I know how you feel. My eyes aren’t all they used to be either.
The good news is, it’s actually easy to make the fonts bigger, though the setting is often well hidden.
The bad news is, it’s also easy to do the wrong thing and end up with something that seems better, but isn’t.
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- Screen resolution is the wrong thing to change to make text bigger.
- Windows 10 allows you to change the scaling of what’s displayed on screen.
- Older versions of Windows allowed you to control scaling in the form of a DPI, or dots-per-inch, setting.
- CTRL+ and CTRL- work in some apps, like email and web browsers, but not all of Windows.
The wrong thing
Changing the screen resolution is the wrong thing to do.
In the past, this was an approach that worked fairly well on CRT-style monitors. With the rise of LCD screens, running at anything other than the screen’s native resolution can have unintended consequences.
For example, let’s say your display is capable of handling a resolution of 1920×1200. That’s its native resolution, meaning there are physically 1920 dots or pixels across, and 1200 dots up and down on the screen. It’s the resolution at which it works best.
To make things appear larger, you then change the resolution that Windows uses to 1280×1024. Either of two things will happen:
- The 1280×1024 image will be stretched by the monitor to fill the 1920×1200 pixels that make up the display. You’ll note that that’s not an even multiple, so the display now has to “stretch” each pixel that Windows gives it across 1.5 pixels horizontally and 1.17 pixels vertically. Because there’s no such thing as a part of a pixel, the monitor just does its best, often resulting in images that are indeed larger but also significantly fuzzier.
- The 1280×1024 image won’t be larger at all; instead, it will be centered by the monitor using 1280×1024 physical pixels on the screen and surrounded by a black border of unused pixels.
Neither effect is great, and often makes the situation worse instead of better.
Fortunately, there is a different approach.
The right thing: scaling
In Windows 10, right-click on your desktop and click Display Settings. In the resulting page of the settings app, you’ll find settings not only for the screen resolution — which we’re not going to change — and something called “scaling”.
(In Windows 7, right-click on your desktop and click Screen Resolution. Click Make text and other items larger or smaller for a roughly equivalent setting: DPI.)
This setting changes the size of everything, including text. For comparison, here are 150% (the default/recommended setting for my display) and 250% side by side (click the image for the larger or full-sized version).
When you make this setting change, you may need to log out and then log back in to Windows before it is fully applied.
If the scaling options aren’t enough, or the results look wrong, click on Advanced scaling settings (directly underneath the scaling drop-down). There are two settings to experiment with.
“Let Windows try to fix apps so they’re not blurry” does exactly that. If you’re experiencing blurry text, I know of no downside to turning this on.
“Custom scaling” lets you enter a scaling factor that may not have been otherwise available in the recommended dropdown.
As you can see, it’s the same custom dialog used in Windows 7.
This concept of scaling what’s displayed on the screen has been a component of Windows for a long time. Applications aren’t supposed to ignore the setting, and most do not. Most play by the rules.
Unfortunately, you may encounter an application where the scaling setting is used inconsistently or has no effect. Blame the application; it’s not playing by the rules.
And finally, if you make things too big, you may get a warning from Windows that the setting may make some things inaccessible. A great example is if things are scaled so large that a dialog box is too big to fit, so its OK and Cancel buttons aren’t visible. That’s something you’ll simply need to compensate for one way or another — either by going back and reducing the scaling, or by determining if there’s another way to accomplish what you’re attempting to do without having things appear off-screen.
Update: CTRL+ and CTRL-
Many, many people have commented that they use the CTRL key and + or – to make text larger or smaller, respectively (or use CTRL plus the mouse wheel).
This is a very effective approach when it works.
CTRL+ and CTRL- are not a part of Windows. They are a convention that some applications — most notably web browsers — choose to implement.
But they will not affect the size of text in other applications, or in Windows itself. The techniques outlined above are about making everything — regardless of what program you are running — larger (or smaller).
That being said, CTRL+ and CTRL-, (and CTRL with the mouse wheel) are very convenient as long as all you care about is the webpage or email you’re viewing.
Updated to target Windows 10