Trouble Seeing Your Computer Screen? Here's Help

Category: Reference

Aging eyesight affects everyone eventually, diminishing the pleasure and productivity of computing. Various adaptive technologies are available to compensate for loss of visual acuity. Some are built into Windows. But these options all have limitations, and using them in certain combinations can actually make it more difficult to make sense of what’s before your eyes. Read on for a look at Windows’ display settings and how to use them to best advantage...

Getting Windows Display Settings Right

Before trying to improve the display it’s best to reset it to default values so you know how the manufacturer intended things to look. Defaults also provide a baseline against which tweaks can be compared.

Open the “Change Display Settings” desktop app by right-clicking anywhere on the desktop and selecting “Display settings” from the dropdown menu, or by typing “display” in the search box and double-clicking on the app in the results. On Windows 10, you will see a page like the one below. (For Windows 7 display settings, see below.)

Set the following items to the values indicated to restore your display to its defaults:

  • Night Light: Off
  • Size of text, apps, and other…: 100%
  • Resolution: “recommended,” the highest your display supports
  • Orientation: Landscape

On some devices you may see a Brightness control in the Display Settings panel. I recommend setting it at 50%, or as close as you can get it with the finicky slide control. (Some monitors have physical menu buttons on the front, side or underneath, that let you fine tune the brightness, hue, scaling, and other aspects of the display. If yours does, check those settings and set them to default values as well.)

Change Windows display settings

If any advanced display settings are in effect you will see a notice to that effect. If you do, follow the instructions to disable them. You will be logged out and will need to sign in again to see the default settings take effect.

On a Windows 7 system, there are fewer controls. Click Start, enter "display settings" and then click the item "Change display settings". Set your screen resolution to the highest your display supports, then click Apply. Next, click the "Make text and other items larger or smaller" link. Choose the "Smaller - 100%" option. Finally, click "Adjust ClearType text" and follow the instructions to get the sharpest-looking text on your display.

Moving Beyond Default Display Settings

Change Windows display settings

Most likely, things will look smaller, crisper, and move faster. Using default display settings has a positive effect on overall system performance because few resources are diverted to accommodating custom display settings.

But default display settings may be hard on your unique eyesight. So now let’s see what we can tweak to make the screen easier to view and navigate.

One of my favorite tweaks is very easy. Hold down the Ctrl key while rolling the mouse wheel forward, away from you. All text in browsers, word processors, PDF readers, and other document display apps gets bigger! Reverse the wheel’s motion and everything gets smaller. A page’s left and right edges will expand or contract accordingly. This trick gives you pretty fine control over text size, and text size can be different from one window to another.

If you don't have a mouse with a wheel, you can do the same thing by pressing Ctrl and the "+" or "-" keys. I prefer this method, because I can quickly return to the default magnification setting by pressing Ctrl and "0" (zero).

But you will notice that parts of the screen do not change size. Menu bars and other fixed objects that surround text remain the same size. In some apps, the window that confines text will not change size and enlarged text overflows the edges of the window, getting lost from sight.

More Tweaking the Windows Display Settings

To avoid this problem, return to the Windows 10 “Change Display Settings” app. (For Windows 7, use the "Make text and other items larger or smaller" option described above.) In the “Scale and Layout” section you will find the option to “Change the size of text, apps, and other items.” The dropdown menu allows settings of 100% of the default (recommended), 125%,and 150%. Play with those, logging out and back in after each change.

Notice that as you enlarge things they may no longer fit on your screen entirely. The bottom of the display settings page drops down out of sight beneath the edge of the screen. You will need to PgDn to see what you are missing, which may include important options for the app you are using.

The menu bars and text on them still remain at their tiny default sizes. In early versions of Windows 10, there was an "advanced sizing of text and other items" option that allowed you to change the size of the menu bars, text in title bars, icons and other fine tunings. That option was removed in the April 2017 Creators Update. I've read that if you start your computer in Safe Mode this option becomes available, and any changes you make will still be in effect when you exit Safe Mode. I've not tried that, so I can't verify that it works.

The brightness and “night light” options on the display settings page change the hue of light, mostly by adding or removing some of the blue spectrum. A warmer, less-blue hue is often easier on the eyes and can help prepare your body for sleep, so try the “night light” toggle switch. Click on “Night light settings” to see how finely you can control the warmth of light.

Back up under “Scale and Layout” you see “Advanced scaling settings”. Toggle on the switch that promises to “Fix scaling for apps”. It can make text look less blurry when it’s enlarged or shrunk. Custom scaling percentages can also be set on this page; they will be indicated back on the main page when they are in effect. Don’t neglect to click on the “Apply” button at the very bottom of this page or your custom settings will not take effect.

The resolution of your display should be left at its recommended maximum. If it’s changed, there will be fewer pixels available and everything will look less sharp, blurry. The advantage of using a coarser resolution is that those tiny border items will look bigger, but blurrier. Leave “orientation” alone unless you switch to a monitor that is taller than it is wide.

The multiple displays section is for those who have more than one monitor. Writers, programmers and gamers often have dual display systems, but they can be a blessing to the visually impaired as well. You can control the settings of both types, and even specify an app to be used to test graphics settings.

I want to mention one more option that can help if you are visually impaired. The Magnifier (on Windows 7/8/10) can make any part of the screen larger. Press and hold the Start key and the plus (+) sign to activate the Magnifier. Move the mouse to the portion of the screen you want to magnify. You can adjust the magnification level if desired.

These are the basics of Windows display settings. Things get more complicated when you begin using display settings built into apps such as Chrome, in addition to the Windows settings. I recommend avoiding that. Do the best you can using Windows display settings alone.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "Trouble Seeing Your Computer Screen? Here's Help"

Posted by:

Derek Nelson
16 Jun 2020

Easier yet is holding the Control key down while using your mouse wheel to zoom in and out. You can stop at whatever magnification works best for you. This works with just about every windows application.

Posted by:

16 Jun 2020

Chrome has a "High Contrast" exentension that allows you to toggle for high contrast, white on black or yellow on black text. I find the last one really good for my old eyes.

Posted by:

Jim S
16 Jun 2020

In what ways would getting a bigger monitor help? My wife is farsighted, so I think it might be worse for her. But I am nearsighted with progressive lenses, so it might help for me. Yes?

Posted by:

Stephen Earle
16 Jun 2020

Bob, I've mentioned this before when you've done articles of this type and I still recommend that folks try f.lux ( Its got tons of settings to make your display easier on your eyes. It adjusts the color (warmth) of the screen according to your local time of day - and it's free! I've experienced much less eyestrain since I've been using it. I'd like to see you try this and write a review of it.

Posted by:

Henry Peck
16 Jun 2020

I find a better way is to purchase a cheap (less than $150)32" 1080P color TV and an HDMI cable. Not only can you tweak the TV for the best picture, but it also comes with decent speakers.

Posted by:

Bob K
16 Jun 2020

Author: The Magnifier (on Windows 7/8/10) can make any part of the screen larger. Press and hold the Start key and the plus (+) sign to activate the Magnifier.


There is NO such thing as a Start Key.

Posted by:

16 Jun 2020

For everyone that has trouble seeing the scroll bars: Settings, Ease of Access, and *UN*check "Automatically hide scroll bars in Windows."

This is on by default ... *dumb!* Yes, if Windows were on a tablet or phone where every pixel counts, but for any screen bigger than 11", show the scroll bars!!

Another one under Ease of Access under Cursor & Pointer -> make the pointer as big and colorful as you want. Mine is big at "3" but it actually goes to 15!! (take that you people that stop at 11.)

Posted by:

Robert A.
16 Jun 2020

My big gripe is the inability to raise the default contrast between text and its background. Too often, more recent Windows and many webpages have been designed with a pale grey text, icons and other elements on a light background, which makes them difficult to discern. The vertical scroll bar, or "elevator car" on the right side of a Windows 10 webpage is a perfect example. It would be so nice to have text made in normal black, as a default, with the option to grey it down, if a user chooses to do so. But I've not seen any solutions in the Windows 10 help sections.

Posted by:

Dave Rodgers
17 Jun 2020

Bob K: start key... Try the key that looks like a windows flag and the + key on your qwerty keyboard (not the + key on your numeral keyboard.) It really works!

Posted by:

17 Jun 2020

When I needed a new TV I chose one that has 4K HDTV resolution. These premium TVs are not that much more expensive, but usually not offered in the smaller sizes. My 46" smart TV cost about $300. It hooks to my older pc with HDMI cable and cheap adapter onto a display port on the windows pc. Being a smart TV means it can go online on its own, without a pc, even, and view 4K resolution (beyond the abilities of my older pc) so I get to watch Netflix and even youtube in HiDef 4K, when available. I sit only 3 feet from it so it really is easy to see and read text online, even with normal magnification.

Posted by:

17 Jun 2020

Thank you Bob, you solved an annoying problem for my old eyes, that of the bottom of a pop-up window disappearing off the bottom of the screen. Changing the scaling to 125 from 150 has done the trick.
Any tips for old eyes (and fingers) for those tricky little smart phones?

Posted by:

17 Jun 2020

If wanting a larger screen it is the resolution that counts. Otherwise 'jaggies' still exist.
Check that your graphics processor will run the resolution of the monitor (or TV) you are buying.
Ultrawides were originally created to give a larger screen for gamers when the graphics were just incapable of working with a full size screen.
4K graphics quadruple the graphics processing power needed compared with a 1080p monitor. An ultrawide only doubles the requirement.

Posted by:

17 Jun 2020

A supplementary question.

What is the difference between the displays provided by TVs as compared with monitors?

There still seems to be a pricing difference where the extra electronics contained in a TV actually make it cost less than a monitor AND the speakers are usually included.

Posted by:

Robert A.
18 Jun 2020

Jonathan: Simple, it's a matter of production scale. Each TV makers crank out their sets in the millions of units per year. With a dozen, if not more separate brands of TVs sold in the USA, all the companies are competing with each other for the customer's dollars. With all the competition, and often a glut in production, the makers price their TV at just slightly over cost, which is a great deal for the customer.

On the other hand, the computer monitor makers, even Samsung an LG, which also make TVs, would be happy if any model in their current line-up sold a million units. But that's probably not going to happen, as the sales of desktop computers are falling year after year, as more and more consumers choose laptops and/or tablets, negating the need for a monitor

Also, when a user is in the market for a desktop, they will usually just buy a new tower, but not the monitor, because it is usually the tower that needs replacing, due to age. However, unless the customer wants to upgrade to a larger size monitor, from what they currently have, or it seems to be dying, many, if not most buyers will use their current monitor, and plug it into the new computer.

The sales of monitors are typically way much less that that of the desktop towers. So, it is often possible to find a good, mid-line 32", or slightly larger TV, for not much more than a basic computer monitor. And, with a TV being used as a computer monitor, you not only have the HDMI jacks to plug into the computer. you also get the coaxial input to be able to an over-the-air antenna, or a cable line, and watch programing form those sources.

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