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ITsVISTA Tip 29: Use Vista’s DPI Support to Scale Your User Interface

TipsDo you sometimes have a hard time reading the text on your screen, especially on laptop computers? This may be because of something called DPI. DPI (dots per inch) refers to pixel density, or the number of pixels displayed in an inch. On standard desktop monitors, this has generally been 96dpi, but many laptop screens are more dense, displaying up to 144dpi. This has the effect of making everything look smaller. For a few more details on DPI in Vista, see Greg Schechter’s Blog.

One way to get around this is to change your screen resolution. By lowering the resolution, everything will look bigger, but you won’t be able to see as much (less real estate) and the image quality will suffer. To combat this problem, Vista allows you to instead adjust the DPI, and has been designed to be more intelligent in the way it then displays the interface. You can adjust the DPI from 96dpi (100%) to 480dpi (500%), though 96dpi and 120dpi are the most common settings. To see what your screen looks like at 500% (unusable), take a look at this post.

Here’s how to change your DPI:

  1. Right-click on your desktop and choose Personalize.
  2. Choose Adjust font size (DPI) from the left column of the Personalization window. If UAC is on, you’ll be prompted to approve your escalation of privileges.
    Adjust font size (DPI)
  3. In the DPI Scaling window you can choose to increase the dpi to 120 just by clicking the radio button. If you want a different setting, click the Custom DPI… button.
    DPI Scaling
  4. In the DPI Scaling Settings window, you can choose from a few percentages from the drop down menu, or you can simply click on the ruler and drag your cursor to the right, which will ‘stretch’ the ruler out, increasing the dpi.
    Custom DPI Setting
  5. The Use Windows XP style DPI scaling box is useful if you are running applications that are not ‘DPI aware’. As mentioned here, it is checked by default for sizes <=120 DPI and unchecked by default for sizes >120DPI.
    XP Style DPI scaling
  6. Once you’ve chosen the scale you want, click OK and you’ll see your custom size listed in the DPI scaling window. Click OK again and you’ll be prompted that restart is required for the change to take effect. After restarting, you’re screen will be displayed at the chosen dpi. Be careful about choosing to large a scale, if you get it to large, it will be very difficult to navigate back to the screen to change it back since everything might not fit on the screen properly.
    DPI Scaling

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  • ReaderX

    Jan 31, 2007 at 10:46 am

    By changing to 120 DPI, this breaks a number of CSS based websites. And a lot of people are now getting 120 DPI-default laptops with XP.

    What can web designers do to make sure sites work well with 120 DPI Windows?

  • Joe

    Jan 31, 2007 at 11:13 am

    I Google’d around a bit and didn’t find a quick and easy answer to that. It does suggest to me though that I should set a screen to 120DPI and take a look through my site to see what it does. I’m guessing that in the end, you have no control how people see your site unless it’s all graphic, which of course in impractical.

  • ITsVISTA Tip 43: Restore Your 480DPI Screen Back to Normal | ITsVISTA

    Mar 10, 2007 at 10:47 am

    [...] tip 29 I explained how to change your screen DPI to resize some of your UI elements. On the extreme end, [...]

  • Marco

    Apr 10, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    When I set my DPI config to 120 my icons look distorted, but i used to do this with the dell quickset utility that came with my laptop and the icons didn’t change, only letters, how can i achieve this on vista?

  • Joe

    Apr 12, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Not sure I understand what you’re saying. One way is:
    Personalization/Window Color and Appearance/Open classic appearance properties/Advanced then select the item you want to change the size of the text for
    Another is of course changing the screen resolution.

  • DT

    May 25, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    I am having a hard time viewing my laptop screen too, but because the default font is too large. My display is set at 96dpi and it is just too big on my screen. I have only a 17″ widescreen laptop monitor at 1400X900 resolution and regularly have a couple hundred active projects organized on the desktop, so space is a premium I can’t afford to waste on big fonts. In XP I used to scale the font size down, but the location you refer to in personalization refuses to let me reduce the font size to something more suitable such as 72dpi or 80% of regular font size. Do you know of another way to reduce the font size or where the registry setting is?

  • DT

    May 30, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    After a week of searching I think I’ve finally found it! Talk about burried… In case anyone else wants more control over font sizes here is how you can change your font sizes (though you aren’t given dpi level control):

    Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> Personalization -> Window Color and Appearance -> Open classic appearance properties for more color options -> Advanced -> Icon -> Size:

    I, probably like 99% of other people, kept getting derailed in personalization by the fact that there is a link there that says ‘Adjust Font Size’. To any rational person it would seem like the link to adjusting fonts should be found in there somewhere…but it is not.

  • piglitlover

    Jun 11, 2008 at 1:55 am

    DT…tried your fix…didn’t work on my Vista Home Premium. It just kind of moved the icon over a little…weird. BUT…it did help me to find those settings that I have been looking for for about a year!!! THANKS!!!!

  • piglitlover

    Jun 11, 2008 at 2:10 am

    When I change the resolution, it gets blurry. How do I fix that?

  • DT

    Jun 12, 2008 at 4:39 am

    Unfortunately, the quality declines because of how windows approaches this. With a good ATI or nVidia card on a real high quality LCD, or even CRT, you won’t notice it enough to care, but on some screens or with some video cards it is unbearable.

    The real problem is Vista. After more than a year of using Vista Ultimate, I am more than ever sure that the interface is a downgrade. You are more limited in what you can do and even after working in it 12 hours a day for more than a year, finding settings for things is never an intuitive task.

    For example, I’m still trying to figure out how to make all of my folders maintain the same detail view. No matter how many times I click apply view to all folders, my folders still don’t remain in a view mode.

    Just one of a variety of Vista annoyances. Almost everything I do end up getting the way I want it requires finding the right registry entry in Vista. I don’t really understand how an OS that took so long to build can be such a huge step backward in usability. Other than continued security upgrades, which is a must in my work, I can’t think of a reason why anyone would choose Vista over 2000 or xp professional. Vista, and this month’s expiration of full xp security support, are what finally convinced me to make a full-time move to Linux, but at work I still have to use Vista.

  • techsprite

    Jul 21, 2008 at 9:36 am

    Customizing the DPI worked perfectly on my laptop EXCEPT …
    Now the shutdown button at the bottom of the start pane has all but vanished.

    So many little things not thought through in this OS. Why, oh why did I “upgrade”?

  • DT

    Jul 22, 2008 at 1:57 am

    The key is to “upgrade” to windows classic view and windows classic start menu. Then all of your buttons go back to where you can easily spot them and your applications can be found without using a lot of scrolling buttons. Isn’t Vista fun? At least you have translucency and regular popups to ask if you’re sure you want to do what you want to do. Doesn’t that make it all worthwhile?

  • Steve

    Jan 31, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    Your post, as well as the exchange of information in your comment boxes, are very informative and have been really helpful. Thanks, DT!

  • DT

    Feb 4, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Glad I could be of help. I think we need community support groups for Microsoft Windows users where we can all sit around in a circle with a shrink asking “why? Why? WHY? didn’t the MS programmers ask actual windows users what they want and did MS programmers decide to remove the features we actually liked?”

    I don’t post many things online, but Vista simply provided a lot of new frustrations that took me hundreds of hours to overcome. 4 years later, I still haven’t figured out how to view full multimedia details in explore, get full control over sound settings, or even get consistent “folder” view settings for ordinary directories. I’d be happier if I could just get the stupid explore to default to showing “path” instead of “folder” when I’m doing a windows search! Oh well, at least our fonts are the right size now!

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