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Better brightness control for your Mac

As computer displays become brighter and larger, most controls for setting brightness levels remain crude. Apple’s latest displays, for example, are still very bright even at the minimum brightness setting. For designers and others spending hours in front of a computer, the inevitable consequences are sore eyes and headaches. Charcoal Design promises to solve this problem with their app, Shades.

Shades works by covering your entire screen content with a highly adjustable overlay. Consequently, you have very fine control over your display’s brightness. As one would expect, the app’s brightness slider and the cursor remain at full intensity. This makes them really easy to spot, but is sometimes annoying.

You can adjust brightness from a menu-bar item, a hover-window, or through keyboard-shortcuts. One drawback is the app’s inability to automatically hide itself when you’re making screenshots. You can work around this by temporarily increasing the brightness before taking a screenshot.

Download Shades.


  • Dalmet

    gravatarFeb 12, 2007
    8:33 am

    Why don’t you just use the F14 and F15 keys on a standard Mac keyboard instead?

  • Philip

    gravatarFeb 12, 2007
    8:43 am

    Because the range of brightness is very restricted using the system level controls. Even the lowest setting is still way too bright for my eyes, as I use my super bright Cinema Display primarily for working and not watching movies.

    You may also want to refer to: http://www.ehs.ohio-state.edu/index.asp?PAGE=ohse.computer

  • Chanpory

    gravatarFeb 12, 2007
    9:32 am

    Dalmet, also Apple only has 16 levels of brightness for their displays while Shades gives you several times that much. Here’s some scenarios from the Shades site:

    “Perhaps you need to use your machine in a darkroom, or like to work late at night without disturbing your partner who sleeps beside you?

    Perhaps you need to dim the screen on a desktop machine, and the display you are using offers no such facility?”

  • Jackie

    gravatarMar 17, 2007
    8:47 pm

    Thanks so much. Shades is great. I just bought a new iMac today. Unfortunately, after sitting in front of the screen for a few hours, I’ve already fried my retinas. Maybe now my eyes can heal. :)

  • Waves

    gravatarApr 25, 2007
    11:20 am

    Yay!!! I have suffered for over a year from the excessive brightness of my Apple Cinema Display. I just upgraded to a 24-inch iMac yesterday, and it’s even worse. I thought I was going to have to wear sunglasses while working on it, but this will be much better. :-)

  • Ken

    gravatarMay 14, 2007
    8:51 pm

    That’s funny, i’ve been wearing sunglasses until today. i’m a PC user that just purchase my first mac the other day. A 24″ iMac to be exact. I couldn’t believe that was all the brightness adjustment they give you. Thank you very much Shades. I was thinking about getting some gel film to hang over the screen until i stumbled over some articals on the web. i felt stupid wearing my sunglasses in my bedroom. Hope you do something good with the donation.

  • Philip

    gravatarMay 15, 2007
    12:22 am

    Yes, I did that for a while as well when I got my iMac. I’m not kidding when I’m sharing with you that I was about to hire some programmers on guru.com to write me an brightness extension, when I discovered Shades.

  • Lori

    gravatarAug 19, 2007
    5:54 am

    Wow! I just came across your LifeClever site and I love it. I, too, was ready to start wearing sunglasses for my iMac, but Shades has saved the day! :-) Thanks!

  • ray

    gravatarNov 23, 2007
    8:51 am

    I’ve installed Shades and is working great!

    The only thing is, once the preferences are set to hide from dock, you can’t access them again.

    Can you show me how to reset my preferences?


  • Kat

    gravatarMay 7, 2008
    10:35 pm

    I absolutely LOVE this program, as I’ve found the backlit LCD displays too bright for me even in a bright room, let alone in bed with my laptop at night (I know, I know, not healthy). I use it on my 24″ iMac, which is generally just too bright for me (even with the system brightness turned all the way down), and also on my MacBook in the wee hours. I love that I can configure the tint and intensity, and set the keyboard shortcuts. Charcoal, you’re a fool for not charging for this. ;) I would pay lots of money!!

  • Serena

    gravatarJun 2, 2008
    11:23 pm

    Why does this piece software need to connect to the internet (specifically host1.drht3.net) when it starts? That’s very annoying.

  • blaine

    gravatarAug 21, 2008
    2:38 pm

    i just accidentally turned shades ALL THE WAY DOWN and my monitor is totally black! Nothing I can do to fix it!! VERY annoying. How can I fix this!?

  • Jeff McNabb

    gravatarSep 7, 2008
    1:09 am

    THANK YOU! I was previously using Brightness control but I couldn’t stand always having it running in my Dock. I’ve switched to using Shades entirely. It is one of my most recommended apps. THANK YOU!!!! And thank you for keeping it free!

  • James

    gravatarSep 8, 2008
    6:56 pm

    THANKS! I’ve been looking for a program like this for some time! thanks

  • Gerry Curry

    gravatarSep 9, 2008
    3:36 am

    Don’t forget that calibrating your monitor for colour accuracy includes the brightness setting used when calibrating. If you adjust the brightness, your calibration will be off, requiring you to re-calibrate. Constant adjustment of brightness is simply not practical in a colour-calibrated workflow.

  • Sugar

    gravatarJan 27, 2009
    12:45 am

    All Hail Philip Foeckler.

    Thanks Phil, Luckily I stumbled across this fine App. I’ve been cursing Apple for about a month now, my eyes are eternally greatful.

  • Juergen

    gravatarApr 15, 2009
    9:50 pm

    I am going to use this for my iMac 24″ when connected to a Beamer hoping just the main display will bei shaded for good reason…

  • Chris

    gravatarMay 6, 2009
    4:16 am

    Hi. Ive installed this. But I am done with the application. I loved it but have no use for it anymore. I cannot get it off my imac though. Anyone know how? Please help

  • Boris

    gravatarJun 20, 2009
    9:57 am

    To uninstall, first make sure that Shades is not running, then right-click or control-click the Shades Preference Pane in your System Preferences, and select ‘Remove “Shades” Preference Pane”.

  • karl

    gravatarJul 30, 2009
    2:59 am

    i installed this on my main username dimmed the screen exactly black. thing is i dont know how to make it light again help please

  • Suzy

    gravatarJul 30, 2009
    9:19 pm

    Hi, I too have the same problem as Chris. Even after completely removed it from the System Preferences, I still can’t get the brightness back to its original setting. Does anyone have the same problem too? Can anybody offer some advice on that please? Thanks!

  • kieran

    gravatarAug 24, 2009
    4:21 am

    does anyone know how to turn brightness back up just using the keyboard? shortcuts

  • Israel

    gravatarDec 3, 2009
    8:50 pm

    i saw a guy he had this solfware but his was red (The Film)how can you switch colors on it?

  • mk

    gravatarJan 18, 2010
    7:13 pm

    HI, i ve install the shades software but it isnt working …. according to the techician who came by our office, our OS didnt support

    we r using Mac OS X 10.5.8

    anybody can help?

    my eyes really sore