10 Apps to Help You Tame Your Monitor at Night

If you’re like me, you should have noticed that Mac screens are really bright. This is especially obvious on my early–2007 iMac where, even during the day, I set the screen brightness to the minimum. Since I’m already at the minimum, at night, it is definitely too much bright.

Staring in front of a computer screen that bright is a bad thing for your sleep. OS X provides a built-in but often underused way to adapt your monitor, called the Night Vision Mode: simply press Cmd-Option-Ctrl-8 to invert screen colors. If you’d like to experience more subtle ways to manipulate your screen brightness, read on to find out some clever apps.

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The “Mainstream” Dimmers

The following apps each share a unique purpose: put an opaque overlay on your screen(s) to make them darker. I call these paid apps “mainstream” as they all are distributed through the Mac App Store, thus easier to access without finding a needle in a haystack.

Dimmer Than Dim

Dimmer Than Dim is the most basic of all apps featured here. When launched, it sits both in your menubar and your Dock, but the Dock icon is useless since it provides absolutely no action. You can’t even turn on/off the app with the Dock icon, making me wonder why there even is a Dock icon.

When you turn the dimmer on by clicking on the app menubar icon, it simply dims your screen, to an extent you define by dragging the slider towards ‘Dark’. If the slider is set all the way to the right, ‘Light’ position, it is as if Dimmer Than Dim was turned off.

Screenshot of Dimmer Than Dim menu bar options

This is all you can do with Dimmer Than Dim. Rather basic.

The menubar icon has a different colour whether the dimmer is turned on (red) or off (blue).

To me, this tiny app is largely overpriced: $4.99 for such basic functionality is hard to justify, especially when compared with other apps in this roundup. There are cheaper apps that apply the same dimming effect to your screen but with (a lot) more options (see below).

Price: $4.99
Developer: Zhen Liu
Requires: OS X 10.6+ (Snow Leopard with Mac App Store)

Work At Night

Among the paid screen dimmer apps, Work At Night is one of the cheapest. It also has two unique features:

  • Just after launch, you can brighten/darken the applied opaque mask using respectively the Up/Down arrow keys.
  • You can choose to exclude the menu bar and the Dock from the dark overlay, making it easy to reach these zones even if the darkness is set to the maximum. This is a unique workaround for a common problem found with dimmers: when the screen is completely dark, it is often hard to find your way through the UI.
Screenshot of the onlay window appearing when Work At Night is launched.

When launching Work At Night, this overlay teaches you some basic shortcuts.
These are usable until you dismiss the overlay by clicking anywhere on the screen.

Price: $0.99
Developer: Raj Kumar Shaw
Requires: OS X 10.6.6+ (Snow Leopard with Mac App Store)

myPoint Shade

myPoint Shade is another cheap screen dimmer with some twists:

  • You can choose the color of the overlay to be applied.
  • It is, to my knowledge, the only one app featured in this round-up that supports up to six monitors, each one with its independent settings.
Screenshot of the Preferences window of myPoint Shade

myPoint shade has various options and keyboard shortcuts that can be independently applied to up to 6 monitors.

This app also has extensive keyboard support. All of these features probably makes it the biggest bargain among paid dimming apps available on the Mac App Store.

In myPoint Shade, the maximum darkness is limited to 90%. But there is another, more extensive version of this app, myPoint Heavy Shade, that offers fine-grain control over this, including 100% darkness and a timer that decreases the maximum brightness over time.

Price: $0.99
Developer: Code Race
Requires: OS X 10.7+

Screen Dimmer

Screen Dimmer can support up to three monitors independently. That means you can dim one, two or all three of your monitors, whenever you need it too. This is done on the fly and quite easily by clicking on any of the three monitor icons that appear when you click on the app menu bar icon. This original and well-thought feature makes the app useful even during the day. The dev explains for instance on one of the Mac App Store screenshots that dimming all your monitors except the one playing a video could help you focus on the video.

Screenshot of Screen Dimmer menu bar window

The easy-to-use Screen Dimmer menu.

Another original feature is the ability to reverse the slider direction. The default direction seems unnatural to me (but your mileage may vary), as you move the slider to the right to make your screen darker. Fortunately, if you hold Option when the menu bar app is activated, a checkable ‘Reverse slider direction’ option appears.

It is also noteworthy that clicking on the help (‘?’) button gives you one of the best, most extensive descriptions of how the app works I’ve ever seen, especially for such a tiny app.

Price: $1.99
Developer: Atlas Wegman
Requires: OS X 10.6.6+ (Snow Leopard with Mac App Store)

Midnight

At first launch, Midnight shows both its main window and its menu bar icon. From the main window, you can choose the current mode: ‘Day’ lets your screen unchanged while ‘Night’ dims your screen, the ‘Darkness level’ being set with a slider, like in Dimmer Than Dim and Screen Dimmer.

Screenshot of the General tab of the Midnight Preferences window

The General tab.

The General tab of the main window of Midnight lets you access options not available from the menu bar icon.

You can also set some options, for instance choose to apply the night mode to all your monitors or only the one the window is currently located in.

The app can also be accessed from the menubar or in a ‘faceless’ mode, where you are supposed to access Midnight from its Dock icon. Problem is, in my testing on Mountain Lion, the Dock icon never appeared, making it impossible to access the app in faceless mode. Fortunately, I left the ‘Display this window when launching as a menu bar app’ option checked, so I only had to quit Midnight, relaunch it, then choose to Run it as a menu bar app to make it usable again.

Beware! Due to this bug on Mountain Lion, if you uncheck the previously described option and run the app in ‘faceless’ mode, you might be completely unable to interact with it and have no other choice than force quitting it with Activity Monitor and completely uninstalling/re-installing it (including wiping out its .plist file).

A second tab on the main window of Midnight lets you set various keyboard shortcuts so you don’t have to reach the menubar icon. These shortcuts include the super useful ‘Emergency brightness restore’ also found in Shades (see below).

The menu bar icon gives you access to a vertical slider, a night/day mode icon-based switcher (representing a sun icon during the day and a moon crescent at night) as well as red cross you can click on to quit the app.

Screenshot of Midnight menu bar window

The menu bar.

The menu bar of Midnight gives instant access to its most used features, all in a handy vertical pop up bar.

Price: $2.99
Developer: Ollix
Requires: OS X 10.6.6+ (Snow Leopard with Mac App Store)

Brightness (dimmer / tint control)

If you overlook, Brightness will appear priced as much as Midnight but shows less features. You won’t find keyboard shortcuts, for instance.

However, it has a unique turn that makes me think about this app as a combination of a basic screen dimmer with F.lux (see below for the description of the latter). Indeed, you can turn on an option that, when reducing the brightness, will make the colors warmer, which is said to be easier on the eyes.

Screenshot of Brightness windows

The options in Brightness are written in a less formal, more understandable and thus less bland way,
which is both helpful and pleasant.

Price: $2.99
Developer: Alaric Cole
Requires: OS X 10.6.8+, 64-bit processor

Sunset

Sunset is full of contrasts (no pun intended). While providing the most basic dimming functionality, its interface is unique and refreshing. When clicking on its menu bar icon, a nice window pops up, showing a landscape full of clouds where the sun is high in the sky. The more you drag the sun down (closer to the horizon), the darker your screen will become.

Screenshot of Sunset popup window when two monitors are connected.

When two monitors are connected, each of them can have a distinct brightness setting.
Here, the left sun is not at its highest position so the left monitor is moderately dimmed, whereas the right sun has begun its sunset and is lower in the sky, closer to the horizon, resulting in a much darker right monitor.

By clicking on the ‘More’ button at the bottom of the popup window, you get access to some options as well as keyboard shortcuts.

Sunset is priced a bit higher than the previously described apps. It remains cheaper than Dimmer Than Dim, though, for a much added value.

Price: $3.99
Developer: Falo Apps
Requires: OS X 10.6.6+ (Snow Leopard with Mac App Store), 64-bit processor

The Outsiders

I consider the following three apps to be outsiders because they share some common traits that distinguish them from the previously described screen dimmers in several aspects:

  • They are distributed outside of the Mac App Store.
  • They are all free.
  • They have a more original approach, regarding their functionality and/or interface.

F.lux

This tiny app tints your screen along the day and night, to follow natural sun light. During daytime, your screen looks unchanged. But when sunset approaches, it tints your display with a warmer, less aggressive nuance of white/yellow. It is much more comfortable to look at your screen at night. When sunshine chimes in, your display is put back to a normal, default tint. In both cases, the process can take up to as much as an hour.

f.lux is also really easy to set up. All you have to do is choose which nuance of tint you want (from an almost imperceptible ‘fluorescent’ tint to a really warm, yellowish ‘tungsten’ one). Thanks to geo-localization, F.lux finds where you are and automatically sets itself up with your local sunset/sunshine times.

Screenshot of F.lux Preferences window

F.lux automatically sets your day and night time based on your location. You just have to choose which tint you want at night and how fast should the day/night transition be.

You can also disable F.lux for an hour if you wish, or set the ‘Lightning at night’ option to ‘Daylight’, which has the same effect as not using F.lux at all without any time limit.

The special treatment F.lux applies to your screen, its set-it-and-forget-it approach and the really smooth transition (when set to spend one hour) all make it my personal favorite over all the apps presented here. Of course, your mileage may vary and, especially, graphic designers might not like that F.lux alters colors.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4+
Developer: f.lux software

Nocturne

Nocturne pushes the Night Vision Mode of Mac OS X to the next level. It won’t activate itself per se, unlike F.lux. Instead, the app will sit in your menubar, and a click on the icon and then on ‘Switch to Night’ will have, by default, the same effect as pressing Cmd-Option-Ctrl–8.

But you can also configure in details what Nocturne does by having a look at its preferences. Among interesting others, you can avoid that somewhat unpleasant infrared-mode look that goes with the OS X’s default Night Vision Mode. For this, you can:

  • Either switch on the ‘Monochrome’ option if you like to live your life in black and white.
  • Switch on the ‘Invert hue’ option that explicitly inverts the hue of colors on your screen to make them look like less ‘strange’ and stick more to their original tone.
Screenshot of Nocturne Preferences window

The choice of options for the Night mode of Nocturne is impressive: you can completely customize the look of your screen.

Another original option is the ability to tint colors. The best is to try it for yourself. By experimenting with it, you can even completely redefine the look of your general Mac OS X UI. For instance, if you’re really nostalgic about the look of old machines, you can switch on these options: Invert Screen, Hide Desktop, Disable Shadows, Monochrome, Tint Colors (and choose the Clover color for the White channel). This, combined with a minimalist text editor, will totally give your screen an early 90es look!

A annoying drawback with Nocturne (at least on Lion/Moutain Lion) is that there are some inconsistencies and bugs making that, sometimes, after switching options on and off, you need to ‘Switch to day’ and then ‘Switch to night’ back again to have these options take effect.

Price: Free
Developer: BlackTree
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4+

Shades

Unlike others, Shades installs itself as a Preference Pane.

Once started, a sunglasses icon sits in your menubar and a slider appears on screen. The on-screen slider stays on top of all of your windows, which can be frustrating and space-wasting. Hopefully, in the Shades preference pane, in the ‘Color LCD’ tab, you can either make it vertical (which could be a nice compromise on wide screens) or toggle it off completely.

Screenshot of the on-screen slider of Shades

The on-screen slider of Shades takes much valuable space and stays on top of other windows. Hopefully, you can turn it off or, at least, make it vertical.

Shades shows some great attention to details in the customization options, as for instance you can choose between two different appearances for the on-screen slider and even between two different menu bar icons.

Once activated, Shades apply an overlay to your screen, thus making it another dimming app. If you’ve kept the default black tint color, this will apply an black opaque filter (whose opacity is controlled by the sliders) to your screen. Should you have disabled the on-screen slider, another one is still available by clicking on the menubar icon. You can choose whatever color you want, of course.

Screenshot of the 'Color LCD' tab of Shades Preferences window

The effects applied to your screen and the tools used to control them are highly customizable in Shades.

If you choose a black tint color and set the slider to the minimum, your screen could appear almost completely black, making it quite impossible to see what’s on your screen and then find your mouse cursor to inactivate Shades! Hopefully, the developer came with two really well-thought workarounds:

  • First, there’s an “Emergency brightness restore” hotkey that is set by default to Alt-Esc. If you’ve turned your screen completely black, don’t panic and simply press Alt-Esc: this will restore your screen brightness to the max, regardless of where the slider is set to.
  • Second, by default, the sliders do not really go from 0% to 100% transparency. Even if you’ve set down the slider to the minimum brightness, the real minimum value applied is not necessarily 0%, but instead the value set through another “Min brightness” slider found in the “Color LCD” tab of the Shades preference pane. By default, this slider is set to 10%, so even if you’re at the minimum of the on-screen/menubar slider, you still have 10% transparency through the opaque mask. Really clever.

Price: Free
Developer: Charcoal Design
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5+ Leopard

What’s Your Favorite?

As you can see, there is a plethora of apps that help you tame your monitor at night, thus making it easier to work at night while reducing dazzle and eyestrain. I only mentioned apps that I consider worth it, but might have missed some others.
Jump in the comments to let us know which is your favorite one!


  • Lê Hùng Thiện

    I love F.lux

  • http://srikard.tumblr.com/ Srikar D R

    Brightness Slider is a handy little Menu Bar App: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/brightness-slider/id456624497?mt=12

  • http://thecocoabots.com/ Tony Arnold

    F.lux is the only one of these apps that makes any appreciable difference to your sleep patterns. Go have a read of their product page — they’ve done a fair bit of research (and it’s interesting stuff): http://stereopsis.com/flux/research.html

    • http://mac.appstorm.net/author/pwizla/ Pierre Wizla

      Yes, thanks for your comment.
      That’s one of the reasons why F.lux definitely is my favorite!

  • Vlad Dumitrica

    F.lux is my favorite too. I love it when my screen changes color temperature gradually.

  • Andrew

    F.lux and Shady as a free screen dimmer. (works just great)

    • Miguel

      thanks for this tip! I tried using Shades with F.lux and it would conflict causing bright flashing of the screen.

      The Shady/F.lux combo works great, and is free! (though I donated since it’s such a lifesaver)

  • Blair

    Shady is my favourite. It’s free as well – but I gave a tip. The logo is slick too:

    http://instinctivecode.com/shady/

    • http://mac.appstorm.net/author/pwizla/ Pierre Wizla

      Thank you, I didn’t know about this one. It seems strangely similar to Work At Night (overlay included) but for free. That’s good news!

  • Scott

    Pretty sure Blacktree’s been dead for years. Certainly, Nocturne has been abandoned (even by its open source folks) since mid-2009. Still functions though (it’s the only one on the list that I use), and the most useful for users with very light-sensitive vision, migraine sufferers, and vampires.

    • http://mac.appstorm.net/author/pwizla/ Pierre Wizla

      Thanks for your comment! Indeed, pretty sure the development of Nocturne has been abandoned since a while. That probably explains why there are some bugs with the latest versions of OS X.
      A friend of mine is a vampire, I will recommend it to him. Haha!

  • http://iynque.com iynque

    I’m still using Dark Adapted. It’s sooooooo awesome but the developer seems to have disappeared :(

    Still, you can download the free version (2.7 I think) from before he started charging for it (version 3). I have the paid version and it still works with Mountain Lion. My favorite feature is the ability to assign a hotkey: I have brightness up & down for my built-in display, and fn+brightness up & down for my second display.

    • http://mac.appstorm.net/author/pwizla/ Pierre Wizla

      Thanks! I didn’t know about Dark Adapted. Will have a look at it.

  • Thiago A.

    I use the Mac’s brightness keys for that job :)

  • http://atlaswegman.com Atlas Wegman

    Wow, thanks for the kind review Pierre! You would not believe how much this means to a small developer like me :) In celebration, here are two promo codes! Hope you all find the app useful, and if you do use the codes please let me know! Merry Christmas :D

    PTTJ6MN9RHWP
    WP3KAWE9JF9K

    • http://mac.appstorm.net/author/pwizla/ Pierre Wizla

      You’re welcome, Atlas ;-) Thanks a lot for the promo codes.
      Happy holidays!

  • Phil

    Nice round up. But i think it should be mentioned that none of these apps reduce the power consumption of the display, they only just put a “shade” over the picture. Brightness stays the same. For example my 27″ iMac uses abou 150W at 100% brightness (idle), but only about 95W with still very good looking 50% brightness. At night i often go as low as 30%. Less power consumption also means less heat and therefore usually less fan noise.

    I have been using f.lux for a long time now and sure love it. But i hope some day a developer creates some app that does both, actually lowering the brightness (no shade) AND changing the color temperature, fading, based on a schedule. Damn i would love to pay for that.

    • http://mac.appstorm.net/author/pwizla/ Pierre Wizla

      Thanks for your precision, Phil! You’re totally right, I should have mentioned it.
      Happy holidays!

  • mel

    I wonder how many of these affect screenshots; i.e., your screenshot itself is dimmer, so you have to brighten the screen to take a proper screenshot. I know Dimmer Than Dim does this, which is annoying.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/samuelgamlin92/ Samuel

    F.lux is wonderful for what it does and i wish i could use but a warning to all thee who use their macs for photoshopping, video editing, colour grading etc. If you perfect a photo you’ve worked into the night on and you have f.lux running. Then come next morning that photo is gonna look a helluva lot blue-r than it did at 1pm the night before.

    But thats the nature of these apps so this ain’t a complaint just a friendly word or caution

  • http://aol.com emk

    f.lux is z best good looks

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