Holy Moly! Help Me Fix These Awful Windows Fonts!!
July 31, 2013 4:03 PM   Subscribe

About two years ago, I asked here if or how font rendering in Windows could be improved. None of the answers changed anything. Now, I'm working with a new Windows 7 install and the quality of the font rendering is still poor. Here are the stats: Nvidia 550ti card, with the current driver from Nvidia; Dell U2410 24-inch LCD monitor; Windows is set at the monitor's native resolution 1920x1200; font smoothing is on; ClearType has been tweaked. Font rendering still comes in a distant third behind OS X and Ubuntu systems. With my eyes parked 3 feet away, I can easily see stepped curves in headline characters. The monitor's sharpness is at 30 percent. If I set it higher, individual pixels become obvious. I know Windows takes its own approach to font rendering. But, that does not mean it is designed to make on-screen text look ugly and amateurish. Do people at Redmond put up with this? So... what can be done? I want non-spindly, smooth, clear characters. Can I get them?
posted by justcorbly to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
gdipp is definitely what you're looking for. It glitches with certain programs (Chrome, Steam), but the config file is easy to understand and edit.
posted by jmfitch at 4:08 PM on July 31, 2013

How is the monitor connected? It should be connected over a digital connection(dvi, displayport, etc), and then i believe most of the monitor controls (sharpness, etc) should be disabled.
posted by TheAdamist at 4:08 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mainly, it depends on the font that's being used. I'm using a default Windows Vista installation here on a 15-inch 1920x1200 laptop screen, and it's rendered well below pixel level in what, I think, is Verdana. Unlike OS-X, Windows will respect the bone-headed hinting requests of fonts not to anti-alias below certain pixel (or maybe even point) sizes, which may well be the problem here, and is certainly a problem on my work machine.
posted by ambrosen at 4:22 PM on July 31, 2013

It's a DVD-D connection. I see no way to disable the monitor controls. I can't control fonts used on the web.
posted by justcorbly at 4:29 PM on July 31, 2013

Yes, you can control the antialiasing of fonts, and fonts themselves, on the web. Also, as you're using a digital connection, you should have Sharpness set to 0 if it is indeed able to be enabled at all - all it really acts as is an 'edge enhancement' which shouldn't be necessary when you're using a 1:1 pixel-accurate connection such as digital.
posted by destructive cactus at 5:18 PM on July 31, 2013

This issue bothers me too, and I unfortunately don't have a great fix. A lot of people, especially those who have used Windows for a long time don't notice it, so be prepared for that in this thread. One thing I'll say is that you will probably get used to it, at least for some fonts at sizes you see in body text.

For serif fonts, and especially for larger text, the problem is that Windows' antialiasing algorithm is not very good, so you get jaggies. Something like gdipp is designed to fix this, but I haven't personally tried that, as I don't like messing with my systems.

For the web browser, you can try using Firefox or IE10 (which is actually pretty good.) They both use the newer DirectWrite API that is much better at rendering fonts than the older GDI API.

Here's a quick comparison for you, on Beautiful Web Type, with Chrome on the left and Firefox on the right. Load up Firefox or IE10, and check out the rendering and see if you like it better.

Fortunately, progress is finally being made on bringing DirectWrite to Chrome.

That doesn't help much with the rest of the OS, but if you're like me, it's where you spend most of your time anyway.
posted by !Jim at 5:35 PM on July 31, 2013

Do you have ClearType enabled? For it to really look right, you have to go through a tuning process. If you don't do that, you get the defaults and they may not look the way you want.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:35 PM on July 31, 2013

Seriously guys, try gdipp.
posted by jmfitch at 6:28 PM on July 31, 2013

Stepping back from technical considerations for a moment…

Have you ever seen type on a Windows machine that appealed to you? Have you got reasonable expectations of what is possible to tweak, and what is simply baked into the operating system? (As you're probably aware most Windows users typically think type on a Mac looks blurry, whereas Mac users think type on a Windows PC look pixellated).

If you haven't already I'd suggest you take a look at the screenshots that Typekit publishes for all the web fonts that it serves. In particular look at any of the recommended for paragraphs fonts. Compare the 27 different screenshots under the Browser Samples tab (direct link not possible) of different combinations of operating system and browser. You might quickly conclude that you're just not going to be happy with the way Windows displays type, no matter how much tweaking you do.

(On preview gdipp looks really interesting - perhaps you might be satisfied after all)
posted by puffmoike at 6:38 PM on July 31, 2013

It's possible to set Cleartype to be blurry, but that isn't the default. You have to go through the Cleartype Tuner.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:42 PM on July 31, 2013

The pixel size of a 1920x1200 monitor at 24 inches and at three feet away seems like it would make smooth rendering impossible. By my math, that's only 96 pixels per inch. You can't anti-alias beyond the physical pixel. (Well, you can, but you trade color fringing for aliasing. That's what ClearType does.)

Have you plugged a Mac into this monitor and checked how mac fonts look on it? Because one of the reasons Macs look so good is that they generally have screens with very dense pixels. My notebook has a 15.4" 1680 x 1050 screen (130 pixels per inch), and my non-perfect vision notwithstanding, I can see no aliasing at two feet away on any truetype kind of font.
posted by gjc at 2:40 AM on August 1, 2013

Also, according to puffmoike's link, different applications render fonts differently. Firefox on windows, for example, looks like garbage, while Internet Explorer looks fine.
posted by gjc at 2:49 AM on August 1, 2013

And following on from gjc remember that different fonts will render differently as well.

Unfortunately Typekit don't also have screengrabs for the most commonly used web fonts like Georgia, Arial and Verdana. I've suggested that they should, even though they don't serve those fonts, because the most common reaction of a Mac/Windows user on seeing any font rendered on the other system is 'ewww'. The temptation is to dismiss the font, when the reality is that any font is likely to look terrible because the underlying technology of the other system renders all fonts so differently than what you're used to.
posted by puffmoike at 4:27 AM on August 1, 2013

Gjc: I've used the Dell as an external monitor for my Macbook. The fonts are different than on the Macbook but better than I see in Windows. I take the point about DPI, but no high DPI desktop monitors are in the consumer market. I also understand different OS's take different approaches to rendering. Still, I see pixellation, stepladdered curves, varying tones of black in large bold characters, etc.

Mactype & dgipp: Tried them. Some improvement, but kerning, or at least simple horizontal spacing, was very poor. E.g., Mactype put a full character space after every lower-case 'w'. Both projects appear to be abandoned, as well.

Monitor sharpness at 0: Way too murky! On a 0-100 scale, 30 is as low as I can tolerate.
posted by justcorbly at 6:11 AM on August 4, 2013

I don't have a screenshot, but I did come across this image from an Ars Technica piece on high-dpi scaling in Windows 8.1. Ars noted the "pixelated images and text". (They were using a 221dpi Toshiba laptop at a native 2560x1440, with the window rendered at 150 percent then resized to be about the same size as a window rendered at 100 percent.)

That image looks much like my screen.
posted by justcorbly at 7:47 AM on August 4, 2013

These screengrab examples from H&FJ (superstars of typography) offer a quick way to compare how a variety of carefully optimised web typefaces of different sizes display in various browsers on Windows and Mac.
posted by puffmoike at 9:39 PM on August 5, 2013

The HF&J fonts do look OK, at least on this 2nd generation iPad. Aren't most sites going to continue using some variation of "Helvetica, Arial, Sans-Serif", though?

Then, there's the issue of Windows own interface.
posted by justcorbly at 5:07 AM on August 6, 2013

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