How to Disable Transparency Effects in Mac OS X Interface
Transparent effects have had a prominent place in the user interface of Mac OS X ever since the Mac got a face lift with recent versions of OS X El Capitan and Yosemite. Many users like the transparency found throughout the window title bars and sidebars, but some users may not like the feature, and additionally some Macs can gain a performance boost by turning off the eye candy effect of translucent UI elements.
Disabling transparency also has the side effect of making the user interface look slightly different, as the window title bars, buttons, and sidebars will no longer pick up some color cues from items behind the window. Whether or not any of this is desirable to a Mac user likely depends on personal preference, but it’s easy to toggle on and off again so if you decide it’s not for you, there is little effort to switch things up.
How to Reduce Transparency in OS X User Interface
The setting is called ‘Reduce Transparency’, but really it disables transparency entirely throughout all interface elements that had a translucent appearance. This setting exists in OS X 10.10.x and 10.11.x and later, earlier releases do not have the option:
- Pull down the Apple menu and choose “System Preferences”
- Select the “Accessibility” control panel and choose “Display” from the options list
- Look for “Reduce Transparency” and check the alongside this option to disable transparent effects throughout the Mac OS X user interface
- Close out of System Preferences as usual
In terms of UI appearance, the effect is subtle.
Here is what a Finder window titlebar looks like without transparency disabled, it follows the typical understated grey appearance that has been part of the Mac UI for decades:
With transparency enabled, the default setting of OS X, the same window titlebar picks up color from UI elements that are behind the screen or going on in the same window, in this case it’s a blue hue:
Aside from the difference in appearance, the settings change can also improve performance quite a bit, particularly on some older hardware, and it notably reduces the CPU usage of the WindowServer process. In fact, this is one of those adjustments that can be made to settings to speed up Yosemite in particular, though the effect carries forward into OS X 10.11 as well albeit less notable.
Users will also find that disabling transparency can boost the frame rate of drawing items on screen in OS X, which is observable on some Macs directly if they had stuttering animations in things like Mission Control, but it can be measured with the FPS FrameMeter gauge of QuartzDebug for users who are more technically inclined as well.
It’s worth mentioning that another option is the Increase Contrast setting in OS X, which disables transparency as well while simultaneously making window and UI elements look a bit more obvious, which can be helpful for those who find the newer Mac OS appearance overbearing.