BACKGROUND Partially sighted often experience problems in orientation in public areas. Individual visual aids can only be used with limitations. Improving light intensity and colour contrasts of timetables, information signs, direction symbols, etc. can provide remedies. Experimentally substantiated directives do not yet exist. PATIENTS AND METHODS Experiments were conducted in 231 partially sighted subjects (binocular vision < 0.3) diagnosed as experiencing dullness when watching the media, having maculopathies, glaucomas, or dystrophic alterations of the retina or choroid, and in 43 normal subjects to determine the subjective assessment of colour and light-intensity contrasts. The presented contrast patterns were Hartmann-characters as infield (3.3 degrees) with a rectangular surround (19.5 degrees x 14.3 degrees). Three experimental series were carried out in which subjects assigned 14 non-coloured/non-coloured contrasts, 35 non-coloured/colour contrasts and 30 colour/colour contrasts to any of the five assessment classes of extremely poor, poor, optimal, sharp, extremely sharp. The colour contrasts consisted of combinations of yellow, green, red, purple, blue, and non-coloured. RESULTS For non-coloured/non-coloured, the subjects preferred positive contrasts (bright infield, dark surround). Preferred contrast levels were 0.91 to 0.99 for positive contrasts and -0.96 to -0.99 for negative contrasts. For colour/non-coloured contrasts, 90% of the partially sighted preferred yellow as the foreground colour with a contrast level above 0.89. For colour/colour contrasts, optimal assessments of 90% of all partially sighted were yellow/purple and yellow/blue with contrast levels above 0.90. The determined results are applicable for the exact experimental contrast settings only. A field manual was prepared for planning and design of contrasts suited for the partially sighted in public areas. CONCLUSIONS Partially sighted, in subjective contrasts assessment, prefer bright characters of signs on a dark background for both non-coloured and colour contrasts with contrast levels above 0.9. Yellow was the preferred infield colour.