Microsoft

Get a better view in Windows 7 by adjusting DPI scaling

The DPI Scaling tool will allow you to bump up the size of text and other graphical elements so that they better fit on widescreen monitors.

Do you have a video card along with a widescreen LCD monitor that has a native resolution that is so high that text and other graphical elements, such as icons, appear small? If so, chances are that you've lowered the resolution a couple of notches to make it a bit easier to see. However, doing so isn't an ideal solution, because most of these setups don't look all that great when configured at a setting that is lower than the LCD's native resolution.

Fortunately, with Windows 7's DPI Scaling tool, you can use your widescreen monitor at its native resolution and still make the text more easily readable and other graphical elements larger. In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to get a better view by taking advantage of the DPI Scaling tool.

This blog post is also available as a Slideshow Screenshot Gallery.

The deal with DPI

DPI stands for Dots Per Inch and is a measurement of resolution. While DPI is a more appropriate measurement for printing and PPI, which stands for Pixels Per Inch, is a more appropriate measurement for monitors, DPI is the more commonly used term.

In the case of monitors, DPI refers to the number of pixels present per inch of the screen. Of course, it is more common to think of monitors as having a screen resolution. For example, a screen resolution of 800 x 600 is made up of 480,000 pixels while a screen resolution of 1280 x 1024 is made up of 1.3 million pixels. Of course, the higher resolution renders a much better image than a lower resolution, but since the number of pixels per inch of screen is greater, graphical elements such as fonts or icons tend to be smaller.

The default DPI scale setting in Windows 7 is 96 DPI, and it is an old standard. While this setting has served us well for a number of years, the higher resolutions now supported by widescreen monitors mean that the default setting of 96 DPI may not be an optimal setting. Widescreen monitors typically have a native pixel density of 120 DPI and 144 DPI.

To overcome this problem, Windows 7's DPI Scaling tool will allow you to bump up the size of text and other graphical elements, like icons, so that they better fit the native DPI on widescreen monitors while retaining their higher resolution clarity.

Changing the DPI Scaling

To change the DPI Scaling setting, click the Start button, type Display in the Search box, and choose Display in the Control Panel section of the results, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

You'll choose Display in the Control Panel section.
Once you see the Display screen, as shown in Figure B, you'll notice that the default setting is at Smaller - 100%. You'll also notice that there is a Preview image showing an approximation of how the screen looks at each one of the available settings.

Figure B

There is a Preview image showing an approximation of how the screen looks at each one of the available settings.
You can select the Medium - 125% button to move up to 120 DPI or you can select the Larger - 150% button to boost the DPI to 144 DPI. The one that you select will depend on your video card and widescreen monitor. When you select a higher DPI scale, you'll see a warning message appear at the bottom of the screen, as shown in Figure C. Don't worry though, if you don't like it, you can easily change the setting back. When you click Apply, you'll be prompted to log off and will have to log back on before the new DPI setting will take effect.

Figure C

When you select a higher DPI scale, you'll see a warning message appear at the bottom of the screen.

Using a custom DPI setting

If one of the available DPI settings doesn't yield satisfactory results or if you just want to experiment a little, you can click Set Custom Text Size (DPI). When you do, you'll see the Custom DPI Setting dialog box, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

If the available settings don't yield satisfactory results, you can experiment with a Custom DPI Setting.
There are several ways that you can create a custom DPI setting:You can click the drop-down arrow and select one of the preset percentages from the list, you can type a percentage value in the text box, or you can click and drag the ruler to increase the DPI to whatever percentage you want. As you can see, the default setting is 100%, which is 96 DPI. At the bottom of the ruler you'll see some example text that shows you what the 9-point Segoe UI font will look like at 96 pixels per inch -- which essentially is 96 DPI. Table A lists all the preset percentages in the drop-down list and the accompanying DPI setting.

Table A

Percentage

DPI Setting

100

96

125

120

150

144

200

192

It's a good idea to give a couple of the preset percentages a try before you begin using the ruler method. Doing so will allow you to determine a baseline that you can then use to set your custom percentage.

To use the ruler method, just click on the number 1 and drag to the right. As you do, you'll see the percentage increase and the example text change to keep pace with the increase.

Keep in mind that if you use a DPI setting higher than 96, the text and other graphical items in programs that are not designed to work with the DPI scaling engine might appear blurry. To compensate for those types of programs, Windows 7 incorporates a backward-compatible DPI scaling feature that will kick in when you run those programs. As such, it is advisable that you leave the Windows XP style DPI scaling check box selected.

When you click OK, you'll return to the main screen where you will see your custom setting, as shown in Figure E. As I mentioned earlier, when you click Apply, you'll be prompted to log off and will have to log back on before the new DPI setting will take effect.

Figure E

Your Custom setting will appear on the screen.

What's your take?

Will you experiment with changing the DPI setting? If you have already changed your DPI setting, what value did you choose? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

Also read:

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

21 comments
Ocie3
Ocie3

Since I bought the HP w1907 four years ago, I have always used the Hewlett Packard utility that came with it, HP My Display, to adjust the monitor to what I want to see while using its native resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels. I previously used the Windows XP desktop DPI scaling options which resemble the ones for Windows 7 as described in the article. I don't expect to use the Windows 7 DPI Scaling feature. That said, any text and/or icon size problems that I encounter mostly appear with 32-bit software running on my 64-bit computer system. This is revealed by the difference in appearance between 32-bit Internet Explorer (that the Win7 Pro installer created!) and 64-bit I.E., which I can launch from the Start Menu. Text and icons displayed by 64-bit I.E. are much larger and more comfortable to read while text and icons displayed by 32-bit I.E. cause eye strain. Curiously, website icons and text that 32-bit Firefox 8 renders (such as TR) are ordinarily much larger than its own UI text & icons, which are significantly small, though legible. The difference is mostly immaterial insofar as I spend about 90% - 95% of my time and attention on the content, not on the Firefox UI. I suppose that the difference has something to do with HTML5 but I'm not expert on that subject, so please don't quote me. :-)

emha
emha

I'd like to decrease DPI below 100% but vista and win7 doesn't allow that (it was possible in older windowses). don't you know why? don't you know any trick how to overcome this?

cnet
cnet

Can we pass the word to stop using gray color fonts? Did I miss the meeting where we decided that was classy? Many web pages use wispy gray type. Windows Explorer now uses it on the file details (and I haven't spotted how to override it).

eswierc
eswierc

Increasing the DPI to its medium setting is saving me big bucks in eye exams and prescriptions. If that increase is too much for a program, just adjust back temporarily, no big deal. Thanks for the tip

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

nothing good has come of monkeying with DPI settings. The text is actually less readable (to me) as it runs off the edge, so to speak. And it just looks odd. I've had users that did that and it made it more difficult to work on their systems. Even on my 1920x1200 monitors, I find the default to be just fine. I have to wear glasses for reading so I just wear them for the computer as well and everything is fine. If I need to see something larger, I use the Ctl+scroll wheel method. I value space more than size.

stansil
stansil

My attempts at using larger fonts have been frustrating due to programs that are dependent on the default 96 dpi. Embarrassingly, some of these programs are mine from VB6 days.

AJGrimes
AJGrimes

Adjusting DPI isn't the whole answer. Some programs in WIN 7 have tiny print regardless of DPI changes or tool changes. The print on on new Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 is too small to use the program! Control+ won't change the tool size either. I want my XP back.

dfmahoney
dfmahoney

The best solution to this issue is to just buy the proper monitor but if you just use the Internet and many common programs this is really not necessary to do. By holding down the control key on the keyboard and rotating the scroll wheel on the mouse it is possible to "zoom in" making the text larger in many programs (e.g. Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, etc). This also works for the desktop in Windows 7 where icons are very small on a 1920x1080 laptop monitor. There are many common programs such as Quicken or Access where this doesn't work.

iansavell
iansavell

As with other commenters here, my experience is that many applications are not properly "DPI aware". Changing the DPI has unwanted side effects such as overlapping controls, failing to display scroll bars when needed, use of inappropriate font sizes. I don't tell my users about DPI settings and if I knew how to disable them I would - every now and again someone finds the setting and loses control of their otherwise perfectly usable apps. My advice is to stick to 96DPI and use other options if text is too small. I also try to purchase monitors on a size/resolution ratio (more resolution = more size) so the average joe user always gets the same visual experience. Only people with special requirements and good eyesight/glasses get small screens with high resolution.

InvisibleBoss
InvisibleBoss

Quality of LCD panes vary a lot. Some DO actually give a good image, with other than the "default" screen resolution, - and different resolution should therefor be tried first, because its also faster to do/test. All the alternatives of adjusting the desktop are more or less the same in both XP and Win7. Then its often so, that we use icons at the desktop more by "recognition", than actually reading the text under it. This gives the alternative of choosing small/large icons instead, and by that, maintaining "normal fonts" in programs. The annoying fact that several Windows icons look very much same as another, is another proof that designers dont really care much about people with sight problems. Though one can of course change startup icons. As for reading web pages after a DPI/PPI change, there are still a proper "zoom option" in most web browsers today (like Internet Explorer, easiest at its status bar, or "view" menu).

richard.s
richard.s

[b]But Too Many Programs are not Compatible with DPI Scaling[/b] For years, I've been using the 120DPI setting in WinXP & enlarged fonts in my web browsers. But find that more & more programs - and more & more websites - only work properly when the PC's display is set to 96DPI; when the web browser is set to use the designers' choices of fonts, sizes & colours. Young designers with sharp eyesight and large monitors (and their managers who should know better) now seem to regard medium sizes fonts as "non professional" and also seem to believe that their creations should be treated as "works of art" rather than act as useful tools. Apparently, these designers (and their managers) cannot imagine that people with poorer eyesight, tired eyes, or smaller displays might need to customise their PCs & web browsers so as actually to use these "works of art" productively. Although these matters are covered by USA / UK / EU disability legislation, such laws are widely ignored and poorly enforced. Previous generations of designers (and manager) usually produced compatible programs & websites. Apparently, the current generation will act only when the laws are actually enforced properly.

Regulus
Regulus

THANK YOU !! For not freezing us to that Slide Show. It is much appreciated. I'd almost forgotten that dpi trick. Thanks!

ScottyUK
ScottyUK

Be sure to test that all your applications display correctly after changing DPI. I've seen buttons and text disappear when changing the DPI to anything over 100%. This was on a .net based application. The feedback from the application provider is that they only support 100% DPI. With the user having a 1920 x 1080 native screen on their new laptop with 15.6" screen and with them not having the best eyesight, the only option available to us has been to furnish them with a 23" widescreen.

millerah
millerah

There is a much shorter and easier way to reach the DPI scaling app. Right click on the desktop, click 'Personalize' in the menu and then choose 'Display' from the left Panel menu. There is another way too: Click the Start button, Click on Control Panel, choose Appearance and Personalization, then under Display choose 'Make text and other items larger or smaller'. The first method, however is the shortest way to the app.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What have you set as your current DPI? Is it still at default? Lately I have been setting my DPI settings at around 115% - it is just easier on my eyes on a high resolution LCD monitor.

InvisibleBoss
InvisibleBoss

In XP and later versions... At the DPI/PPT scaling dialog box. Choose "custom...". There one can click and drag the size ruler to minimize or increase the font size. Generally from 20% till 500% of the original 96 DPI/PPT.

ScottyUK
ScottyUK

.... just pointing out the knock on effects. It's good that the feature serves all your purposes, however if the application that is not very DPI aware is the application you use for 90% of your working day, it can be a real issue.

Justin James
Justin James

Web sites that specify things in pixels after look wrong when the DPI changes, because DPI affects the size of a pixel. J.Ja

emha
emha

did you try it? I know how and where to do it, but whatever you set below 96dpi windows always change it back.

richard.s
richard.s

The worst problems are with some programs which aim to detect the screen geometry and to auto-adapt the size / shape of dialogues. Too many designers who use these tricks, then forget to provide a scrolling mechanism or to ensure that any scrollbars are visible. Sometimes it is possible to "fool" the dialogue and to tab through its data entry boxes. But, when the buttons are hidden below the bottom of the dialogue, you have to guess the number and the order of these eg. "Enter" "Help" "Cancel" buttons. Even in open source Libre Office 3.4, the PDF export feature hides its buttons, making it hard to use.

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