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Make your Linux Xorg desktop grayscale (black & white)

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grayscale-desktop

This script toggles your Xorg monitor(s) between color and grayscale. It can be bound to a keyboard shortcut to easily toggle on the fly.
Aims to be a simplified version of https://github.com/bubbleguuum/toggle-monitor-grayscale

Why ?

  • grayscale can cause less eye strain for some people. Especially combined with a warm monitor color preset (that filters out most blue light) and light themes for both your Desktop Environment and apps, for creating a paper-like looking desktop. Try it and you might be surprised !
  • grayscale can increase concentration and reduces distractions. I've also found it to have a calming effect

Compositor based method

For this method, you must use picom (recommended) or compton (untested) as compositor and have a video card that plays nice with the glx backend (probably most of them these days). These compositors are often used in conjunction with tiling Window Managers such as i3. To use compton in place of picom you will have to edit the compositor variable at the beginning of the script. This method uses a glx shader to transform color to grayscale.

Advantages
  • not video card specific
  • screenshots taken are in grayscale
Drawbacks
  • requires specific compositor

NVIDIA based method

You will need a NVIDIA card and the NVIDIA proprietary drivers. This method uses the Digital Vibrance property of these drivers to transform the colors to grayscale.

Advantages
  • not specific to a compositor
  • can be applied to only a specific monitor (see usage)
  • can be used to only desaturate colors instead of full grayscale. Edit script and set variable desaturate_value in function toggle_nvidia to a value between -1024 and 0 (-1024 => full grayscale)
  • simplier than restarting the compositor
Drawbacks
  • video card specific
  • on Optimus laptops, will not work with the laptop's panel. Will work with external screens managed by the dGPU
  • minor: grayscale persists if you exit Xorg without resetting color
  • minor: Digital Vibrance cannot be captured on screenshots, thus always in color

Comparison between compositor and NVIDIA methods

It is not possible to make a screenshot of a graycaled screen with the NVIDIA method (unlike the compositor method). The only way I've found to compare them is to take a screenshot of the screen in color and a second screenshot with the compositor method in grayscale. Then compare both screenshots on this web site turning grayscale with the NVIDIA method which will grayscale the color screenshot to the NVIDIA method but not have any effect on the already grayscaled compositor screenshot. It turns out that the NVIDIA method produces darker grayscale than the compositor method, preserving more details on images such as photos (at the expense of making them darker). The difference between the 2 methods is marginal for text.

Usage

toggle-monitor-grayscale.sh -h

toggle-monitor-grayscale.sh -g (enables grayscale)
toggle-monitor-grayscale.sh -c (disables grayscale)

Improving grayscale experience

If you use grayscale mode most of the time, you will probably want to do some adjustments to your setup, some of which are personal preference:

General

  • if your monitor has a warm color preset, use it (or make your own). For example, my monitor has a "Paper" preset and it is perfect, cutting a lot of blue light
  • consider using a light theme for your Desktop Environment (if not using a standalone WM) and apps

Terminal

  • configure your terminal to use a white (or light) background combined with black text
  • you will notice that the colored output of ls is not that readable. You can either disable color for ls (make sure that the --color option is not passed to it, often in an alias or shell function of your distro), or you can use the .dir_colors_grayscale file of this repo which disables all colors, except folders that are bold. To use it: eval $(dircolors -b .dir_colors_grayscale) or if you want to make it permanent copy that file as ~/.dir_colors. This file can also be customized if you want to add more font styling (italics, underline, reverse video, ...) to some file types. It is also a good idea to use the -F option of ls for appending a character at the end of folder, executable, link... files to indidicate their types (see man ls).

Syntax highlighting

Syntax highlighting in editors and IDEs will likely have to be revised to be grayscale friendly. This can use a combination of bold, italics, underline and maybe 1 or 2 colors that can be distinguished from normal text while remaining readable. There may be some premade eink color schemes available that can be used.

Firefox

Firefox may need some adjustments too, especially to make links easier to see. Fo this, create of modify the userContent.css file in /path/to/your/firefox profile/chrome folder:

a {
    color: #000000 !important;
    background-color:transparent !important; /* necessary so link is always readable */
    text-decoration: underline !important; 
}  /* Unvisited link color */

a:visited {
    color: #7f7f7f !important;
    background-color:transparent !important; /* necessary so link is always readable */
    text-decoration: underline !important; 
}   /* Visited link color */

This will override all sites to make all links underlined (a bit heavy but very visible), unvisited link in full black and visited links in medium gray.

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