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WCAG: 1.4.9 Images of Text (Not the Worst, but not the Best)


In our Pulitzer prize-winning blog post regarding WCAG 1.4.5 , we talked about why you should usually avoid using images of text on your site. As we explained there, those experiencing visual impairment may need to adjust the text and its background, including color and font size, in order to be able to read and understand it. Accordingly, you should try to use text, rather than images of text, on your site.

WCAG 1.4.5 describes the AA standard for this rule. In this post, we will cover the Rolls-Royce of WCAG compliance: the illustrious AAA standard, meaning that, as with our astonishing writing ability, we are once again raising the bar.

No Exception! (But Not Really)

The main difference between WCAG 1.4.5 and 1.4.9 is that 1.4.5 lists a number of situations in which it would be okay to include images of text. WCAG 1.4.9, by contrast, claims not to allow for such exceptions.Although, as we'll explain here, there really are exceptions to this guideline. Maybe they're the exceptions that prove the rule? Try not to think about it too much. Fundamentally, 1.4.9 describes the AAA standard, while 1.4.5 describes the AA standard.

In any case, you can still use images of text under the following circumstances:

  • Images of text are fine if the visual presentation of the text itself conveys important information. WCAG refers to this as "essential text", and it includes logos and brand names. Another possible example of essential text would be text that displays different fonts.

As you can see, each line is written in the font that is described. The visual aspect of the text itself provides important context to its meaning. It can be difficult to ascertain in other situations when certain text is essential, however, so use your best judgement and try to err on the side of caution.

  • If an image contains text as well as a number of other visual components, such as a map or infographic, then it does not count as an "image of text" in this context, and is thus okay to include as is.