Windows Users: Turn on ClearType!

Windows Clear Type

I don’t normally do a lot of Windows tips, but in the interest of web beautification, here it goes.

If you’re using Windows, your computer is displaying text in a very crappy way, but it doesn’t have to. You have it in your power to turn on a feature called ClearType, which enables your computer to anti-alias text. I won’t bother with the technical details of how this works, but the end result in cleaner, smoother text.

I used my sidebar as an example. See how the heading, and list look very different with ClearType turned on?

In their infinite wisdom, Microsoft has chosen to turn this off by default, but it is extremely easy to turn on. But, you do need to be running Windows XP.

Go to your Start Menu, and select Control Panel. Then select Appearance and Themes. Then select Display. Select the Appearance tab, and click on Effects…. In the second pull-down menu, change it from Standard to ClearType. Click OK, and then click Apply.

Now all text in your system should look better. Your eyes, and web designers everywhere, will thank you.

Of course, you could just switch to a mac and skip all this silliness ;)

This tip inspired by this article at TUAW

10 thoughts on “Windows Users: Turn on ClearType!”

  1. Unfortunately, I think you’ll have to wait for Windows Vista before it’s on by default. I may be wrong, but I don’t think IE7 will do it on its own :(

  2. I’m a website designer and I really prefer STANDARD. I wish I could turnoff “font smoothing” all together on my Mac. Can only do it for font sizes 12 and smaller. CLEARTYPE is not clearer…it’s actually the opposite, in my opinion, and appears more blurry. Especially in the One Digital Life example above.

  3. @Paul: No, ClearType will be turned on system-wide in Vista – but IE7 will do it by defult, regardless of system prefrences – as a browser-specific setting:

    ClearType will be turned on by default in Windows Vista. Shipping ClearType on by default in IE7 gives non-Vista users of Internet Explorer the same improvement in reading online.

    ( Link )

    @Tinman: Well, that is true, because CT isn’t the best of font-smoothing techniques, but it still improves readability and looks less pixellated.

  4. ClearType is useless unless you are running at your monitor’s native resolution. Since I need more screen real estate, I use 1280X1024 instead of the native 1024×768.

    If I attempt to turn on ClearType, even with the tweaking utility, it just makes everything fuzzy in a bad way and I have to turn it off.

  5. All I know is that it’s a world of difference than what I saw before. Not that what I saw here was bad, it’s just new and improved. =)

  6. Keith, how odd?
    Like you, my native res is 1024×768, but I run it at 1280×1024. The screenshot above was taken at 1280×1024. I didn’t use any kind of tweaking utilty, i just turned it on (running Windows XP sp2).

  7. From what I know cleartype is meant for TFT monitors. This is due to the screen being made up by individual pixels, unlike a CRT. As other people have said, cleartype blurs the text and makes it look less blocky on a TFT. I have tried turning cleartype on with my CRT and I think it looks worse. Comparing your site on my screen with the Standard example above, I have to say mine looks no way near as bad as yours. It looks a cross between the two examples you have given and I’m happy with the way it is :)

  8. @paul

    When I turned it on it made everything blurry in a bad way. I have an LCD monitor so I figured it would work, but no. So I researched online and found some information that said if you weren’t running at your monitor’s native resolution, then ClearType wouldn’t work properly. That answer didn’t satisfy me because I should be able to have nice clear type on my nice LCD monitor. So I continued to read and found that Microsoft had released a tweaking utility to help you setup ClearType more precisely. I downloaded it and the visual options it gave for how my type should look were all ridiculously blurry in a bad way, some better than others, but none acceptable. So that is where I threw the towel in.

  9. cleartype is EVIL.

    cleartype is ok for ultra-dense laptop displays (i.e. 1600×1050 or higher for a 15″) or italic font. Fonts with crappy hinting generaly benefit from cleartype. Fonts with proper hinting like Tahoma or Arial generally get blurred.

    What is wrong with the cleartype implementation is that even straight lines get anti-aliased. And it is contrary to the aliasing idea, for a straight line cannot get aliased.

    The idea of subpixel rendering is one of a constant compromise. It is a compromise between resolution, contrast and color fringing. If text gets contrast it developes color fringes, no color fringes jeopardises resolution, resolution requires contrast – the circle is closed.

    In normal situation text consists of filled black outlines on a white paper. The contrast is full, i.e. 100% of what a device can bring. That’s the way we got used to reading books. If the text is of another color, especially a shade of gray, cleartype looks ok because we don’t expect the contrast to be high. The same goes for bold or large text – when there is plenty of blackness inside the letter we perceive the amount of contrast to be ok – it even looks better when the outline is blurred. Microsoft noticed that with standard smoothing in win98. What they didn’t notice is that when the font gets smaller, and you still try to blur it, letters in a word got merged and everything turns blurred.

    What cleartype is trying to do is to hide aliasing. Some people are distracted a lot by those jagged lines in N, V, W or A. It can really be annoying in a pseudo-handwritten or italic monospaced font, but usual fonts for reading a web page are hinted in a way only very few letters are jagged.

    I have just typed whole english alphabet in upper- and lowet-case totaling about 50 characters and of all of them about 8 had jagged edges. Is it really worth blurring another 42 to ease that?

    There is a sort of balance of people’s preferences, where some prefer contrasting vivid fonts and others get perplexed when they see a stair-like line. Of those two I lie somewhere in between, closer to the need of contrast. Though smooth looks prettier, is great for images and buttons, it tires eyes over a longer period.

    The point is as cleartype gets default in vista more and more web designers will start to set ugly fonts for their sites and one day we may wake without a properly hinted pretty font.

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