Tech & Work

How to adjust your settings to make your screen easier to read

If you're straining to read this, you might need to adjust your screen or font size. Learn how to change the settings on your desktop, tablet, or phone, and ease your eyes.

Image showing repeated lines of text in increasing font size, suggesting a vision test chart: "Adjust settings to make screens easier to see"
Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

I saw my client squint at the screen. Then I noticed that the monitor had been moved closer to her face.

"Would it help if the text was a bit bigger?" I asked.

After an affirmative answer, I helped her adjust settings on both her desktop and phone to make the content on the screens easier to see. She's not alone in her struggle to see things on her screen.

According to a 2012 survey by The Vision Council, "nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults experience some form of digital eye strain while using their electronic devices." The Vision Council defines eye strain as "physical discomfort after screen use for longer than two hours at a time." Of course, many factors can contribute to eye strain, including screen brightness, color, resolution, room lighting, distance, lenses, and time.

Fortunately, items on a screen can change size. All four of the major operating systems let you scale your screen. Here are settings you can tweak to make content on screens easier to see.

Scale everything

Scaling adjusts the display so that the resolution you choose fits to the native resolution of the screen. When you select a lower resolution than the native resolution, such as selecting 1600 x 900 on a native 1920 x 1080 screen, everything appears larger. This means menus, icons, text, and images all look bigger.

Windows

Windows 10 includes the ability to adjust text size, apps, and other items with a setting. In Settings > Display > Scale and layout, choose a scaling percentage larger than the default 100%. In the example shown, the setting is at 125%. Other Windows systems offer display settings such as small (100%), medium (125%), or large (150%).

Left: Windows 10 display panel; Right top: Windows screen at 125%, Right bottom: Windows screen at 100%.

Windows display settings (left) allow you to adjust scaling. This image (top right) shows scaling at 125%, compared to the default of 100% (bottom right).

macOS

macOS also includes a display scaling option. In my client's case, I adjusted the setting on her iMac from 1920 x 1080 to 1600 x 900. To change the setting, go to System Preferences > Displays > Display tab, then choose one of the available scaling settings.

macOS display settings (top left); screen scaled to 1280 x 720 (top right) versus default (bottom right)

macOS lets you choose an alternative scaling setting (top left). The top image shows scaling set to 1280 x 720, compared to this display's default of 1920 x 1080 (bottom right).

iOS

Apple offers a variant of scaling on the iPhone and iPad: Standard vs. Zoomed mode. Go to Settings > Display & Brightness > Display Zoom (at the bottom of the page of options). Select the view setting, then tap "Zoomed" for a larger, scaled version, then tap "Set." You'll see a message the device needs to reboot, but the screen should only go dark for a few seconds. (Tip: The "Zoomed" setting affects most apps on your device, including apps such as Google Docs, that aren't otherwise affected by font size changes as of December 2017.)

Screenshots of iOS display zoom setting (left), Google Docs zoomed (middle), Google Docs standard (right)

On an iPhone or iPad, adjust the Display Zoom setting (left) to "Zoomed" (middle) to scale up the display. "Standard" display zoom setting shown on the right.

iOS also lets you adjust text size in Settings > General > Accessibility > Larger Text. Slide the selector toward the right to make text bigger. If you need extra large sizes, enable the "Larger Accessibility Sizes" slider, then choose your preferred size.

Android

Android 7.0 or later gives you two settings to control the display. First, Settings > Display > Display Size allows you to adjust the overall display size. Additionally, you can also adjust font sizing: Settings > Display > Font > Font size.

Screenshot of Honor 7x display settings (left); Google Docs screenshot when size and fonts set to large (middle) and medium (right).

On devices that run Android 7.0 or greater, you can adjust both Display Size and Font size settings (left). On an Honor 7x, adjusting both to "Large" (middle) makes fonts and controls bigger than when both are set to "Medium" (right).

Adjust an app

Many applications and sites let you adjust text sizes, as well. Where the system scaling settings above affect everything on the screen, these settings more typically affect the content, not icons or controls. You can adjust these settings — in addition to the system scaling — to make text in an individual app easier to see.

Browsers, for example, allow temporary or permanent size adjustments. The combination of the CTRL key and + makes items larger (and the CTRL key and - similarly reduces display size). A combination of Chrome settings control Page Zoom and Font sizes let you adjust web pages to a suitable scale. Both settings are found in the Chrome Settings > Appearance section. As an initial adjustment, you might change the Page Zoom to 125%, along with a Large font size.

Some individual apps also offer customization. In a desktop browser, for example, you can adjust the Google Docs view setting to "Fit" the screen, or to a specific scaled percentage. On iOS, the Twitter app includes a font size setting (Settings and privacy > Display and sound > adjust slider to suit). On Android, Chrome offers a Text scaling (Settings > Accessibility > adjust Text scaling slider). But customized settings aren't always available across platforms: as of December 2017, Twitter on Android omits app-specific font size controls, as does Chrome on iOS.

Small change first

Organizations often encourage people to use collaborative apps, eliminate paper processes, and adopt mobile workflows. And in most organizations, people rely on screens for these tasks. Yet as we focus on our major change initiatives, we often overlook the relatively simple changes that make these screens easier to see. A small change in screen size can help reduce eye strain— and make larger changes easier to implement.

Have you adjusted the scaling or font sizes on your screens lately? Or have you helped someone else adjust their device settings to ease eye strain? Let me know in the comments on on Twitter (awolber).

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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