How Can I Make Windows Fonts Look Better?
December 24, 2011 4:12 PM   Subscribe

How can I make font display in Windows look better? I recently had to set up a Windows 7 (64-bit) machine. I haven't used Windows for several years. The quality of the font display doesn't seem to have improved. Fonts look ragged to me. Big headline fonts at news sites are pretty awful, like they were slapped on by a sloppy painter. How can I make this better? Any tricks or products that address this? I've used Cleartype but, frankly, I not sure I noticed anything change.
posted by justcorbly to Computers & Internet (33 answers total)
ClearType Tuner

It has to be adjusted to the characteristics of your particular display.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:15 PM on December 24, 2011

I presume you've been using Macs for the several years that you haven't been using Windows?

Rendering fonts on screen, with relatively large pixels relative to print, involves compromises. There is a known difference in philosophy between Microsoft and Apple regarding how certain choices should be made, with Apple favouring precise replication of the print appearance, even if it leads to blurry edges, and Microsoft favouring on-screen readability with crisp edges even if it sacrifices print fidelity.

The end result of this is frankly that people used to Windows find Mac fonts blurry, and people used to the Mac find Windows fonts harsh and jagged.

Both are right, and both are wrong.
posted by standbythree at 5:33 PM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, standbythree, Macs. And I still do. To my eyes, there's no comparison. Mac fonts are solid, crisp, and easy to read. The fonts I see on Windows are not. It's as if I can see individual pixels.

For instance, I'm looking at the BBC's news site on Windows and here on my Macbook. The characters in the large black sans serif headlines are sharp. Lines are straight where they should be and curved where they should be. That's not the case on Windows. The letter "o" appears pockmarked around the outer edge. That edge does not have a precise border. The letter "s" looks to be growing serifs.

I spent some time in newspapers and there's no way I'd let a product out the door with fonts that looked like these things on Windows.

I suspect some of it may be down to how MS does antialiasing. For example, a capital letter M seems to sit on a diffuse splotch of color. I don't want to see specks of color when I'm reading black text on a white background.

But, I'm still looking for a way to make them more legible.
posted by justcorbly at 5:48 PM on December 24, 2011

You probably don't have your desktop resolution set to your monitor's resolution, justcorbly. That's the main culprit when it comes to strange colour blotches.
posted by Yowser at 6:09 PM on December 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I second Yowser. If you don't have your resolution set to the highest available one, many LCDs make the fonts look terrible. When you go to the screen resolution list it will often say "optimized for" or something like that.

This is a hardware vs OS issue, not really a Windows issue, since it happens on Linux too. Since the Apple hardware and OS are packaged together, it's not an issue you ever have to deal with on that platform.
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night at 6:47 PM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Along with getting your resolution native, also make sure your browser isn't scaling as well. You can test this in IE, for example, by holding down the CTRL key and moving your middle mouse wheel up or down. I just helped a friend last week who did this inadvertantly and couldn't figure out how to change it back.
posted by samsara at 7:28 PM on December 24, 2011

Yes, there has to be a setting somewhere that's off on your system, because I have literally never noticed antialiasing issues with the fonts on my Windows 7 machine. There are some browser/OS differences in the way fonts are rendered, but they are relatively minor and nothing should ever look the way you describe. (I use Macs plenty too and I'm anal enough about graphics that I would definitely notice this if it were a thing on Windows.)
posted by ella wren at 7:58 PM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Would it be possible to upload a screenshot? I have never noticed the problem you are describing and I am curious if I have been oblivious to the issue or if we are looking at different things.
posted by phil at 8:14 PM on December 24, 2011

It has been my experience that windows 7 suggests the optimal resolution. The only time I have not seen this happen is when the drivers were not installed for the graphics card. I notice that you said you recently set up the install- did you install all the drivers? If not, I have had good luck using windows update to find any drivers that need to be installed/updated.
posted by phil at 8:29 PM on December 24, 2011

A quick screenshot would indeed be useful. Blotches of colour sounds to me like improper subpixel hinting. This test can be useful in determining your monitor's subpixel layout, though RGB is pretty standard.. There seems to be a ClearType tuner included with Win7 but the powertoy version can be found here.
posted by Lorin at 9:04 PM on December 24, 2011

Take a screenshot on windows; view it on the mac. If the monitor is set wrong, it will look ok on the Mac; otherwise the problem is in software.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:06 PM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

While I don't know what's up with the blotchiness, I think the rest of it is just that you're very sensitive to the rendering philosophy differences that standbythree discussed. I use a Windows desktop at work (I need to use some Windows-specific software that nobody else uses) but the rest of the place uses Macs and switching back and forth, I definitely know what you're talking about. While I do think OS X/iOS renders more nicely, the way Windows does it has never bothered me and to me they're both just as readable.

Good luck.
posted by General Crespin at 10:54 PM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

"It's as if I can see individual pixels. "

That's going to be the DPI of your screen causing that trouble. A 15" 1300x800 screen is going to be much more pixelly than a 15" 1680x1050 screen.
posted by gjc at 11:51 PM on December 24, 2011

Twenty-inch 1680x1050. Resolution is set to the maximum. DPI is at 96. No scaling in browsers.

Lorin, thanks for the link to the LCD test. Mine shows RGB. There is, in fact, a more noticeable difference between sub pixel RGB rendering there and the alternatives on the Windows machine than on the Macbook.

I was hoping that someone had released an after-market to tweak Windows' font display, but I can't find one and no one here has mentioned any. I did find gdi++ and gdipp, which try to replace the GDI rendering engine. They were problematic. And, if I understand, Windows 7 uses DirectWrite in many instances, bypassing the gdi engine.

To clarify the "smearing": I see what looks like faint filaments between the strokes of some characters. Sometimes they seem to take on a color tint.

That would be my first issue. The second is the "see individual pixels" issue. The third is the appearance of clusters of extraneous black pixels near characters, e.g., attached to the beginning and ending strokes on a letter "S". The fourth is the rendering of large black texts. E.g., short strands of black pixels floating out from what should be a well-defined straight line, as in the top of the capital "T" or the left side of a capital "B". This is especially apparent in IE9.

I'm pretty sure the fonts are displaying as Microsoft intends. They look just like fonts in the screenshots in the promo pamphlet that came with Windows.
posted by justcorbly at 5:20 AM on December 25, 2011

What you want is GDI++.
posted by Senza Volto at 5:44 AM on December 25, 2011

When you say the resolution is set to the maximum, does that mean you have it set to 1680x1050, or something bigger? If it isn't set to the native resolution, it's going to look funny and there is no preventing it.

On a 20 inch screen with that resolution, you are going to see individual pixels. I have a 1680x1050 on a 15" notebook, and it starts to look pixelly if I get too close to the screen.
posted by gjc at 7:06 AM on December 25, 2011

gjc: Yep, it's at 1680x1050.

I captured a headline from the BBC news site on both Windows and the Mac, blown up to the max in IE9 and Safari. The Mac fonts don't show jags (effect of sub pixel rendering?) until they're zoomed to 600%. The jags are always visible on Windows. In other words, on the Mac at 100%, I don't see any aberrations. On Windows, I do. Both screens are at 1680x1050.
posted by justcorbly at 7:16 AM on December 25, 2011

Could you please share those screenshots? It's very hard to tell from here whether you're talking about the difference between Windows and Mac font rendering, or if your system is misconfigured. Windows 7 font rendering is capable. It is different from Mac, as discussed above, but it's not terrible. If things are working right your reaction might be "hmm, that doesn't look quite as good as I'm used to on my Mac" but it's not "omg awful".

Things to check (in order):

Display resolution matches LCD resolution (no scaling)
ClearType and font smoothing enabled in System Preferences
ClearType RGB order correct (subpixel rendering)

You may enjoy reading the Microsoft's typography site. It's well written by someone who really cares about typography. Also has some practical troubleshooting tips and screenshots of how things should look.

A whole different tack on this is which fonts you use. Try using Notepad or another native text editor to set some text in Calibri or one of the other ClearType Font Collection fonts. That should look very good; if it's ugly then something is wrong in your whole system. If that font looks good but some web sites don't, it's the web designer's fault. Some web sites use embedded fonts that aren't hinted properly to render well on Windows. For some of the gory details, see this TypeKit blog post and the rest of their blog.
posted by Nelson at 8:34 AM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

OK, here's a link to an image of two letters from the same headline. The Mac characters are on the left and the Windows on the right.

Thanks for the pointers, Nelson. How do you changes fonts in Windows? I go Control Panel --> Appearance and Personalization --> Font Settings, but my only options there are to hide fonts based on language and allow fonts to be installed with a shortcut. Nothing to actually select a font for Windows to use. I can list the fonts install, but, again, don't see an option to tell Windows to use a new font.
posted by justcorbly at 9:27 AM on December 25, 2011

In your first example, you don't even have modern font rendering (with sub-pixel rendering and the like) turned on at all on Windows. In your second example, it looks fine (but not tuned for my monitor obviously). Does it usually look more like the example in the first image?
posted by Yowser at 10:14 AM on December 25, 2011

Actually, in the second example, the Windows version is much, much easier to read. No contest...
posted by Yowser at 10:16 AM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yowser, how do I turn on "modern font rendering"? I've run Cleartype and tweaked the settings.

The larger the font, the more obvious the problem, which is why it's so noticeable in the first clip.
posted by justcorbly at 10:19 AM on December 25, 2011

Yowser, re: the second example --- not to my eyes. I see "artifacts" inside the lower case "A" and hanging off the lower case "S" and uppercase "M", for example. It's very apparent in IE9, less so here on Safari looking at the clip.
posted by justcorbly at 10:24 AM on December 25, 2011

A final example of 18pt Garamond from Typekit's sampler. Mac on top, Win on bottom.

Personal preference and some subjectivity play an obvious role in this, but the Window's display really does look annoyingly worse to me in each of these examples. It's especially noticeable in browsers. I've installed IE9, Chrome, Opera, Firefox and Safari and there's little real difference between them.
posted by justcorbly at 10:41 AM on December 25, 2011

If you want to get to the bottom of this, I'll suggest again: try testing in WordPad with the font set to Calibri. Launch WordPad, set the document font to Calibri 24, and type some text. That's about as good as Windows typography gets. Does it look nicely anti-aliased and hinted? If so your operating system is working right. If not, start tweaking operating systems settings in System Preferences. (Don't change the Windows system fonts in the control panel; the defaults are good and won't affect the web browser you're focussed on.)

Type rendering in the web browser is significantly more complicated, particularly once downloaded fonts like those from TypeKit are involved. In general TypeKit fonts, indeed most typographic design, looks better on Mac than Windows. The TypeKit guys have worked hard to make their fonts look better on Windows but iit's not perfect. The blog post I linked above has more technical info.

Your first example in Windows is ugly, I agree. The font looks like Arial, but it appears to not be anti-aliased at all. I can't tell you why unless it's some unusual software or a consequence of the color.

Your second example from the USA Today article looks like a classic example of the difference in font rendering philosophy of the two operating systems. The font appears to be straight-up Arial set via CSS; no TypeKit. I could argue that either rendering is "better"; the only really bad thing in that sample to my eyes is the indistinct baseline in the Windows sample. If it makes you feel better, a common complaint from people who switch from Windows to Mac say that Mac fonts all look wrong and blurry at first.
posted by Nelson at 12:14 PM on December 25, 2011

Thanks, Nelson. FYI, the first clip is from's homepage in IE9 It's Arial.

I did the Calibri 24 thing in WordPad. It look jaggy to me. C'est la vie. Fonts shouldn't have little bumps on them.
posted by justcorbly at 1:02 PM on December 25, 2011

I looked at your Garamond example, and it looks as if it's rendering as intended by Windows, so that looks as if everything's working as intended, so just not as you prefer.

As far as I'm aware, Safari on Windows uses the same font rendering system as Macs, so that would be a way for you to get it how you're expecting.

Just so you don't leave feeling totally dissatisfied, I feel I ought to say what standbythree said, that it is a trade off. In the Garamond example, the Windows texts definitely look more angular, but the es in the Mac version have really blurry bowls, so there's an example of the trade off.
posted by ambrosen at 5:05 AM on December 26, 2011

Going back to Lorin and Chocolate Pickle's comments, have you tried the ClearType tuner built into Windows 7? (right-click on desktop, personalize, display, adjust clear type)
posted by samsara at 11:16 AM on December 26, 2011

However unlikely, you may also want to run the following command to see if any of your default fonts have been replaced by other applications (start/run and type CMD, press CTRL+SHIFT+Enter to run as admin:

sfc /verifyonly > %userprofile%\desktop\output.log

(should take roughly 5-10 minutes to complete. output.log will be on your desktop when finished)
posted by samsara at 11:25 AM on December 26, 2011

ClearType has been on all along. Not running any bogus fonts. This is a clean and new Windows install, just a few days ago.

Here's an example from a minute ago from, clipped from IE9. (Other browser displays are no better.) I know Windows and Mac display fonts differently. But, regardless of approach, I think the font dispay in that image is just bad. It looks like what I saw in Linux years ago.
posted by justcorbly at 9:30 AM on December 27, 2011

Part of the problem with that page is they've done some really weird things in the CSS, including
letter-spacing: -.02em;
font: 13px/1.231 arial
It looks OK on Chrome on Mac, in part because I think Webkit is ignoring that stupid tight spacing. It's kind of ugly in Firefox on Mac

Out of curiosity, did you try Safari on Windows as ambrosen suggested? It deliberately has its own font rendering engine. I didn't like it back when I was a Windows user, but it may be what you want.
posted by Nelson at 12:54 PM on December 27, 2011

Yes, MSN does look better on the Mac. Odd that MS wouldn't take pains to make sure their site didn't look its best in their own browser.

I've had Safari, Chrome, Opera and Firefox installed all along. I'm not impressed with any of them, to be honest. To my eyes, they're all much better on OS X.

Two side side notes: When I change fonts in IE9, the "Apply" button doesn't light up as it should. And, when I configure ClearType, I swear I don't see any changes. There's an obvious change toggling it on and off, but little or no change when I configure it.

Ah, well.
posted by justcorbly at 1:22 PM on December 27, 2011

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