January 9, 2017

Solar Shades: How To Choose Between Light and Dark Fabrics

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Are you buying solar shades? Solar shades are a great way to control the amount of sunlight that enters a room, but with so many options available, it can be tough to choose a fabric that's best for your needs. Moreover, choosing between light and dark fabrics can be a difficult decision, as each one offers a different aesthetic which, depending on a range of factors, could add or detract from your room.

In this informative blog, follow along as we share the key factors to consider when selecting the right fabric for your solar shades, and review the different types of solar shade percentages available. By the end, you'll have all the information you need to make the best choice for your needs.

Key Factors to Consider When Selecting Your Solar Shade Fabric

Sun Control

Sun control is the biggest reason shades are needed for windows. Everyone wants to protect their beautiful new floors, furniture, and art from the very harmful UV rays the sun generates.


Everyone would like to cut their heating and cooling bills. Choosing the right type of shades can help. A great option to consider is an exterior operated shade. No window treatments mounted on the inside of a window can compare to an outside shade which stops the heat before it enters your home.


While providing great sun control and insulation, solar shades will only provide a minor level of privacy. Please be aware that at night there can be some view through into the home depending on the opacity of your chosen fabric. For example, a 1% opacity fabric will provide more privacy than a 5% opacity, but will decrease the level of view through during the day. See “A Bit About Openness Factor” below.


Solar shades not only offer great sun control and insulation, but also provide the great benefit of being able to maintain your view of the outdoors, so long as you choose the right fabric. If "maintaining the view" is a priority for you, keep the following points in mind when choosing your shades:

  • Lighter fabrics reflect heat better, but also brighten the room they're in and blur the view.
  • Darker fabrics will absorb heat and glare, providing a much more comfortable feel to the eye, allowing you to see and enjoy the crisp views outside without squinting.

Real-World Results: A Solar Shade Case Study

We had a client recently that contacted us to repair their existing motorized shades. Upon entering their home we were struck with the incredible view of the ocean as the home was right on the cliffs of the Mendocino coast.


Unfortunately this beautiful view was completely muted and foggy when the light colored shades were down.

We suggested replacing all the fabric bands with a fabric of the same opacity, but switching to a darker color. Their initial reaction was hesitant, as they loved their view and wanted to accentuate the look, but were concerned about the effect a darker fabric would have on the room. We sent them a few large fabric samples to hang up and see for themselves.

They agreed and hesitantly decided to proceed with the swap out of fabrics. The day prior to the installation they reached out to us once again feeling that they made a terrible mistake and were second guessing the conversion. We assured their satisfaction and requested that they wait until seeing an installed shade before making the final decision.

Once installed the homeowner called ecstatic and could not believe this was the same home and LOVED the new look.


All About “Openness Factor”

Screen shades, also referred to as solar shades, are designed to maximize sunlight and your view to the outside while preserving privacy. Openness refers to the tightness of the fabric weave, directly reflecting the amount of light let through—also called the “openness factor”.

Lower openness factors resulting from tightly woven fabrics block more of the view. Although solar shades with tighter weaves are perfect for rooms that get a lot of direct sun, it’s important to consider the amount of view that you want to maintain. The higher the openness factor, the looser the fabric weave and the less shade it offers.

1 vs 3 vs 5 vs 10: Discerning the Subtle Differences Between Solar Screen Percentages

Blackout Solar Shades (Openness Percentage: 0%)

For those who cannot abide the sun's presence and seek the utmost privacy, blackout solar or roller shades offer the perfect solution. These shades—which offer a 0% openness factor—completely obstruct the light from entering a room, making them the ideal choice for ensuring a comfortable and serene sleep. On the flip side, these shades eliminate any external view when fully lowered.

Low Openness Percentage (1%-5%)

Solar shades with openness ratings between 1 and 5 will block out most of the light, yet still provide a minimal amount of visibility from the outside. The view will be faint, and the clarity of the view won't be as great as shades with higher openness percentages. In other words, while you won't be able to discern details, you will still be able to detect movement and shapes.

Wondering what the difference is between 1 vs 3 vs 5? The differences between single units may be subtle, but when comparing two numbers, it can make for a significant difference in the amount of light that passes through the screen. For instance, a rating of 1 will block the most light, similar to blackout screens, whereas a rating of 3 will block slightly less, while a rating of 5 will allow even more visibility.

Something else to keep in mind is that white fabric can make your view more blurry, while black fabric tends to make the view more crisp. That's why a 5% openness factor in a white fabric provides the same amount of view through as a 3% in a black fabric.

Pro tip: For homeowners who want a clear view, a 3% openness factor facing west is the most popular choice. If you base your fabric choice on having a nice view that you want to enhance, we suggest a dark fabric with a 3% or 5% openness factor. This applies to both interior or exterior shades.

Medium Openness Percentage (7%-10%)

Solar shades with openness factors between 7 and 10 will preserve your view and let some degree of natural light enter while protecting your interior from damaging UV rays. You’ll still be able to enjoy a good view of the outside, and the fabric will allow sufficient clarity to see through. 

High Openness Percentage (10% and above)

Solar shades with openness factors that are 10% and above are made with loosely woven fabrics that provide maximum visibility of the outside and ample amounts of natural sunlight indoors, while still providing some degree of protection from glare and UV radiation. The fabric is quite transparent, similar to a tinted window, and allows for better views from a dark to a light side. During the day, you’ll be able to easily see outside, but it may be more difficult for anyone to see you from outside. Conversely, when night falls and your lights are on inside, it will be easier to see into your home from the outside in than from the inside out.

Get Help Choosing Your Solar Screens With Hartley Window Coverings!

Choosing between light and dark fabrics is an important decision to make when it comes to selecting a window treatment for your home. After all, not only can they affect the amount of light that enters your home, but also heavily impact your home comfort and sway the aesthetic of your space. If you're unsure of which type of fabric to choose for your interior window shades, reach out to our design team for expert advice and assistance. With our expertise and guidance, you can be sure to find a window covering that provides the perfect amount of light control, functionality, and style for your home.

Contact us today to get started!

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