Is anybody else using the ClearType font-smoothing option in Windows XP / 2K? I’ve heard from a number of places recently that it makes text much sharper when used on LCD monitors, so I just enabled it. In theory it works because each pixel on an LCD monitor is made up of red, green and blue sub-pixels. ClearType uses the sub-pixels to smooth out individual characters, which apparently makes them more readable, without losing the sharpness of the edges. The effect is customisable using the Microsoft Powertoy.

With LCD monitors being as sharp as they are, I’m used to reading text where each character is clearly visible. I don’t mind seeing each pixel, as it’s sharp and readable. Now ClearType is enabled, there are no longer clearly defined pixels making up each character, so it seems blurry. Everything seems bolder, but marginally less distinct. Characters seem to have a very slight halo, which I guess is due to the sub-pixels smoothing out the edges. I don’t understand the claim that text is sharper. How can it be sharper than rendering each pixel?

So, is it an improvement? My first thoughts are that no, it isn’t. Because it seems more blurry, I feel like I’m having to concentrate more to read the text. However, the smoothness does have a certain appeal, and even as I type this post I’m getting used to it. The text is bolder and darker without actually taking up any more space1. I’ve been using standard font-smoothing for a very long time, and I’m used to it. The theory behind ClearType seems sound. Microsoft claim that it’s easier on the eyes, and various comments I’ve found online suggest trying it for a while and seeing how you go. Not very scientific, but I’ll give it a try for a while and see how I get on.

An interesting quirk is that the text cursor now goes all sorts of pretty colours when it hovers over text. With normal text, the cursor turns white if placed over a character, whereas now it goes blue and pink at the edges, due to the greyscale sub-pixels. I guess it must use a basic colour inversion…interesting.

If you want to try it, go to Control Panel –> Display –> Appearance –> Effects, then select ClearType as a font-smoothing option. The powertoy can be found here, and is certainly worth playing around with.

  1. I think – this could well be nonsense []