Subpixel rendering


in Geek stuff, Internet matters

I am often struck by how websites look so much better on the average Mac than on the average Windows machine. I think one major reason for that has to do with how fonts are rendered:

Mac OS X’s Quartz is distinguished by the use of floating-point positioning; it does not force glyphs into exact pixel locations, instead using various antialiasing techniques, including subpixel rendering, to position characters and lines more accurately. The result is that the on-screen display looks extremely similar to printed output, but can occasionally be difficult to read at smaller point sizes.

By contrast, subpixel rendering seems to be off by default on Windows machines. Turning in on in Windows XP is straightforward enough, however:

  1. Click Start, click Control Panel, click Appearance and Themes, and then click Display.
  2. On the Appearance tab, click Effects.
  3. Click to select the Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts check box, and then click ClearType in the list.

I still don’t think it looks quite as good as the Apple system, but it does seem to improve serif fonts especially. Without it, they tend to look rather awkward and spidery.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt September 3, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Last paragraph of that link is interesting.

Milan September 3, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Interesting. If they really saw forward to high pixel density displays when they designed their fonts, they really do think long term.

My guess, though, is that since they have so many graphic designers in their customer base, they decided to make fonts look as much as possible on screen like they do in print, even if that makes them a bit blurry. It is just happening to get useful again, as LCD pixels get packed closer together.

Milan September 3, 2010 at 10:28 pm

It was your bug report that set me reading up on subpixel rendering.

EK September 6, 2010 at 9:22 am

I just did this on the PC I used at work, and everything looks SO MUCH BETTER. Amazing.

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