My Love/Hate relationship with ClearType

I've been vacillating a bit on ClearType recently. I love ClearType in theory. A threefold improvement in horizontal resolution on LCDs is an incredible step forward for computer displays. Internet Explorer 7 forces the issue a bit by always defaulting to ClearType for web content, even if you haven't enabled ClearType in Windows XP.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Er… wow. I didn’t realize text rendering was so hideous in OSX.

I guess that’s something Mac fans don’t go out of their way to mention…

The wierd color effects are due to the bitwise color inversion. It’s a simple hack to ensure the selection color contrasts with the selection contents, then easily change it back once the selection is gone.

Unfortunately the inversion will produce odd color gradients because it occurs at the bit level. The effect should happen with anti-aliasing too.

Text rendering on OSX normally looks much better than Windows especially the cleartype variant that uses less colourful pixels for the ‘subpixel’ precision.

As for Consolas being the best programming font ever… perhaps with the improvements in Vista but under XP it looks so-so and I’ll never get over the annoying looped lower case g.

Try Andale Mono, Anonymous, Bitstream Vera Sans for cleartype capable sweet looking fixed width fonts.


To be fair, that Mac screenshot looks like it was done in Firefox. AFAIK Firefox on MacOS does not (currently) use the advanced typography that is available to Cocoa-based browsers such as Safari. As far as quality of text rendering goes I would say Safari would be as good as anything else out there, any platform.

And what’s up with IE7 ignoring your cleartype settings?

Another point – ClearType doesn’t work (and is usually disabled) if you’ve rotated your LCD screen so as to be taller than it is wide (which I have). I don’t have effectively 3x greater horizontal resolution! I have 3x greater vertical resolution. All your screenshots look particularly atrocious on my monitor (unless I flip it back around the other way).

As Alastair said, compare text with something other than Firefox on OS X. Text rendering is actually better on OS X. At least to my eyes. I have not used Vista though. Just ClearType on Windows. And ClearType sucks until you run the Tuner PowerToy.

Mac fans don’t go out of their way to mention it because text on OS X is of very good quality. Firefox is an edge case. In general, most applications on OS X have great looking text rendering. Nice try. :wink:

Apart from one rock bottom IBM model I have never seen any monitor of any type that has been improved by ClearType. No matter how it is adjusted, it always has anomalies. Perhaps it works for mobile phones and such, but not for decent 1280x1024 or higher LCD screens which have no problems displaying readable text to begin with.

“Internet Explorer 7 forces the issue a bit by always defaulting to ClearType for web content”

This is an incredibly bad idea - it will look like crud for most people.

I have a couple of applications where they use ClearType by default and you cannot switch this off and this is very frustrating. What’s the point of having a good monitor and excellent eyesight if something is making the text look like you’re wearing someone else’s spectacles?

Firefox is an edge case

Sounds like Firefox doesn’t use the correct font APIs, so it’s not a good example.

ClearType in Vista is much better than in XP

“it will look like crud for most people”

Um, no. It will look great for most people.

Whenever the subject ClearType comes up a few people always come out of the woodwork and proclaim that ClearType looks UTTERLY HORRIBLY DISGUSTINGLY UNWATCHABLE on their system.

Then they proceed to declare ClearType an utter failure and act as if everyone was already agreed on that.

Newsflash: You’re a small minority. The vast majority loves ClearType. Yes, on XP. Yes, on normal-sized LCD monitors. Deal.

Certainly it should always be possible to disable ClearType for those people who apparently have strange issues with it, but defaulting it to “on” is an excellent idea.

By the way, Jeff: just in case your strange colorization effecs aren’t due to bit inversion, as Damien said, did you try the various ClearType settings for different sub-pixel color arrangement?

The problem is not ClearType, it’s your sucky hex editor which inverts RGB color values instead of reversing background-foreground and using that to print text.

Try the same font somewhere else (Visual Studio?) and the problem is gone.

ClearType does work. It’s statistically proven, even:

My problem is the edge cases, as shown in the screenshots.

Erm. This may be just a matter of opinion, but I think the bold text looks better with high contrast. It looks bolder.

I suppose it all boils down to taste.

I have no idea why the ClearType issue is such a big deal to some small minority of people. All three of the shots that were posted looked almost exactly the same to me. It’s not even something that I would notice unless I spent 5 minutes looking for it, which I sadly did.

Maybe you should try DejaVu fonts. They are not only open source but they contain one of the best (my opinion) mono font. I use it all the time for development.

Yes, light text on a dark background looks bad, but how much of the time are you reading light on dark? I think it’s worth a few dodgy-looking glyphs to get normal text looking great.

Your vision must be much better than mine. I can’t tell any difference among the samples you provided above. I always set ClearType to this max setting and leave it there.