Hack 99 Use ClearType for Better Laptop and LCD Resolution


Stop squinting at your laptop or LCD screen. Make any laptop and LCD screen easy to read.

Many people who use laptops complain that text is particularly difficult to read on LCD screens. Making matters worse is that many laptops are designed to work at very high resolutions (for example, 1400 by 1050 pixels), and at those resolutions the small type is particularly problematic on an LCD. The problem gets increasingly worse, because laptop screens keep getting larger and their resolutions keep increasing. On my 15-inch laptop with 1400-by-1050 pixel resolution, it's almost impossible to read text. Desktop-style LCD screens also have the same problems.

A simple hack will make text easier to read on both laptops and LCD screens; use Microsoft's ClearType technology, built into XP. To enable ClearType, right-click on the Desktop and choose Properties. Select Appearance Effects. The Effects dialog box appears. Check the box next to "Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts." Select ClearType from the drop-down box, click OK, then click OK again. You'll notice the difference in how type is displayed.

You can use ClearType on a normal desktop PC monitor as well as a laptop, but I don't recommend it. On a normal monitor, it makes text appear blurry, and people have complained that using it gives them headaches. I've tried it and can vouch for that?headaches quickly ensue.

One problem with ClearType is that XP doesn't offer any apparent way to customize its appearance. However, there is an online tool that lets you fine-tune its appearance so that it's best for you. To tune ClearType, go to http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/pro/using/howto/customize/cleartype/tuner. You'll be asked whether you want to install and run the Microsoft Cleartype Tuning Control. Click Yes. From the page that opens, make sure the Turn on ClearType box is checked. There are two versions of the control; depending on your version of XP and whether you have certain XP service packs installed, you might get one or the other. In one of them, from the opening page, you click on Next; in the other, from the opening page, you click on "Move on to Step 2: Tuning ClearType Settings." Depending on the version of the control, the next page may display two versions of the same text and ask which looks better (One version is for RGB monitors, and the other version for BGR monitors). Choose the text that looks better and click Next. (One version of the control skips this page entirely, so you may not see it.)

Next, you'll come to a page that displays a block of text in six different ways. Click on the text that looks best and then click on Finish. You're done; you've tuned ClearType.

One thing you need to watch out for is that the text Microsoft displays isn't real text at all; it's a series of graphics that have been made to appear as if they were text. So, the tuner won't necessarily reflect what you'll actually see on your system. To more accurately tune your settings, while you're going through the tuning process, open a Word document in another window and look at the text in the document after you've tried different settings. The text in that window will more accurately show you how the text will appear with various settings.

Some users think ClearType looks better on some LCD screens than others. If you're creating screenshots for printing, you might try turning it off, since the effect doesn't always work as well on paper.

12.6.1 Hacking the Hack

When you enable ClearType, it's available only after you log on. So, the fonts displayed before log on won't benefit from ClearType. You can, however, use a Registry hack to enable Clear Type fonts even before logon. Run the Registry Editor [Hack #68] and go to go to HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT\Control Panel\Desktop. Open the FontSmoothingType entry and change its value data to 2. (The default is 1, which means that font smoothing is enabled, but ClearType isn't. A value of 0 turns off both font smoothing and ClearType.) Exit the Registry Editor and reboot.