Subpixel rendering

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.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

4 thoughts on “Subpixel rendering”

  1. 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.

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