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Save your eyes with DPI Scaling in Windows Vista

Greg Shultz shows you how to get the most out of your LCD monitor by taking advantage of the DPI Scaling tool in Microsoft Windows Vista.

Do you have an LCD monitor, either stand-alone or on a laptop, that has a native resolution that is so high that text and other graphical elements, such as icons, appear small? If so, you've probably lowered the resolution a couple of notches to make it a bit easier to see. However, chances are that isn't an ideal solution because most LCDs don't look all that great at a resolution that is lower than the native resolution.

However, with the DPI Scaling tool available in Microsoft Windows Vista, you can use your LCD monitor at its native resolution and still make the text more easily readable and other graphical elements larger. In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll show you how to get the most out of your LCD monitor by taking advantage of the DPI Scaling tool.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic Download.

The deal with DPI

The default DPI (dots per inch) scale setting in Vista 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 newer LCD monitors, which typically have a native pixel density of 120 DPI and 144 DPI, mean that the default setting of 96 DPI is too small to display a good quality image. To overcome this problem, Vista incorporates a new DPI scaling engine that 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 laptop and stand-alone LCD monitors and still look as good as they used to at 96 DPI.

Changing the DPI Scaling

To change the DPI Scaling setting, right-click on your desktop and choose Personalize from the context menu. When you see the Personalization window, as shown in Figure A, click the Adjust Font Size (DPI) link in the Tasks panel on the left side of the window. When you do, you'll encounter a UAC and will need to respond accordingly.

Figure A

You'll find the Adjust Font Size (DPI) link in the Tasks panel on the left side of the Personalization window.
Once you see the DPI Scaling dialog box, shown in Figure B, you can select the Larger Scale radio button to boost the scale immediately to 120 DPI. In most cases, going with the 120 DPI setting will yield satisfactory results. If you click OK, you'll be prompted to reboot the system before the new DPI setting will take effect.

Figure B

In most cases, switching to the 120 DPI setting will yield satisfactory results.

Using a custom DPI setting

If the 120 DPI setting doesn't yield satisfactory results or if you just want to experiment a little, you can click the Custom DPI button. When you do, you'll see the Custom DPI Setting dialog box, shown in Figure C.

Figure C

If the 120 DPI setting doesn't yield satisfactory results, you can experiment with a custom DPI setting.

There are several ways that you can create a custom DPI setting. First, 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. Keep in mind that no matter which way you choose, changing the DPI setting and clicking OK will require a reboot.

As you can see, the default setting is 100 percent, 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 list 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 and you are running Windows Aero, the text and other graphical items in programs that are not designed to work with Vista's new DPI scaling engine might appear blurry. To compensate for those types of programs, Vista 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.

Checking for ClearType

If you're using an LCD, chances are good that the ClearType font technology is already enabled. But you may want to double-check. Right-click on your desktop and choose Personalize from the context menu. When you see the Personalization window, click the Window Color And Appearance link.

When you see the Window Color And Appearance window, click the Open Classic Appearance Properties For More Color Options link. In the Appearance Settings dialog box, click the Effects button to display the Effects dialog box. Then make sure that the check box is selected and ClearType is the selected option, as shown in Figure D. Finally, click OK twice to close the two dialog boxes.

Figure D

If you're using an LCD, you may want to make sure that the ClearType font technology is already enabled.

What's your DPI setting?

Do you have an LCD monitor on your desktop or laptop? If so, what is the monitor's native DPI rating? Will you experiment with changing Vista's DPI setting? If you have already changed your DPI setting, what value did you choose?

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.

25 comments
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.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

and was much easier, with more versatility, in XP and 2000. In XP you could choose the same choices, or even choose your own DPI from the same adjustment page - bigger or smaller. It's also easy to do in Linux. You do have to check if your monitor will also make auto adjustments on you and set them, but this doesn't apply to all monitors. I do wonder why you wrote this article specifically for Windows Vista, as it's the type that can be applied to all versions of Windows and is a tweak many people miss.

LeonBA
LeonBA

Windows has always had the ability to change the DPI setting, going back to Win95. The tools in Vista are more colorful and have some new features, but DPI settings have always been changeable: from Diplay settings, go to the Settings tab and click the Advanced button. You'll need local admin rights to change this setting though.

omooney
omooney

Help! I changed to 200%, but cannot change it back...the dialog box (shown in your Figure B) is so large that the "OK" box does not display! This dialog box cannot be resized, only moved (but not high enough so that the "OK" box displays. Any ideas on how to re-set the dpi?

mnasarudin
mnasarudin

Wow.... Been almost 6 months straining my eyes on my laptop display (a 17" with 1920x1200 resolution) compared to my second display of 24" at 1920x1200. With 1200DPI, the 17" felt like the 24". Thank you for the most valuable tip.

stdo57
stdo57

this also works on monitors where you have the resolution maxed out and the text is tiny. not only lcd's.

stdo57
stdo57

this also works on monitors where you have the resolution maxed out and the text is tiny. not only lcd's.

jason.demelo
jason.demelo

Can you adjust this setting on a per-monitor basis. Been trying for a while but can't figure out how to do it.

ndkoth
ndkoth

This is a good option provided in Windows OSs. But coming to Vista, I think Microsoft has not tested the implementation thoroughly. I personally opine not to change the default 96 DPI. If you wish to change it, you will see many funny changes to many settings. The 'start' screen will not scale accordingly, grid alighnments are lost and look different. Many icons won't fit properly. Finally you may not like the scaling. THE BEST THING IS USE CTL+

tplcol316
tplcol316

This is one of the most effective yet simple tips we have had for Vista in many months! THANK YOU!

mrbobyu
mrbobyu

You can also change the DPI in windows xp professional. It is almost the same effect, bigger font, more readable.

huntfor
huntfor

If you're updating your own website, will this affect the font sizes, etc? In other words, if I'm seeing things larger, I may end up making them smaller when I'm updating my website pages.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

I have a 720P LCD HD TV sitting in the room that can be used as a monitor. Problem is 720P makes for a huge text. Is there a way in Vista to make the DPI less than 96?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you have an LCD monitor on your desktop or laptop? If so, what is the monitor's native DPI rating? Will you experiment with changing Vista's DPI setting? If you have already changed your DPI setting, what value did you choose?

mrRib
mrRib

... and since it works so poorly and you get many other undesirable strange effects, you wonder if microsoft themselves ever tested it.

Aakash Shah
Aakash Shah

Hey omooney! The keyboard can help you here. Here is how to do this in Vista: 1. Right click on desktop and click "Personalize". 2. Click "Adjust font size (DPI)" from the left size pane. Click "Continue" to the corresponding UAC box. 3. I assume you can see the options at the top of this window here. So, select "Default scale (96 DPI) - fit more information". 4. Now, hit the "Enter" button on your keyboard. 5. You will be asked to restart windows. If you can't see the buttons here either, then just hit the "Enter" button again and your computer will begin to restart with your DPI set to 96. If you're using XP, do this: 1. Right click the desktop and select "Properties". 2. Click the "Settings" tab and then click "Advanced". 3. In the General tab, change the DPI setting to "Normal size (96DPI). 4. Click "OK" (or hit "enter" if you can't see the OK button) in the resulting window. 5. Hit the "enter" button to begin setting the DPI. 6. Hit the "enter" button again to confirm that the setup files are on the hard drive. 7. Click the Close button (if you can't see the close button, just click the red X). 8. Click Yes to restart.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

Changing the DPI will definitely change the font's appearance on your screen, but it won't actually change the font size--10 point will still be 10 point. You'll just have to experiment with the new DPI setting to see how it effects your perception. If you don't like it, you can always revert back to the original DPI.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

What is the brand and model of the LCD TV? Did the TV come with a CD? If so, the CD may have software that you install on PC to compensate for DPI. Check with TV manufacturer.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

The limit seems to be the 100% (96 dpi) setting, at least through the conventional method. I suppose one could find a registry edit that would work. And there are several alternative third-party interface tweaking applications that may be able to decrease the dpi below 96. Anyone have a suggestion?

Ron_007
Ron_007

After you adjust the size of the text you may also want to tweak the size of the icons displayed on the desktop. Simply press and hold and use the mouse scroll wheel. you can make the icons anywhere from absurdly huge to absurdly tiny.

GBot
GBot

Great tip for making fonts more readable, but many elements in Vista are still disproportionately small (the "x" to close tabs in IE7 is TINY... and that's all I can think of at the moment). I'd also love to see a tweak to set the default magnification in IE7 up to around 130 or 140%? I have to [Ctrl +] every time I open it. Thanks though, this is a great tip!

MetaPop
MetaPop

Issue: Large display screen and is set to highest screen size (1600 x 1200, etc.) and text is huge and Vista DPI Scaling does not permit change to less than 96 dots per inch (dpi). Or you are willing to use a smaller display font size to pack more open windows onto your desktop. (XP permits a value lower than 100 percent, Vista requires 100 percent or higher). After the below change from 96 to 86 DPI, and a reboot, right click display, Personalize, Adjust Font Size (dpi), displays Custom scale (86 DPI) (Success at last!) Use at your own risk, the side effects are not known. 1. Be careful: Create a restore point. Export registry to a file to save it. 2. Edit Registry: REGEDIT Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG, Software, Fonts Name=LogPixels value is 96 decimal. For 90 percent font size, set to 86 decimal. For 80 percent font size, set to 76 decimal. Close REGEDIT and reboot the computer. 3. If some text appears too small or blurry try different value or return to 96 dpi.

jay76543210
jay76543210

John, i was trying to get lower dpi below 96 in vista per your registry hack but seems like the above link you posted on kubasik.net is broken, can you please let me know the correct link? thanks!