Word text selection behavior



Here's my problem: I recently started trying ClearType, and I generally like
it, except for one major problem: selected text in MS Word. When typing in
page layout view (or any view AFAICT), the standard is a white page (duh)
with black text. Selected text then appears as completely inverted -- white
on black. With ClearType on, this is virtually unreadable, especially on a
monitor in portrait mode.

I thought that "correct" selection behavior is to highlight in the "Selected
Items" color set in Windows. E.g., selecting text in a white explorer window
does not simply invert it. Why does Word not use the "Selected Items" color
scheme, and can this be fixed?

I *want* my text to be black on a white page -- just like it will be when it
is printed. So changing the text color/background color is not an adequate

As a disclaimer, I have read this message which is about the only thing I
can find on the web that even remotely addresses this -- but it seems to
suggest that Word should behave like every other application.

-------------------From 12/05---------------
Hi Heidi,

In Windows, the selection background color is the complement of the normal
background of the selected text. For example, if you go to Format > Borders
& Shading > Shading and set the background color for a paragraph to yellow,
then any text you select in that paragraph will show a blue background. If
the background shading of the paragraph is green, then selected text in that
paragraph will show a magenta background.

The selected text itself is shown in the complement of the text's foreground
color. That is, if the text of the paragraph is magenta, then the selected
text will be green, independent of whatever the background color is.

Of course, both background shading and foreground text color can be set
character by character, not just by paragraph or document.

You can get some really awful combinations this way. :-b

Jay Freedman

Word almost completely ignores the Windows color settings. The only
one that I know works properly is the Window color, which Word will
use as the color of the "paper" in its display. It definitely doesn't
pay any attention to the Selected Item setting or most of the others
in the Display dialog.

There is nothing you can do to change this behavior. The Office
developers have a long history of doing things their own way -- in
fact, they often seem proud of their "advances". We've been arguing
the same issue with the Office 2007 beta, which offers three (up from
two) color themes that are completely independent of the Windows

The only thing I can suggest to solve your problem is to increase the
Zoom setting in Word, which may make the selected characters more

Jay Freedman
Microsoft Word MVP
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newsgroup so all may benefit.


Thanks. That's what I was afraid of. If I recall correctly, using an XOR
for selection highlighting has been deprectated ever since the Mac II
introduced color for the first time. Has the Word dev team not heard the

Now, maybe this is worthy of another thread, but is there any way to turn
ClearType off just in Word XP (leaving it active for the rest of the OS)?


Are you sure ClearType is the problem? I have it running on several
machines, without any problems at all.


Absolutely. The problem is that the red and green subpixels show up very
clearly on the black background, so when you have a relatively small
character (i.e., a 12pt at 100% zoom) the subpixels are a sizeable proportion
of the entire character, and become extremely noticable. So much so that it
is virtually unreadable (it reminds me of text on an RGB monitor on an Apple

One of my two identical LCDs is in portrait mode, which is even more of a
problem for ClearType, since the pixel geometries aren't anything like what
it expects. While the effect is bad on the "normal" monitor, it is that much
worse on the portrait monitor. 12pt TNR @ 100% is somewhat legible when
highlighted on the landscape-mode LCD, it is virtually illegible on the
portrait-mode one.

Turning off ClearType eliminates the problem. The "Standard" method of
smoothing is better, but still not great.

I haven't tried different fonts, but this is a huge problem in Times New
Roman, which is what I work in 99% of the time (I'm an attorney).

I'm very torn. I recently started using ClearType, and really like it for
web browsing etc. It is just terrible in Word, since Word uses the
Black-on-White highlighting. (Even Notepad doesn't do that!).

In addition to Word behaving as a good application should, ClearType should
also be adjustable by-application and by-monitor, although I realize that
would increase the overhead.

Jay Freedman

As far as I could find out, there is no simple way to toggle ClearType
on a per-application basis. It's probably possible to write a small
program in VB or C# that would turn ClearType off, launch Word, wait
in the background until Word exits, and turn ClearType on. If you
switched to another text application while Word was running, though,
ClearType would still be turned off. If you use Word as your Outlook
message editor, that would doubly complicate the situation.

The only LCD in my menagerie is in a laptop with a 14-inch screen, and
it doesn't support screen rotation at full resolution, so I couldn't
duplicate the situation you described in your reply to Jezebel. On my
screen, 12-pt Times New Roman at 100% zoom is quite legible when
selected. The red subpixels become obnoxious at 85% zoom, but
disappear again at 80%. I don't see the green ones at all, which may
be just my cheap screen or my aging eyes. :)

I think if you experiment with slightly different zooms, such as 105%
or 110%, you may find one at which the logical subpixels properly
align with the physical pixels and don't interfere, or at least the
text is more legible. (In case it isn't obvious, you can type any
number in the zoom box and press Enter; you aren't stuck with the
percentages in the dropdown.)

Jay Freedman
Microsoft Word MVP
Email cannot be acknowledged; please post all follow-ups to the
newsgroup so all may benefit.


I wanted to wait until I got to work to try it. Unfortunately, the problem
occurs for all zoom levels up to about 110%. At that zoom leve, you start to
lose the point of having a portrait-mode monitor, since you can't see the
whole page at once. Oh well, I will either live with it or turn off
ClearType all together. Someone ought to take a cluestick to the Word dev.
responsible for the "inverse highlighting" idea.

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