Fuzzy text: OS X or display?

Discussion in 'macOS' started by Sam Spade, Oct 12, 2007.

  1. Sam Spade macrumors regular

    Aug 30, 2007
    I've been waiting on the Leopard release to purchase my first Mac. In the meantime, I've been stopping by the Apple store when I'm in the area and demo'ing OS X.

    Something that I've consistently noticed at both local Apple stores is fuzzy text on all the machines - macbooks, ACD's, and iMacs. The ACD's are the worst. Is this a problem with OS X?

    In my home, I have four Windows machines - a Thinkpad, HP laptop, 15" Dell LCD, and a Samsung 21" 213T. On all of these, the text is very crisp and clear.

    I really want to transition to OS X, but fuzzy text is a deal-breaker for me. What's the problem?
  2. Scarlet Fever macrumors 68040

    Scarlet Fever

    Jul 22, 2005
    Do you reckon this text is fuzzy?

    Attached Files:

  3. psychofreak Retired


    May 16, 2006
    For me at least, text smoothing is a get-used-to thing...whenever I use an OS for a long period of time and then use another one, I'm not happy with the text smoothing at first, and then gradually my eyes grow accustomed to it...
  4. Sam Spade thread starter macrumors regular

    Aug 30, 2007
    At the Apple store, one employee agreed that the text looked fuzzy on the machines and attributed it to the fact that Apple displays "are HD and HD displays have a hard time smoothing out text." Uh, ok.

    The other two employees, who both use Macs at home, claimed that the text looked normal to them. I went out to the car and got my Thinkpad and we did a side-by-side comparison. The difference was night and day. The Thinkpad display is much more clear and crisp. They seemed shocked at the difference, but could offer no explanation except that it was some sort of characteristic of OS X.
  5. Not-a-cliche macrumors regular

    Sep 24, 2007

    After using a Mac, Windows font "smoothing" looks DISGUSTING to me.
  6. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    Next time you're at an apple store, go poke around in the Appearance system pref and select a different Font Smoothings. And remember that the changes do NOT take effect until you quit and re-open an application, so you need to quit whatever you're testing with, change the setting, save that, and re-open.

    Play around and see what you think.

    Here's a blog article from a while back discussing exactly this issue:


    ...but I think it's really a matter of taste. See, for me, on their example screenshots, the safari one is EASIER to read, not blurrier, and the Windows one is harder to read and uglier, not easier.

    As I understand it, the issue is that there are three ways to go about displaying text on a screen.

    1) Pixel-accurate. This only works for fonts bitmapped at the exact pixel dimensions on a screen. It is of course "perfectly" crisp, since there is no partially colored pixels, but it's also somewhat jagged (and doesn't work for all but pre-expected font sizes). This is the old Windows XP default (ClearType off).

    2) Antialiased with preference given to the pixel grid. This sacrifices a bit of the shape of the character so that it's better aligned with the grid of pixels onscreen, and therefore sharper. This is what Windows ClearType does.

    3) Antialiased with preference given to the shape of characters. This sacrifices a bit of sharpness to keep characters looking, shape wise, more accurate. This is what the MacOS does at sizes above the no-anti-alias you set in System Preferences.

    Thing is that people--particularly, it would seem, those who've used Windows for a long time--prefer #2. Graphics-type people, who have an attachment to the appearance of words even if it sacrifices a bit of readability, and generally those who've used Macs for a while, tend to prefer #3.

    I use plenty of all of the above, and it's interesting; I VASTLY prefer #3, both because it's prettier AND because I find it easier to read--the darker letters are just easier for me to process for some reason. Maybe it has to do with my particular monitor settings, or my glasses or something.

    Further, given the choice between #1 and #2 (specifically, ClearType on or off in Windows), I always choose #1--yes, it's jagged and ugly, but at least on the screens I use ClearType ends up looking sort of faint and significantly harder to read.

    If you're in the #3 camp, which it sounds like you are, your best bet is to go into the Appearance system pref and select a different Font Smoothing style--probably Standard or Light rather than Medium or Strong, and set the "Turn off text smoothing for font sizes..." to the maximum value.
  7. Sam Spade thread starter macrumors regular

    Aug 30, 2007
    This is exactly the problem. Reading web pages in Safari drives me nuts! Does Firefox have the same font issue on the Mac?
  8. portent macrumors 6502a

    Feb 17, 2004
    Yes, all fonts on the Mac are rendered in the WYSIWYG style.
  9. Templex macrumors regular

    Jul 12, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    I used an eMac for 3 years until it died in November 2005 (long story). Between then and June 2007 (when I got my MBP), I used a Windows computer. When I first used my MBP, I thought that the fonts were horrible and blurry, but after two days, it looked way better than Windows' fonts. Now, fonts with ClearType appear too faint for me, and I prefer the way that OS X renders fonts -- it's much easier to read. You just need to get used to it.
  10. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    As said, FireFox uses the same font rendering engine as the rest of the OS.

    You can, however, try what I suggested: Go to the Appearance pref pane and mess around with the minimum smoothed size and the level of font smoothing used. It won't exactly mimic ClearType, but it will at least make some difference, and you may prefer one of the other settings (say, Light or CRT) to the default.

    If that's not doing it for you, try downloading TinkerTool and setting the minimum smoothed size to something huge; this will force all screen fonts to be bitmapped, and as long as you're using a hinted font, it'll be pretty crisp.

  11. zub3qin macrumors 65816


    Apr 10, 2007
    I noticed the same thing 6 mos ago when I switched from Dell to Mac.
    I couldn't understand why the Macs were so blurry.. The weird thing is that after one day of using my Mac, it wasn't blurry anymore. Now when I use my Dell, I find the fonts to be too noisy... So I don't think it is really blurry or unclear, it is some sort of optical illusion that you adapt to very very quickly, and find much more readable than the Windows fonts. It is just that you are so used to seeing Windows fonts that it takes some adjustment.

    Trust me- Mac fonts are much easier to read.
  12. seanneko macrumors member

    Sep 2, 2007
    Actually, the opposite is true. Mac renders fonts with the goal of preserving the overall design of the font face, whereas Windows makes sacrifices to keep the font easy on the eyes.

    Mac fonts are nicer to look at, but for actually reading the text, Windows is superior.
  13. Alloye macrumors 6502a

    Apr 11, 2007
    Rocklin, CA
    I'd say that's arguable. While ClearType rendering does make fonts look sharper, I don't find the result inherently more readable.
  14. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    I have to agree with Alloye, seanneko--the THEORY behind ClearType-style rendering versus shape-preserving OSX-style rendering is that ClearType should be easier to read. That doesn't mean it's the case for all users

    As I said earlier, I've used all three styles, and for me, on the monitors I've tried it on, ClearType is the hardest to read--appearance completely aside. ClearType looks more pleasing than completely non-antialiased type, but it's so faint that I find it difficult to actually read. The "heavier" looking OSX-style rendering, for my eyes, on my monitor, is easier to read.

    This wouldn't be true for all sizes, of course--there are some situations, particularly with very small fonts (I believe that the blog article I linked demonstrated this) for which Apple-style smoothing is horribly blurry and almost completely unreadable.

    Come to think of it, I wonder if that hasn't got as much to do with the proliferation of really small fonts on some websites as the 96-vs-72 dpi thing...

    [Edit: I just had another, largely unrelated thought; due to bloom issues with dark fonts on light backgrounds vs. light fonts on dark backgrounds, I could imagine a situation where the lower relative weight of ClearType rendering would make white text on black background easier to read, where it would wash out with black text on white backgrounds. I wonder if that has something to do with it as well--an issue that might be exacerbated by brighter monitors, and possibly even the different default gamma setting on a Mac.]
  15. givemeyourshoes macrumors newbie

    Nov 28, 2007
    was clear, went fuzzy...

    My girlfriend has had a ton of problems with her macbook and they finally replaced it. Now, with the new one that she has had for about three months the text just started going fuzzy about two days ago. Its been clear untill then. And its not super blurry, just enough to notice it. I thought she was crazy at first, than I sat down with it for a few min to view some stuff and noticed it myself. Its pretty sucky. I checked all the prefs for font smoothing and restarted all the apps running and it still did it. Any ideas?
  16. dpaanlka macrumors 601


    Nov 16, 2004
    The Mac OS X font smoothing isn't a "problem" it's a preference - many prefer it the Mac OS X way. I'm sure once you've used it continuously for awhile you'll begin to appreciate it.

    Windows font smoothing in Internet Explorer drives me crazy, with its manhandling of all the quaint features of the fonts.
  17. imfrog2002 macrumors 6502

    Oct 20, 2007
    On my MacBook, I use dual-monitors. On my MacBook screen, everything is fairly crisp, and easy to read. On my second monitor, a HP, it's EXTREMELY blurry. It's just the DPI settings. I need font smoothing off on my HP, but on on my Mac. It's all in the display. I just turned it off, and I have to use the second monitor, as my Macbook makes it impossible to read, IMO. Totally the display.
  18. Avatar74 macrumors 65816


    Feb 5, 2007
    It's funny we're all talking about font smoothing here and haven't taken one very important factor into consideration:

    The truth is, LCD's just plain blow when it comes to imaging clarity.

    I have a 19" Sony FD Trinitron CRT... Sure, it weighs about 40 pounds but it is hands down one of the crispest displays you will ever find. It is leaps and bounds above the best LCD. LCD's simply have crappy contrast, clarity and color representation when compared to traditional cathode ray tubes.

    Apple's font smoothing looks decent on an LCD... Personally, I like it. I think that after many hours in front of a computer screen, softer fonts are easier on the eyes. The image on an OS X display tends to look more like print than video... and over time I find most people's eyes feel more comfortable reading text on OS X for long stretches of time than on Windows. Frankly, I feel like Windows fonts are going to jab my eye out. To me, Windows fonts aren't crisp at all. The edges are well-defined but they're not smooth.

    It also depends on the typeface... if I understand correctly, some older typefaces are still bitmap based and newer fonts are vector-based. Vector-based fonts are, in principle, infinitely scalable and are not subject to aliasing. Granted, vector based fontmaps are the ones that will hold up whether large or small... bitmap ones won't.

    In the end, while Apple's fonts look good to me on an LCD, they look absolutely stunning on a CRT... and most particularly on a Sony Trinitron, the gold standard of consumer displays for 40 years (Trinitron was also the reference standard for NTSC/NTSC-M). If you can still get your hands on an HMD-A440, I strongly suggest it... your eyes will love you for it.
  19. dpaanlka macrumors 601


    Nov 16, 2004
    Maybe the LCDs you're using but I always liked the fact that I could easily distinguish every single pixel on an LCD and find them to be much sharper than even the high end Sony, NEC, and AppleVision CRTs I used to have.
  20. slack333 macrumors newbie

    Jan 1, 2008
    I know this topic has been discussed in lots of places, so apologies, but i can't seem to find an answer.

    I'm having exactly the same problems as Sam Spade - I've just bought a Mac Pro and Benq FP241W, and the picture quality is amazing, but the text's are fuzzy and horrible.

    The screenshots above from Scarlet Fever and Not-a-cliche are perfect, that's just what I'm aiming for, but not getting. What displays/settings do you have? Or can anyone else recommend display/settings that give those screenshots?

    I have been to System Preferences and nothing changes when I change the text smoothing options (do I have to reboot or something?). I have literally tried every combination, and there's not even the remotest of changes.

    People are saying you get used to it after a few days, but I presume they're talking about getting used to the screenshots above as they're different to windows? I prefer those Screenshots to Windows, but my texts are all fuzzy. If I knew how to take a screenshot, i could upload an image.

    Someone said that HD monitors struggle to smooth text, so should I downgrade to a standard 24" monitor?

    Sorry for all the info, I would really appreciate any comments on the matter, I feel I've wasted my money at the moment, thank you!
  21. rhyndu macrumors regular

    Dec 17, 2007
    A Planet Orbiting Sol!
    You can take a screenshot using Grab, located in Macintosh HD -> Applications -> Utilities -> Grab.
  22. Mitthrawnuruodo Moderator emeritus


    Mar 10, 2004
    Bergen, Norway
    There are better ways than using Grab: Command-Shift-4, then space, then click a window: Take a screenshot of a window and save it as a file on the desktop

    As to settings, try another setting in System Preference -> Appearance:

  23. clevin macrumors G3


    Aug 6, 2006
    it does not change the situation as much as significant enough.

    Font rendering is different than windows. Some mac users might claim it to be better, and indeed some users prefer it as well.

    but truth to be told, increasing font size whenever you can on a mac is good for your on-screen reading. imho
  24. slack333 macrumors newbie

    Jan 1, 2008
    Thanks for your responses.

    I've just taken a screenshot and opened it up on my other old monitor and everything looks perfect, so I'm guessing it's the HD benq fp241w that has a hard time font smoothing in OS X?

    I've adjusted the text smoothing settings lots and they make no difference unfortunately.

    What 24" monitors are good? What does everyone have that gives perfect clarity? I guess non-HD, if it's the HD causing the problems
  25. Mitthrawnuruodo Moderator emeritus


    Mar 10, 2004
    Bergen, Norway
    Possibly... one question though: Are you running the monitor at its native resolution (1900 x 1200, isn't it)? If not that should make (not just) the text extremely fuzzy...

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