Trouble Seeing Your Screen? Here's Help

Category: Reference

Aging eyesight afflicts 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:

  • Brightness: 50 or as close as you can get it with the finicky slide control
  • Night Light: Off
  • Size of text, apps, and other…: 100%
  • Resolution: “recommended,” the highest your display supports
  • Orientation: Landscape

Change Windows display settings

If any advanced display settings are in effect you will see a red 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.

Some monitors have a physical menu button on the front, side or underneath, that lets 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.

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 mainly for gamers who keep a general-purpose monitor and a high-performance graphics monitor. 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 Screen? Here's Help"

Posted by:

18 Sep 2018

I solved my issues with seeing my screen by using inexpensive magnifying glasses. It saves money and works very well. I get my "reading" glasses from Walmart. I know which optic reading glasses that I need to use for computer reading. This way anyone can get on my computer and see things clearly. I have grandkids that use my computer and their vision is exceptional. I wish mine was. LOL

Posted by:

18 Sep 2018

I don't get the Brightness and color options on my Windows 10 display settings page. I wonder if that depends on the particular display adapter that is in your system?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Did you pay your Windows SaaS bill? Just kidding, it must have something to do with your display adapter. Do you have physical buttons on the monitor to adjust brightness?

Posted by:

Bruce Butterfield
18 Sep 2018

I also use reading glasses regularly, so they are second nature to me. I have several pairs with different strengths so that whatever reading distance I use (book, newspaper, docs on a table,computer, etc.)I can be comfortable. I had the cataract lens replacement operations so "automatic" focusing is no longer possible.

Posted by:

18 Sep 2018

I'd like similar information for a Mac.

Posted by:

18 Sep 2018

I have gone through all these tweaks and adjustments more than 1 time over the years. The time it takes and the skill level should put this under "Geeky Update". The one change I want to make is making the text black. Jet black. Most websites' text is grey, usually a light grey. Why? Why grey?? Grey is harder to see. I notice as the font size increases, the grey gets darker . . . but using control + also makes the viewing area smaller and now I have to scroll back and forth - up and down - not good.

Not being a web page designer, I do not understand why these millenials with perfect eyesight don't make the font color BLACK. (Don't tell me black causes eye strain - grey is what's straining my eyes.) Why would a black letter turn grey as the size decreases?? This makes no sense to me. Remember when we had only black and white TV? Why is black so difficult?

When I search for help, I notice many others with this same problem. Bob, thanks for your help, but all these adjustments do not work for me.

Posted by:

18 Sep 2018

I use a pair of readers just for use when at the computer and another pair for watching TV. My regular glasses are trifocals.

To reduce eyestrain when on the computer, I usually use the dark screen options whenever they are available.

Posted by:

18 Sep 2018

For my work, I have three external monitors attached to my laptop, for a total of four monitors of varying sizes. It is vital that I can comfortably read all of these for an entire workday. Using Windows built in options helps to some degree, but comes with sacrifices, as well. Ultimately, I just needed to improve how well I can see.

I have always needed glasses for distance, but of course, with the age-related presbyopia that is ubiquitous to those of us over 40, I also need glasses for up close. I tried progressive trifocals, and found them to be quite inadequate. They are great for distance. But, no matter how these were "set up," the portion for viewing "mid-range" (which includes computer monitors,) was never comfortable. It usually resulted in some extremely uncomfortable neck-bending that was highly unsustainable. So, I depended upon contacts that were set up differently for each eye (one more for mid-range and one more for distance,) along with a pair of readers. But, this was kind of a hassle. So, at my last eye doctor appointment, we tried something else, and it is working out great.

My new glasses are NOT tri-focal lenses, but, instead, bi-focal lenses. The top (main) portion is set up to comfortably read mid-range distances (up to about six feet.) This works fantastically for all of my monitors. No funky neck-maneuvering required! I can keep higher resolutions on all of my monitors (allowing more real estate on each,) and still read them all without issue. A smaller bottom portion of the lenses are dedicated to reading. This allows me to comfortably transition from the monitors to paperwork sitting on my desk, and still be able to read that. This has been so very freeing! The missing portion on these glasses is distance. I still have my old tri-focals, which worked great for distance, to fill in that gap. However, because the mid-range of the new bi-focals is set up to accommodate a range of about 6 feet, I rarely need to reach for the old tri-focals for distance. I can adequately use the new glasses for most "around the house" tasks just fine. Watching TV from a distance and driving are really the only times I need to switch over to my old "distance" glasses. This arrangement has improved the quality of my daily life so much. My best friend is planning to do the same at her next appointment, because she is also tired of the inadequacy of the mid-range vision on her tri-focals. Even my eye doctor did this for herself!

So, if your issue is balancing distance, up close and mid-range, and tri-focals are not cutting it for the mid-range, consider getting "computer" glasses (bi-focals for mid-range and reading) along with using a separate pair of glasses for distance activities such as driving or watching TV.

Posted by:

18 Sep 2018

One of the biggest causes of not being able to see the screen properly is when folks (fortunately not all) position a nice bright reading lamp close to the monitor. I've often attended folks with PC problems & so very often when I approach their setup (which I can usually see quite well), they ask "Shall I put a light on for you?" (or open the curtains to let more light in).

Posted by:

18 Sep 2018

Thank you Bob, I just used the CTL plus scroll mouse to enlarge the text on my display - Just what I needed.

Posted by:

18 Sep 2018

Mr. Rankin,
If I am not mistaken "ClearType" (cttune - aka sub-pixel rendering) is still an available utility in Windows OS. This software typography technology was developed quite some time ago by Microsoft.
BTW >> Contrary to folklore; "Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog" is much more than just a Lorem ipsum text padding.
*In addition, the background color customization (for text) can also be useful, as well as possibly changing the font type and its own color.
*Some people also feel that the "Display Color Calibration" may also enhance legibility.
*Of course, there is always the option to make text displayed on the screen a 'Bold' font.

Posted by:

Robert A.
18 Sep 2018

I agree 100% with poster Greg, above. Low contrast grey text is indeed hard to see. I often times have problems seeing the "elevator car" scroll bar on the right side of the screen, because it's often tinted nearly the same color as the background page. I wish page designers would give the reader a higher contrast text option. or. better yet, make the contrast hi-res, from the start, and then, maybe have the option to back the contrast off for those who like a little less of it.

Posted by:

18 Sep 2018

Like others have commented, web designers often use grey, and other low contrast colours for some unknown reason.
I have a Chrome extension called High Contrast which allows a variety of settings and customisation for individual web-sites which I find very useful. Maybe some of your other readers may find it useful.

Posted by:

Paul Kinnecom
19 Sep 2018

I am surprised that you did not mention the magnifier that comes up when you hold the Windows key and tap the "+" key. Three modes of magnification are available in this fashion:
1) a small rectangular magnifier that you can move around the screen;
2) magnifies the whole screen; and
3) magnifies your cursor location in a screen-wide rectangle at the top of the screen.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I did mention that option, near the end of the article. Thanks for the extra info on that.

Posted by:

Gary SE Wisconsin
19 Sep 2018

@Greg, I agree 100% and may I mention the light gray labels on remotes - really?? They're used in dimly lit rooms........Grrrrrr! @Laurie, your suggestions should help a LOT of people! @RandiO, Thanx for reminding me of the ClearType utility!

Posted by:

David Hakala
19 Sep 2018

Greg, try Win 10's high contrast settings to get black-black text and other helpful effects.

Posted by:

19 Sep 2018

If I was a doctor and had one more recommendation, it would have to be: Taking regular breaks from your screen-time by focusing your eyes to infinity much more often than you brush your teeth every day.

Posted by:

19 Sep 2018

1. Thanks, Bob for all your great advice.
2. As a photographer, the moment I reset my brightness to 50 the screen got "grey." I pulled up my standard color test image and indeed it was dull. I can't make correct decisions when editing my images at that setting!
Is there a way to set things in an advanced custom selection just for my image editing that remains 100% bright? Your wise advice is appreciated. BTW, over the years I have purchased a few Snickers bars. Really, LOL.

Posted by:

19 Sep 2018

Dollar Store reading glasses. Problem solved.

Posted by:

Thomas Warrow
25 Sep 2018

Please send me your article of 9/24, about freezing your five credit accounts, I accidentally deleted it. My PC was acting-up taking action on two lines for each key strike in my email.

Thanks Tom Warrow

Posted by:

Marge Teilhaber
05 Oct 2018

Bob, I know and love Ctrl and the "+" or "-" keys but never knew about Ctrl and "0" (zero). THANK YOU!!

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