The goto solution for clickable links in documents (URLs, TOCs, cross references etc.) is \usepackage{hyperref} and it does just that, automatically in the case of stuff like \label{myfigure} and see figure \ref{myfigure}, the TOC and with \url{www.someurl.tld}.

However, it does put ugly boxes of various garish colors around the links!

Why does it do that? What's the typographic rule for making links and references as ugly and unfitting as possible?

I'm aware that I can switch off the boxes (see e.g. here or there), only to be left with the garish colors, and I can also switch off the colors or turn them into something more pleasant (also explained in the linked questions), but I'm wondering why the default is so ugly.

Isn't LaTex about making stuff good looking (by following various typographic rules) by default? Why is hyperref such a glaring exception?

  • Okay you're aware how to turn them off... a comment on that question may explain your issue. tex.stackexchange.com/questions/823/…
    – user202729
    Feb 3, 2022 at 7:25
  • I can understand the intention behind them, and they really do turn your attention towards them, but I'm sure that could be done in a less ugly way.
    – JC_CL
    Feb 3, 2022 at 7:30
  • Your posting contains no fewer than four [4] instances of the word "why". I think that why-type questions are off-topic for this site. Why? It's because such questions call for largely-uninformed speculation. To make any useful headway, why-type questions -- and not just the ones that pertain to the hyperrefpackage -- ought to be raised with the author, or author(s), of the "feature" in question.
    – Mico
    Feb 3, 2022 at 7:45
  • note that at the time that style was chosen few people had a colour screen and almost no one had a colour printer. Feb 3, 2022 at 7:53
  • Mico, I understand the issue you're raising, however, I was hoping that there is some (published) reason for the various why's, so that I might learn something.
    – JC_CL
    Feb 3, 2022 at 9:05

3 Answers 3


Note that if you have a monochrome screen (as almost everyone, including the authors and contributors to hyperref did at the time) most of the alternatives would not have been very distinctive.

With 30 years legacy it is hard to change the defaults without changing the processing of millions of documents.

However in newer documents that have some markup that means that there are fewer legacy concerns, it is possible to consider changing the defaults, although not everyone agrees on what a better scheme should look like so in practice the default ends up not mattering much if everyone chooses an option or configuration in any case, but see

better default colors for hyperref links


The boxes were set up very early in the life cycle of hyperref. The idea was that these then show up in print, in contrast to other approaches. The colour also reflects what was available and common in the early days of hyperlinked material (including websites). Once these decisions were made, stability requirements mean it is very hard to alter them as this can impact existing documents.

  • Do you mean 'do not show up in print'?
    – Marijn
    Feb 3, 2022 at 9:02

Well it is difficult to know what people had in mind 20 or 30 years ago but

  • hyperref uses the link borders and not text colors by default as the link borders are not like colors part of the text stream but a feature of the link annotation and so are not printed.

This should imho not change in the future, but I'm considering to use only underlining (with something like pdfborderstyle={/S/U/W 1}) when the new pdfmanagement is active. The main problem is that this not supported by all pdf viewers (but as link borders aren't supported by all of them either this can perhaps be ignored).

  • hyperref uses only primary colors predefined by the color package and so there wasn't much to choose for the colors. The reason for this restriction is unclear but my guess is that it tried to avoid to define unneeded colors to save space and memory. But nowadays a few more color definitions are not a problem, also as l3color is in the kernel colors can be defined without external package and so as David mentioned in its answer when you use the new pdfmanagement hyperref has nicer default colors and there are a few color palettes to choose from.

See also https://github.com/latex3/hyperref/issues/199 for a similar discussion.

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