What's Wrong With Apple's Font Rendering?

Parveen - I don’t wear glasses, and I prefer the windows font rendering.

I once read an article where Steve Jobs was explaining why he thought Microsoft “didn’t get user interfaces” (perhaps not a direct quote but close enough). In the article he explained that Mac Fonts are rendered to look like traditional print (magazine, newspaper, etc.). At this I think they succeeded. To those who use Windows Mac fonts appear blurry because you’re used to the decidedly pixely, crisp edges used in Windows font rendering. When I switched from Windows to OS X I wasn’t crazy about it what I thought were ‘blurry’ OS X font, but now when I look at Windows I think the pixely fonts look bad.

The point is it’s absolutely a user preference. One that by the way is probably pretty clearly split down Graphic Designer and Software Developer lines.

I think the key here is “rendering”. The Apple fonts are “rendered” - they’re properly displayed as typefaces. The Windows fonts are really just “anti-aliased” - they’re basically the same as the non-smoothed versions, but with the pixels smoothed out.

I wear glasses, and prefer the Apple version. It takes getting used to, but it’s definitely more “correct” to my eyes.

Just stop making your website text so goddamn small :wink:

I always find OS X’s font rendering much better than Windows’ traditional stuff, and thought Joel’s article was really weird. Cleartype is better, but still very thin. I have terrible sight in one eye and am not wearing my glasses.

It works much better for black text; on this site I can see color fringing on the edges from the subpixel stuff.

Most of how it works involves ignoring the font hinting, but I think it might use it for subtle effects.

Oh, I meant this article - a href="http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000041.html"http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000041.html/a
which is about how antialiasing is bad because Corel is bad at antialiasing.

Looks like this links to a different one.

Interesting article by John Gruber discussing the way that font are(were?) rendered in OS X Panther.

I also prefer Apple’s font rendering. It looks more like a what you’d see on a piece of paper.
The Windows method looks like a “computer” display.

Obviously, Apple and Microsoft’s definition of “right” is different. Otherwise, we’d be running the same OS.

For some reason the Apple renderer is using subpixel anti-aliasing along the straight lines, which seems unnecessary to me

Guys, surely this has something to do with it;

  • Macs use 72dpi
  • PCs generally use 96dpi

Apple can afford to (and possibly even needs to) blur out fonts to make them legible at the view distances incurred from using 72dpi.

I hated the OSX font rendering when I switched over from Windows. I found it blurry and annoying.

Now I can’t imagine what I was thinking. The Windows fonts look skinny, gangly, and illegible.

It’s all what you’re used to…

Bear in mind we are seeing two different fonts in the comparison (Colibri in IE, Helvetica in Safari), which may muddle the issue a bit.

Once you scale up the font, the Apple method looks quite a bit better. But at small point sizes, Apple’s choice of font anti-aliasing looks just plain flat-out bad– blurry and indistinct. That’s why I strongly suspect Apple isn’t hand-hinting the font aliasing for smaller point sizes, as Microsoft clearly is. At small point sizes, it’s no contest.

After switching back and forth quite a bit, I’ll agree that it’s basically a choice between sharpness and softness. Well, minus the small font deficiency…

Hostile Monkey has it right. Microsoft makes more aggressive use of hinting at lower point sizes.

Technical explanation: Microsoft’s approach reduces anti-aliasing artifacts which makes the typeface more readable on monitors. However, this is done using hinting, which distorts the typeface’s natural dimensions due to the forced alignment to pixel boundaries. Microsoft’s approach would be considered more “correct” for people who require non-blurry, easier-to-read type at smaller point sizes, and who value practicality over accuracy.

Apple’s approach more accurately reflects the natural dimensions and spacing of the typeface, but uses significantly more anti-aliasing to accomplish this - thus making the font appear noticeably “blurrier.” Apple’s approach may be considered more “correct” by graphic artists who would probably be more interested in experiencing the true shape and design of the typeface. Apple’s approach would be preferred by people who prefer purity of form over absolute readability.

The approach that users prefer will depend on the DPI resolution of their monitor, their eyesight, the distance from their monitor, and their priorities. My guess is that “general” users would prefer Microsoft’s approach most of the time as they are more concerned about readability than form, though Apple’s approach could give their OS a classier and more “designed” look.

I just upped my DPI to 120 and WOW, I can certainly see a difference now.

Astrange, that Spolsky link is funny. Old Spolsky hates ClearType; New Spolsky likes it!


Somebody didn’t notice this: the Microsoft Reader group, which is using a form of antialiasing they call “ClearType” designed for color LCD screens, which, I’m sorry, still looks blurry, even on a color LCD screen.

To be fair, I had the same love-hate relationship with the RGB aliasing of ClearType [on low-DPI displays where you can see the pixels], until I bowed to its inevitability.

Did Apple tune down the rendering engine for the pure speed?


Macs generally use around 100dpi, higher for laptops.


Unless I’m misunderstanding you, in your example, IE isn’t displaying Colibri. Both are using Arial (as opposed to Helvetica, which you can distinguish by looking at the uppercase “G” – but that’s just nitpicking).

When I first tried a Mac, after years on Windows, the font rendering seemed a bit “off” to me as well, but I soon came to greatly prefer it – ESPECIALLY in the small sizes, in which the Mac much more accurately displays the structure of the font. Windows/ClearType appears to try to move all the stems, legs, and space between letters to as close to on-the-pixel values as it can in order to cut down on the amount of aliasing it has to do, but in doing so creates distortions of form and spacing, making for a much more “jittery” and poorly kerned body of text, not to mention a font that, at least in the above example, looks nothing like Arial.

Neither are terrible, of course, but from the standpoint of typographic tradition and print, the Mac’s rendering is far superior. I’d say give it more time.

Oops; Daniel beat me to it, and much more eloquently.

I just had a post in my blog after installing Safari browser. It’s really a coincidence that you blogged the same about font rendering. With the Safari installed in my Windows XP PC, the font rendering it really bad even after setting the “Font Smoothing” to “Light”. Hmm apple need to go much further to reach microsoft to render font in a better way.

Also the safari browser has no support for blogging (I only tried with my wordpress blog). It was quite desperating. Finally I specified the HTML formatting manually :frowning:

W.r.t what Daniel Robbins said, it’s worth noting that the pixel densities of apple’s screens are a fair bit higher than average.