Does the text on most websites look thin and unclear?

This advice is of particular relevance to Safari and Firefox users but may also assist those using other browsers.

The legibility of text on websites is affected by several factors, of which text size is the most obvious. All the major browsers enable the user to increase the text size (if permitted by the website designer). However, text legibility can also be affected by the rather obscure settings for font smoothing on your computer. Font smoothing is also known as anti-aliasing. These settings can make a big difference.

Some browsers, e.g. Internet Explorer V8, enforce their own font smoothing settings. Others, such as some versions of Safari and Firefox, just use whatever settings are provided by the operating system. Unfortunately, the default settings are not always ideal, especially with modern flat panel LCD monitors. In practice, this means that text can look fine when viewed using IE8 but look thin and spidery when viewed with Safari or Firefox.

In many cases, the solution to this 'thin text' problem in Safari and Firefox is to change the method for smoothing edges of screen fonts from 'Standard' to 'ClearType'. Note that CRT monitors behave differently from LCD flat panels and require different settings to achieve optimum clarity.

How to change the Font Smoothing Settings

Windows XP

  1. The online Windows ClearType Tuner described below for Windows Vista is probably the easiest solution but you can also use the following method.
  2. Right mouse click on any clear area of the desktop and click on Properties to open the Display Properties dialogue box.
  3. Select the Appearance tab.
  4. Click on the Effects button.
  5. Tick the checkbox labelled 'Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts'.
  6. Select 'ClearType' in the drop-down box (not 'Standard').
  7. Click OK twice to save your settings and exit the dialogue box.

Windows ClearType Tuner for Windows Vista (also works with Windows XP)

  1. Go to http://www.microsoft.com/typography/cleartype/tuner/tune.aspx and follow the instructions for using the online Windows ClearType Tuner.

Windows 7

  1. Windows 7 users should use the built-in ClearType tuner found in the Windows Control Panel under Appearance and Personalization to adjust their ClearType settings.

Mac OS X

  1. Open the System Preferences (either from the Dock or from the Apple menu).
  2. Open the General Panel.
  3. At the bottom of the General System Preference Screen you can change both the Font smoothing style and the minimum font size for font smoothing.
  4. Font smoothing style – you may choose any of them, but you will probably get the best results from Standard - best for CRT or Medium - best for Flat Panel, depending on which kind of monitor you have.
  5. Turn off text smoothing for font sizes X and smaller – sometimes you will find that small fonts are more readable if they are not smoothed. Change this lower or higher (you can also type in numbers) to see what you prefer.
  6. Quit or close the System Preferences when done.

The above procedures are just provided as examples. For other operating systems, you may find it useful to do a Google search for 'font smoothing'.