700" BACKGROUND="background.gif">

    That will first change the browser window color to sky blue then begin loading "background.gif", replacing the sky blue color. If "background.gif" is unavailable, then the sky blue background remains. In either case, the text and link colors will be black, cornsilk, medium blue, and gold, respectively.

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Last Modified: August 16, 1996
/ Eric Sasaki
esasaki@nyx.net (feedback welcome)

All original content Copyright © 1994-96 Eric Sasaki. All rights reserved.