Join the Dark Side of Visual Studio

Visual Studio is without a doubt a powerful tool. With every iteration, it continues to improve upon itself. But as you happily hack away at all your applications, you are blistfully unaware of it's evil dark side that has been there since the beginning. It's true.

There are those of us who embrace the dark side. But we are out numbered...

You see, the dark side isn't how it comes by default. No... it comes all happy and bright and cheery by default, and like good little jedi programmers you accept those defaults. But the dark side is there, hidden away deep within the environment settings, reaching out and corrupting those programmers who are corruptible. Why some are corruptible and some are not is a mystery that may never be solved, but each and every programmer must give pause and consider the benefits it provides.

The Dark Side

I know what you may be thinking. It's hard to read. Are you so sure about that? Lets compare it with the happy cheery default color scheme:

The Status Quo

The key difference of course is the pervasive black background color. This is the environment I and many others work in every day. For me, it started way back when I used a Borland C++ IDE that had preset environment color schemes. One was called Twilight, and it looked similar to this. Most people who see it for the first time are offended by it... but if you think about it, it really makes sense. It brings balance to the force.

The default scheme sports a bright white background color with dark text over it. But monitors these days are brighter than ever. You're presumably a programmer, so you've no doubt had those late but productive coding nights, nights that are lit by only the glow of your monitor. The glow is bright enough to light up the room and cast shadows. Not unlike... a light bulb.

A Light Bulb

So there you are, staring straight into a strong light source, looking for the few pixels on it which are not illuminated. Can you read the wattage and manufacturer letters on the head a light bulb while it's turned on? Ahhh... but what if the bulb were black, and only the letters on it were illuminated?

A Light Bulb 

This bulb has no markings, but you'd bet they'd show up nice and bright and easy to read in the right image. Another benefit someone pointed out to me once -- if you're on a laptop, it saves your battery life! Horray for an extra 20 minutes of mobile coding!

It seems to me the only reason a black-on-white background is so standard is because the GUI was invented to be an analogy to pen and paper. Paper is white. Your screen doesn't have to be. Don't conform to the status quo! Plus, it just looks really cool... I think.

Want to join the dark side? Download the settings here..

Visual Studio 2005
Visual Studio 2008

Just import them via the Tools->Import and Export Settings menu. Don't worry. If it doesn't suit you, just revert :)

As for VS2003, to enable exporting/importing styles in VS2003 you need an add-in. There happens to be one called VSStyler, which you can download here:

VSStyler Add-In for VS2003

Once you have the add-in, download the dark side style export here:

The Dark Side for VS2003

UPDATE 03/28/2008: Added new settings for Visual Studio 2008. I've improved on the scheme a little, and it now uses the Consolas font, too.

Happy (dark) coding!


  • Here's an interesting debate about the black background saving battery life claim. It doesn't seem to be true (as at least two of you have already pointed out to me), but they do admit to it being more readable!

    Something I would add to the argument -- with this color scheme I think you could get away with a dimmer backlight than you normally could, thus saving battery life for sure.

    It would be interesting if someone could take some time and run some tests. See how your battery life compares with black/white backgrounds.

  • I tried your VS setting and really like it. It is easier on the eyes but there are a few problems. Like when i copy a some text from VS and paste the results into outlook , it copies the background as well which looks a bit strange in the mail. Still you have converted at least one person :)

  • TheRockHead -- yes I too have that problem when pasting code, so I just use the little smarttag that appears to tell it to "Keep Text Only". The formatting goes away entirely. Then I make it courier font. No syntax hilighting but at least it doesn't look messed up. Thanks for reading!

  • Nice. I started with BC++ too (and turbo pascal). The one small change I made is to change the font to BitStream Vera Sans Mono size 10. Just a little easier on the eye than Courier!

  • The Dark Side Force is too great.

  • If you have a color scheme you'd like to share, send it to me, and I'll link it here :)

  • I've used this theme for the last three days. It's evil. purly evil.
    MY code productivity has gone from "mad super coder" to "person-who-can't-code-a-simple-MVC".
    This theme is dangroues. beware :)

  • Try Microsoft's 'free for VS2005 users' font: Consolas

  • nice style, i thought it would be hard on th eyes but reading these colours on a dark background is easier on the eyes and looks nice

  • I imported the style and then decided that I didnt like it. It changed my output window to black BG and White foreground text. I cannot get it to revert to my original settings. Where do you edit the output window styles manually?

  • If you are using VS2005, in the fonts & colors options section there's an item in the dropdown named "Output Window". If you're using VS2003, I'm afraid I don't know from memory. I think it's lumped in with "tool windows" or something like that.

  • Consolas is a nice font for development. But I discovered it's greatness after I created this style... I will update it, just haven't gotten around to it.

    Here's the download link for Consolas:

  • Thanks. :)

  • Behold -- Scott Hanselman has joined the dark side! Or at least, a variant of it...

  • bonna -- thanks for the comment on my layout. It's funny that in one day I get both a great compliment about it and also a great complaint. Every week or so someone either tells me they love or they hate it and will never return unless I fix it.

    Proof you can't please them all.

  • The fact that the opinions are both negative and positive prove that your site is not mainstream.
    It's better than no opinions at all.
    I made a "black" site 2 once, to some it causes discomfort.
    To me it's soothing.

  • I've joined the dark side.... its pure evil :)
    Whacked on Consolos - and turned white text to "silver"...
    not  that anyone actually cares what my settings are....

  • Been using custom settings in VS2003 for ages and also a black background, feeling it much easier on the eyes when looking at it for 5-6-7-11 hours a day :)
    With this tool I now can export and save my settings .... thanks

  • Thanx, I have joined the dark side right just now :-) It's very nice scheme.

  • I saw a screenshot of your IDE in another post and thought, "boy, I'd like to have a color scheme like that," but I was too lazy to manually change everything. Now I see you've linked to a plug-in for it (still on 2003) *and* your styles. Sweet! Thanks!

  • One more comment, anyone know of schemes for the old Borland styles? I have a fond memory of a blueish background in Turbo Pascal.

  • Haha no problem JP. Just one thing... I think you may have to fix the XML settings. One of the two schemes (2003 or 2005) has it so all the tags are basically invisible.

  • FMM -- I'm not exactly sure what you are referring to. Do you have a screenshot you can link to somewhere? Or email it me... send me a comment via the email link above, I'll reply, and then you can reply and attach. Sorry, gotta keep the spammers at bay :)

  • AHA!  It's a VB-only thing; it doesn't occur in C#.  Try the following adaptation of Hello World, and set a breakpoint somewhere in the try block:
    Sub Main()
               Console.WriteLine("Hello World!")
               Console.WriteLine("I can't see the below 'catch' block very well with the dark color scheme.")
           Catch ex As Exception
               ' This text is REALLY hard to see.
               Console.WriteLine("Exception occurred in Hello World?!")
           End Try
       End Sub
    End Module
    All of the text in the Catch block, as well as "Sub Main()", is highlighted in a pale gray.

  • Thanks very much for this. I've opted to increase the font size back to 10 and take the background up to a 93% black instead of 100% out of personal taste :) :) but your style got me almost all the way there and certainly saved me a good bit of time. Many thanks again.

  • Sure it's nice to have the black background in the interior of editor and other windows, but I would love to actually change the entire window border to a shade of dark gray. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a setting to handle it. Having a black background bordered by the gray/white default of VS is blinding.

    VS2005's window border color scheme isn't tied to Windows... does someone have a hack to change the light gray/white border colors to a nice dark scheme?

  • I've joined the dark side!

  • Tungsten,

    After having the desire to do the same and some poking around, I found that you can customize the Windows color scheme by:

    Control Panel --> Display --> Appearance --> Advanced Button --> Item: Window. Change the default white to any color you'd like.

  • Thank you for this. I'm still adjusting to it, but I like the new color scheme.

  • Just joined the dark side too!!! Greetings to all darksiders!

  • The link for "VSStyler Add-In for VS2003" is no longer valid because MS Shutdown the GotDotNet site and now only has

    Is there a new link for it?

  • Got a VS2008 version???

  • Ivan -- ask and you shall receive. I just updated the post with a link to 2008 settings, which I think are a little better than the original, too.


  • Great theme, I use it all the time.

    Just came to see if you had a 2008 version, which you do :D

    Much <3!

  • Awesome! THANKS!!
    This is still the #1 style for Visual Studio!

  • It seems that the VS2005 and VS2008 versions are slightly different in the color schemes. VS2008 version has blues, the VS2005 version has reds (for xml markup).

  • Dave,

    I really like the update for VS2008. Thanks for sharing.

  • I sure liked the theme, but found it hard to use because the solution explorer remains white. If we could somehow turn the whole of VS dark, that would be awesome!

    Someone posted a Windows theme above, but I'd rather not change the rest of my Windows apps, as I like XP's cheesy Blue-Green-Red theme.

  • While reading this, I just had to chuckle. Since this web page is dark and the text is light.

  • Zendor -- thats the whole idea :)

  • I am not a programmer so I cannot relate to the dark side work environment, however, your blog environment looks cool. However, it is a little hard to read for me. But the coolness outweighs how hard it is to read.

  • Nice. Saved me some work doing it myself. Thanks.

  • Thanks, I really enjoy the color scheme! It's pleasing to the eye. Mant programmers have seen my screen and liked how it looked. I have already recommended it to many friends! THANKS!

  • Thanks mate. This is much easyer that test it manually.
    I do not care about battery life. I care about my eyes because i only have 2 for the whole life.

  • I've converted all my fellow devs to the dark side!!

  • OK, now how do you make the insertion cursor visible? &nbsp;A black cursor against a black background is impossible to use.

  • DrFooMod2 -- not sure what the problem is, I dont have a black cursor. It's white.

  • Brock -- yes I'm using Vista, but I've used the same scheme on XP too without problems. Not sure what the deal is but I'm glad you solved it nonetheless.

  • I like dark side of VS but i cannot download VSStyler. ><

  • I really love dark (black) background for the VS, but there is one downside for me - a mouse cursor is not shown when you work with black background using remote desktop. Other than that, I vote for the Dark Side!

  • Anybody got a black theme setting for SQL Management studio 2005 available for download?

  • I joined the dark side too , and it's great.
    The default color scheme is so ugly... assembly language looks much better on black background.

    Great thanks for this scheme,

  • Hello,

    for a new company, I work on Visual Studio 2003... Yes it is !!!

    I want to use the darkside style but I can't find VSStyler to import the settings.

    Can you tell me where I can find this add-in.


  • har har.

    I will soon be a dark lord.. :P

    seriously, i'v been using this for my VS9 setup for like 3-4 months now. And its great! i wish there was a setting you prepared for codeblocks as well :D since im a lazy sith lord..

  • I have been using this theme for a while with slight modification (changed fonts to Courier New)
    I truly believe this is one of the best dark theme out there... thank you

  • I found your scheme after trying a number of others from Scott Hanselman's computerzen blog, and liked it the best. Thanks.

  • In truth, immediately i didn't understand the essence. But after re-reading all at once became clear.

  • Hmm... I read blogs on a similar topic, but i never visited your blog. I added it to favorites and i'll be your constant reader.

  • Hmm... I read blogs on a similar topic, but i never visited your blog. I added it to favorites and i'll be your constant reader.

  • With dark font I find it quite hard to concentrate on a particular part of the code, as well as focus on a larger part. My vision goes blurry... But the theme is nice.

  • Hey Now,

    This is a great theme. Really enjoy it.


  • Your theme is great but it seems there was a problem importing it... after I imported it nothing happens and didn't take effect. I am using VS 2005 did I missed something?

  • I really like it, I was looking for a great color scheme and there it is. I changed the font size to 12 ( because I have a really large monitor ) and changed the font to Consolas. I like the Lucida Console font also.

  • After using this theme for a few weeks now I prefer it over the white background. The only change I have made is to set the Brace Matching (Rectangle) option to have an Item Background of blue. This makes it stand out against the black background when you're looking for a matching parenthesis or curly bracket, but doesn't drown out the symbol itself.

  • I wasn't sure about switching to a black theme, but this one is awesome.


  • for cursor, select a windows black mouse scheme in control panel.

  • Gomez -- VSStyler, no I'm afraid not :( Surely its out there on the interwebs somewhere. Anyone?

  • As John Barton may have been talking about, the default white text color is pure white. This is harsh on the eyes so try changing the Identifier color to a slightly more gray which should feel better against the dark background. In graphic design people are taught to carefully use pure white and only on rare occasions because it's difficult to look at - even if it's just a 1px stroke line. Just FYI since I thought that bit of knowledge has been useful (even though I'm a dev).

  • I has joined da dark side.

    No more headaches or bleeding eyes for me.

  • now if only the rest of visual studio (menus, toolbars etc) can be turned to the dark side... xD

  • i want to make these changes in database design diagram also.

  • How do i make these changes in rest of the visual studio

  • I really like the theme except for one thing. Which setting should be changed in order to keep the parenthesis and the braces when you're inside it's scope. Them turn to dark and I find I annoying.


  • I see this is an old post, but man you saved my eyes!

    I started developing with Visual Studio 2008 and the standard bright look was killing my cornea xD

    Many thanks!

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