Mountain Lion and font rendering - samples inside

Discussion in 'OS X Mountain Lion (10.8)' started by v0n, Jul 29, 2012.

  1. v0n, Jul 29, 2012
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2012

    v0n macrumors member

    Mar 1, 2009
    After installation of Mountain Lion on my 2008 Mac Pro I immediately noticed font rendering issue, where in my experience most of the sans serif fonts in highlighted menus, in terminal and on websites appeared to be fatter, bolder, with fluffy edges and more iOS looking than my usual OSX I'm used to for years. To my surprise the usual trick of changing font smoothing by issuing command in terminal:
    defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 2
    didn't work and I would get reply:
    The domain/default pair of (kCFPreferencesAnyApplication, AppleFontSmoothing) 
    does not exist 
    despite the fact Font smoothing was enabled in System Preferences. Disabling font smoothing would revert fonts to their beautiful, smooth shape as I know it for years and smoothing tweak in terminal would work again, almost as if there was a bug and "font smoothing" setting in System Preferences of Mountain Lion worked in reverse to that of Lion - unticking would enable it, ticking would disable it. Bear with me for a second though, this post is not just about smoothing option in prefs.

    The weird thing is - when I popped in to discuss this issue on one of the UK computer forums, and shown them screen shots, rather large number of people said I got it all wrong, and OSX should be displaying everything in bolder font and that they never experienced it looking any different!
    It's a surprise to me, I have three macs at home, 7 macs at work, never experienced this font boldness bug before on any of the OSX's, to be honest, I couldn't work or stand it for more than 5 minutes, but I thought it would be interesting to see what mac community thinks about it.

    So, macinoshians - which of the following do you see on your Mountain Lion screens and which do you think is "normal" OSX look.

    Example 1 - front page of this great site in Safari:
    Top. Mountain Lion on my MP08 default, smoothing in System Preferences
    Bottom. The way Lion on my MP08 and every mac in my life see it

    As a benchmark - for comparison:
    from left to right:
    1. Mountain Lion 2. Lion default/Mountain Lion with smoothing off 3. MS Windows smoothing 4. No smoothing at all

    Example 2: terminal (iTerm)
    Top. Mountain Lion default, smoothing in System Preferences on
    Bottom. Lion default, smoothing in System Preferences on

    Example 3 - fragment of steampowered "news" page:
    Top. Mountain Lion default, smoothing in System Preferences on
    Bottom. Lion default, smoothing in System Preferences on

    So, to me, all "top" examples look wrong. However, a lot of people I asked today claim they have never seen OSX looking any different than the "top" examples.
    What's your take on it - let's not quote the pictures, just point top/ML look or bottom/Lion look. If your Mountain Lion doesn't look like my screenshots, but looks like my screenshots of Lion, post it too - there will be some bug report to fill. :)
  2. v0n thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 1, 2009
    I guess I was the only one with this bug then? :D
  3. gymrat2k macrumors newbie


    Jul 28, 2012
    I experienced the same thing upgrading from Lion to ML. Noticed the "fatter" fonts immediately on ML, but not a show stopping bug. Also not a large enough problem to warrant the thorough research to try to change back to the default/previous appearance.

    Enough interest in the matter to subscribe to this thread though :)
  4. MyRomeo macrumors 6502


    Jul 22, 2010
    United Kingdom
    Can't say that I have noticed but I shall check when back home later.
  5. MacRenegade macrumors member

    Mar 26, 2008
    Well, the bold version is the default rendering setting for Macs, so assume that's what most people are familiar with. I however, just like you, can't stand that bold version and have been using the lighter one for several years.

    The bold version doesn't even make sense. Why antialias black text using all the colors of the rainbow? The lighter setting always antialiases text using shades of the text color.

    I have not experienced the bug you're talking about, though.

    Also, since you have to get close to the screen to really see the difference, almost compare pixels, a higher quality JPEG setting would be better, or just use PNG as they are OS screenshots and not photographs (which would take a lot of space in the PNG format).
  6. mabaker macrumors 65816


    Jan 19, 2008
    That was the very first thing I noticed after upgrading. At first it was annoying but I am kind of getting used to it as the hours go by.

    It looks cleaner this way, but to experience the cleanerness you need a good monitor.
  7. Fumoffu macrumors newbie

    Jun 12, 2012
    It's the first thing i noticed when i installed Mountain Lion.

    I have never seen OSX looking any different than the "BOTTOM" examples (i've had Macbook Pro, Mac Pro and Mac Mini).

    Thanks for giving me the solution, i disabled font smoothing and now i have my "traditional" fonts, I would have hated these new fat fonts...
  8. borostef macrumors 6502


    Feb 10, 2012
    Zagreb, Croatia
    The same thing happened to me after upgrading from Lion to Mountain Lion.
  9. Beta Particle macrumors 6502a

    Jun 25, 2012
    You appear to have had subpixel font rendering disabled on Lion, using the "Best for CRT" font rendering. That is absolutely not how fonts are supposed to look in OS X on a flat panel display.

    My guess is that they have finally removed the legacy font rendering options from OS X. (I am not at a Mac to check right now)

    Previously, you were able to choose from:
    • Best for CRT
    • Light
    • Medium - best for Flat Panel
    • Strong
    Then the option was changed to "Use LCD font smoothing when available" which was equivalent to the old "Medium" setting.

    The reason for this, is that they switched to hardware accelerated font rendering, but did not port over the older rendering options.

    You were able to select the older options by using a terminal command, but then fonts were rendered via software rendering, with lower performance.

    Especially with Mountain Lion being designed with Retina-capable Macs in mind, I would have to imagine that they have now removed the software-based options for performance reasons, or possibly because they are no longer relevant at that kind of pixel density.

    It makes sense because monitors display images using RGB subpixels. Utilising this subpixel structure allows for much better font rendering, at the expense of potential color fringing on the edges of text if you sit too close.

  10. matrix07 macrumors 601


    Jun 24, 2010
    I prefer the top one, which looks like evrything on iOS.
  11. doug in albq Suspended

    doug in albq

    Oct 12, 2007
    Hmmm, I entered this setting for light rendering....

    defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 1

    and it worked for me...I could instantly see the difference. This on 10.8


    Mac OS X 10.6 simplified the font smoothing (anti-aliasing) for Mac OS X and all apps within it, but for some the change is unwelcome. If you feel like your screen looks different, it probably does, and the change can be very profound on certain LCD displays. Using the Terminal we can adjust the font smoothing to the same precision that we could prior to 10.6, so launch the Terminal and enter the following command:

    defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 2

    the 2 on the end is for medium smoothing which used to be called ‘best for flat panel’, 1 is for light smoothing, and 3 is for strong smoothing. After you execute the command you’ll want to reload the Finder and other apps that are open to see the changes in effect, you can reload the Finder by killing it:

    killall Finder

    Now your font smoothing will be reflected in the settings you chose.
  12. warpmoon macrumors newbie

    Jun 7, 2009
    I installed 10.8 yesterday and instantly saw this issue. Highly annoying!

    Turning font smoothing off is the only option that has worked for me so far, setting the AppleFontSmoothing to anything from 1 to 3 has not helped.
  13. Lri, Aug 30, 2012
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2012

    Lri macrumors newbie

    Jul 22, 2011
    defaults write -g AppleFontSmoothing -int 0 should also disable LCD font smoothing (subpixel rendering). You have to reopen applications to apply the changes. The key could also be overridden in ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost/.GlobalPreferences.*.plist.

    Adding an AppleFontSmoothing key still works at least on non-Retina displays. Can you point out to any sources that it would disable hardware accelerated text rendering?
  14. Beta Particle macrumors 6502a

    Jun 25, 2012
    I can’t seem to find anything now, with Google prioritising recent articles on searches these days.

    Back when Snow Leopard came out, I seem to recall reading that this is the reason why the other font smoothing options were removed.
  15. anentropic macrumors newbie


    Nov 6, 2011
    Each time I upgrade OS X I have to Google this hack again... the two apps I find most affected by the fuzzy bold fonts problem are Sublime Text 2 and iTerm2. I just had to look again now I'm on Mavericks...

    I'm not sure why this works for some people, not for me:
    defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 1

    Same with turning off 'LCD font smoothing'... that just makes the Chrome address bar look ugly, prefer it switched on.

    The command that fixes things for me is:
    defaults write -g AppleFontSmoothing -int 0
  16. brdeveloper macrumors 68020


    Apr 21, 2010
    I'm really annoyed with the new in Mavericks. On my C2D Macbook, sometimes font smoothness takes around one second to be applied after scrolling. That makes me think I have a kind of eye impairment. Really annoying reading PDFs. Is there a way to reinstall Snow Leopard's Preview? I've tried every solution posted here but, although they doesn't seem to work with Preview. I think this new Mavericks iOS-like feature "drag to update" made things worse. Now, any subtle dragging movement caused by two-fingers scrolling triggers the font-smoothing process.
  17. porg macrumors member

    Dec 3, 2008
    I prefer the bottom look.

    I have been sticking with Mac OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard (on a MBP 2.1 and recently a MBP 4.1) until now (January 2015), but am considering upgrading to the final 10.9.5 Mavericks or the current 10.10.1 Yosemite. I still hesitate as I have only 2 reasons for upgrading: One particular app (AnteType) which requires 10.8 and the fact that 10.6.8 doesn't receive security patches anymore since about March 2014.

    The descriptions here help me to isolate when this ugly font rendering (@v0n) and badly performing graphics zoom (@brdeveloper) algorithms were introduced: 10.8 Mountain Lion. This is a massive regression!

    On my MBP 4.1 with an SSD, running 10.6.8 as my main OS (blazingly fast!), I tested both 10.9 and 10.10 on separate volumes on the same SSD, and noticed 10.10 's overall horrible font rendering (and a lot more bugs)!

    Additionally I noticed in both 10.9 and 10.10, that during loading and zooming of pictures in and also in QuickLook you can notice the graphics redrawing process. It takes about a 0.25-0.5 seconds — an eternity for a modern GPU / CPU !!!
    Apple, are you serious?! This looks like the interlaced PNG / GIF image loading process over slow modem connections in the 1990ies! What a massive step back! 3rd party apps such as Xee don't show this laggy zooming behavior!

    Also QuickLook in 10.9.5 and 10.10 loads and previews files massively laggier than in 10.6.8:
    1) (off topic): Sequentially skipping through a set of large resolution images or PDFs is slower on 10.9, and even slower on 10.10. Damn it, these files must be loaded instantly from an SSD. On 10.6.8 it does perform instant, no lag noticeable! I viewed the very same picture-folder of my internal SSD, just booted into different OS versions, each residing on its own volume on the SSD!
    2) (on topic): Again if you resize QuickLook's window or toggle zooming to 1:1 via the ALT-key, the screen redrawing during and after the zoom is annoyingly noticeable! Damn it, this file is in memory! It seems that and QuickLook use the same sucky graphics zooming engine (Quartz, I guess).
    The "quick" in QuickLook lost its value.

    To me as a Pro user, Mac OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard is the best Mac OS ever! I've been working with Macs since 1992 and have experienced each OS revision in daily use, except 10.0. On my MBP 2.1 and now a MBP 4.1, both retrofitted with an SSD, 10.6.8 has been the snappiest and most stable OS, its feature set is great and quality control was at its best: No seriously annoying bugs in daily usage over years, plus even the finest details were thought through, which was always a joy!

    Throughout using my Mac, user experience was always an interest of me, I've been in media arts and a system admin, and scripter/hacker. Since 2012 I'm an interaction designer by profession, designing Desktop business software, Mobile Apps and lately also a Web Platform and Web App.

    10.7 and 10.8 no doubt brought improvements for novices computer users such as "Resume", "Versioning" and a lot of iDevice/iCloud interoperability stuff. But for Pro users it brought no significant new features. Thus I deliberately skipped them.

    10.9 with its power saving improvements (app nap) and also many other long due technical improvements under the hood, sounded promising to me. But during 2013/2014 (10.9 Mavericks and 10.10 Yosemite era, so to speak), I was quite busy with family, thus in professional life, I had no time to test out the new OSes intensively before doing a switch, and could not risk loosing my highly efficient work environment: MBP 4.1, SSD, OS X 10.6.8.

    Now I had the time to test 10.9 and 10.10 and it was disappointing! Apple's claims to still take its Mac line serious, besides their meanwhile main business iDevices & cloud/media/appstore service provider, does not hold true to me, as others also notice.

    This is really a pity. As an interaction designer not wanting to become biased, I always also worked with Windows and Linux, but throughout the Mac always remained superior, always remained my main productivity system. Now the Mac platform gets more and more bugs and design flaws. This is sad, as I see no serious alternative for my needs. Until Mac OS X 10.6.8 Apple has satisfied me very well. Due to lack of alternatives I will upgrade and remain with the Mac, but there is no joy of use in it anymore, and as soon as a serious alternative shows up, I'm gone!

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