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Images, Graphic Design, and Digital Photography Discussion of all things graphics.

Improving Mac Font Rendering


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mac57

 
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I love my Mac, but there is one thing I don't love. Font rendering on the Mac just doesn't seem as crisp as it is on Windows. I would love to find a way to improve it on the Mac. This has bothered me since I got this Mac five months ago. The last time I posted an article on this, someone sent a negative user reputation hit on me, saying that it was an obvious attempt to start a flame war. It wasn't then and it isn't now. A while later this is still bothering me and so I have decided to post again on the topic.

Before posting this question again however, I have done some homework. I took the same web page (my own) and got screen captures of it as rendered in Firefox on each of Mac OS X, Arch Linux 0.7.2 and Win XP. Here they are, in order:

http://www.campbellware.com/web-font/web-font-mac.png

http://www.campbellware.com/web-font/web-font-linux.png

http://www.campbellware.com/web-font/web-font-winxp.png

I would call these "good" (Mac), "better" (Linux) and finally "best" (Win XP). I am referring in particular to the descriptive text on the page, not on the headers and labels, which look pretty much OK on all of them. That text gets crisper and better looking as you progress from Mac to Linux to Win XP.

I would like to be able to have the text look that good on the Mac. I have messed around extensively with the System Preferences, Appearance, Font Smoothing Style, and have discovered that either Light or Automatic produce the best results. Still, the results are not as good as either Linux or Windows.

Is there another program out that would allow me more control of font rendering, so that I could crisp it up to the same level as Windows?

Thanks, and please, no negative hits on my user rep. This is not an attempt to start a flame war - it is an attempt to improve font rendering on my Mac!

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In the Appearance tab in Preferences at the bottom (10.4.8) there is an option to choose when smoothing is disabled based on font size. It is called "Turn off text smoothing for font sizes <4,6,8,9,10,12> and smaller. Set it to the biggest number. Perhaps there is a tweak type tool out there that would allow you to set it to a higher value.

I also suggest you try setting Font Smooting style to Light.

Now as far as which is the the better result out of the three you have presented, that really is a matter of personal preference. I've always considered the Windows result ugly. That sharpness you're want bothers me for many things because the jaggies anoy me.
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cazabam

 
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I agree with xstep, the Windows jaggies are irritating. I actually think the Linux X.org rendering is the best of the three - OS X is too 'soft', and Windows is too 'hard', but Linux is 'just right'.

*exits goldilocks mode*

I think the reason the OS X font rendering doesn't bother me on my macbook is that the display is very high resolution (in terms of DPI) so I don't start seeing smudginess until very low font sizes. I think I'm going to play with the text smoothing options though - they sound interesting.
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Alexis

 
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They are all the same font, but OS X smooths it the most (and looks the best for it in my opinion!) It's not a matter of 'improving font rendering' but finding an antialiasing amount you prefer.

Font smoothing works best on large monitors, so it can be a bit offputting with smaller displays. I have smoothing off on my PC with it's 17inch monitor because it looks terrible!
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cazabam

 
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Yes, low DPI monitors look worst because individual pixels are physically bigger. I have a cheap 19" TFT that only goes to 1280x1024 at work - if it went to 1600x1200 I'd turn antialiasing on. As it stands, it makes the fonts really unpleasant.
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I am using a large 21.3" Viewsonic monitor, running at 1600x1200 and around 96 DPI. I have an excellent display, so that is not the issue. The rendering issues are visible on all Macs I have seen, including those at my local Apple store. You may be right, it may just be an artistic preference sort of thing. I prefer the sharper crisper display, some folks prefer the more rounded smoothed one - Apple must be amongst those.

I am guessing from the lack of pointers in the posts to date that no one knows of any third party tools that might allow you to mess more with the smoothing (thanks xstep, I have tried the Turn Off option, but it only goes up to 12 point - I am looking for a global "turn off" option I guess).

There is not a separate anti aliasing control somewhere, is there? The one Smoothing control seems to be all there is.

Thanks, and thanks for taking this post in the spirit in which it was intended. It is not Mac bashing, it is a hunt for Mac improving. Despite the fact that I didn't love the font rendering, which I saw at the Apple store BEFORE I purchased my Mac, I went ahead anyway. The benefits of a Mac so far outweigh this little niggle that it was a no brainer. I guess I am now seeking to improve on perfection though!

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Quote:
Originally Posted by mac57 View Post
I am using a large 21.3" Viewsonic monitor, running at 1600x1200 and around 96 DPI. I have an excellent display, so that is not the issue. ... I prefer the sharper crisper display, some folks prefer the more rounded smoothed one - Apple must be amongst those.
Yes, a high resolution monitor doesn't necessarily make them look tons better, but a low resolution monitor certainly makes them look a LOT worse

I am with you - I like nice, pin sharp text display, which is why I use small bitmap fonts in my editor and terminal, etc.
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dtownley1

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xstep View Post
I've always considered the Windows result ugly. That sharpness you're want bothers me for many things because the jaggies anoy me.
I absolutely agree. I feel the jagged edges on windows text makes it look rather cheap, weak and unpolished. It's my guess that windows just turns antialiasing off. The whole issue of antialiasing really comes into light when you do any kind of design work on macs, where you want your fonts to look smooth on screen, and not horribly (sorry, personal preference there ) jagged.

Anyway, something like this may be what you were looking for. I just did a search for antialiasing at versiontracker.com, and this is what came up.
http://www.versiontracker.com/dyn/moreinfo/macosx/19941

It got mixed reviews, but it may be worth checking out if people prefer the more jagged look I guess a rating of 3/5 warrants a test.
Hope this helps!
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Thanks for the tip! I will check it out. I have also found in the interim that TinkerTool will let you effectively disable font smoothing entirely as well, so I will have to try that too. Thanks again.

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creosote7
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I agree 100% with the poster of this thread. I've been a windows/linux user for
many many years and I use very high resolution monitors (1680x1050 on a 15" LCD). Therefore I'm used to very crisp, clean text with no blur or fuzziness. I just recently bought a Macbook Pro and I'm really struggling with the font smoothing. I have also tried Tinkertool to turn off the font smoothing on larger sizes, but it doesn't help a lot. From the original post I think the Linux screenshot looks perfect...nice crisp and thin fonts that are very legible and won't kill your eyes over time. As much as I like this new MBP I'm considering selling it bc I can't handle the font smoothing...I get a headache after only spending 15 min looking at the screen.

Here is a good article written about this same problem with some decent
advice, but no perfect solutions.
http://www.atpm.com/12.01/paradigm.shtml

I would be interested in any solutions someone may have ..

thanks,
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dtownley1

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creosote7 View Post
I agree 100% with the poster of this thread. I've been a windows/linux user for
many many years and I use very high resolution monitors (1680x1050 on a 15" LCD). Therefore I'm used to very crisp, clean text with no blur or fuzziness. I just recently bought a Macbook Pro and I'm really struggling with the font smoothing. I have also tried Tinkertool to turn off the font smoothing on larger sizes, but it doesn't help a lot. From the original post I think the Linux screenshot looks perfect...nice crisp and thin fonts that are very legible and won't kill your eyes over time. As much as I like this new MBP I'm considering selling it bc I can't handle the font smoothing...I get a headache after only spending 15 min looking at the screen.

Here is a good article written about this same problem with some decent
advice, but no perfect solutions.
http://www.atpm.com/12.01/paradigm.shtml

I would be interested in any solutions someone may have ..

thanks,
there was another app I discovered (link above) which may help you. Surely you don't intend to sell your mbp because of the font smoothing. I guess it all comes down to past experience and what one is used to.

That article was pretty interesting. I feel that if fonts are that small on your screen, no matter which OS or smoothing, it's not great for the eyes anyway.

Personally, I prefer mac (judging by the linux screenshot, that is also nice) - but on windows, I don't want it to look as if everything is a bitmap font. Bitmap fonts are designed to look pixelated, I don't believe others should as well. This is also true to vectors. A nice antialiased edge looks much nicer.
Again, just personal preference - so I don't think there's any 'right' or 'wrong' in this issue.

Anyway, check out that link I mentioned in my post above - perhaps it'll help you out.

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mac57

 
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dtownley1, I looked at your post. Essentially, it seems to recommend some fonts that you could use that look better than some others. What is the app you are referring to?

The poster also notes that the (in my opinion) excessive smoothing of fonts started with OS X. Prior to that (OS 9 and earlier) Macs used to have excellent font rendering. I used to have a Quadra 800 series at work and it's font rendering was gorgeous.

Apple has made an intentional stylistic decision on this matter and as one poster said, there may not be a right and wrong here. It is an artistic decision. Some people like smoother, less pixelated fonts, and some prefer smoother more rounded ones. I like the crisper ones, but Apple clearly feels that the smoother fonts are better.

I can only hope that Leopard gives us some additional capabilities in this regard.

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the app I was referring to, was contained in the link I first gave you (my 1st post in this topic)

True that it is artistic preference. As a designer, I prefer the antialiasing (I actually find it more accurate for designs, and a little easier on the eyes too), so I'm curious to know how other designers feel about this (not forgetting the vast percentage of designers who use mac over PC) I know macs handle most graphic based apps better than PC's, so I wonder if this was a factor with displays and font rendering with Apple?

I too hope that Leopard gives additional control, as then each mac could really be customised to suit each user. Time will tell.

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I think the font rendering is great personally!

It's a conscious decision not to be able to turn antialiasing off because most people would think the type would look pixellated, especially on a stonking 20 or 24" widescreen monitor.
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