You say it 'looks good on paper?' It must not be using ClearType....

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/09/11 03:01 -04:00, original URI:

I have posted before on this issue, several times, in fact. And so have many others.

But now there are sometimes really compelling reasons in particular situations.

Like this one that Jeff Atwood points out. The behavior he is seeing is truly heinous, in my opinion.

And if you are using a CRT, you might feel the same way, as I have said in the past.

People from the ClearType team (such as Kevin Larson here and here and architect Greg Hitchcock here) have gone to some extensive effort to explain why there are so many situations where you cannot turn it off, and that things will look better if you don't try....

But just yesterday, Simon sent me the most compelling reason yet, starting with a Development Editor at MSDN Magazine sending mail to an author about an article they had submitted:

The art department would like you to retake a few of the screen shots with font smoothing turned off and display color set to Highest (32 bit). They prefer art in .bmp or .tif format.

Specifically, we need new shots for figures 6, 7 and 11.

See the attached e-mail for tips on avoiding font-smoothing/anti-aliasing in Vista (not a trivial problem). Font smoothing looks nice on screen but prints badly with our four-color process. Hence what looks OK to most folks when working in Word doesn’t work for us, and the jaggies actually print better and are more readable. Go figure.

Interesting -- so there are times when if one is creating documents and taking screen shots for print media that one must turn off ClearType because even if looks wonderful on the screen, it will look wrong in print on glossy paper.

This can obviously have a huge impact on all of the articles that will be printed with Vista screenshots -- is the text is all blurry then it willo certainly not have a positive impact on readers!

Greg Hitchcock (the architect mentioned above) and others explained the reason for this, a reason that also explains how some publications may have had some luck working around the problem:

...the problem might be minimized if the screen resolution were increased. At one level, ClearType works by taking advantage of the sub-pixel arrangement on an LCD screen. These sub-pixels are one-third the width of a screen pixel. What happens when you take a screen shot for printing is that pixel gets associated with one color (so now the color is 3× larger) and then the pixel gets scaled up to match the resolution of the printer. This last scaling process significantly increases the size of the color pixel. Beat theorized that if the actual screen resolution from which you took the screen shot was higher, the size of the color pixels would be smaller when scaled, leading to the potential for less blur.

More info on the "fix" suggestion from one of the folks in research:

I discussed this issue with the MSDN [Magazine] folks back in March, and came to the same conclusion... the important thing is not to capture the screen shots as if the display was 72dpi, but instead it should be processed at the print resolution (typically 150dpi) This makes for 2x smaller screen shots, but the artifacts should be substantially reduced. I think [they were] unhappy with this solution, and it doesn't help people who don't know to do this...

Of course I remember when I worked on my book (and also on articles I worked on fo msny different magazines) that they had strict rules related to system settings for screenshots that most certainly did not allow for any change in DPI settings, let alone a big change like this.

But just to experiment a bit, here is a bit of text in Notepad with ClearType on, at various DPI settings trying to keep the text the same size. First we have 96 dpi, Consolas 20 pt:

And then we have 150 dpi, Consolas 14 pt:

and finally, 300 dpi Consolas 7 pt:

(You can click on the picture in each one to see the non-ClearType version)

Now this test is mainly meant to prove (a) how impractical changing the DPI setting is for screen shots, not only since such a change requires text resizing (which is not possible for UI controls anyway), but also it can make the UI look different enough that it is not representative of the thing the screen shot was meant to capture.

Not to mention that it was very hard to see anything on the screen at the 300 dpi setting. Try it some time, you'll see what I mean.

So in the meantime, if Vista looks bad in a magazine article's or a book's screenshot, be sure not to blame Vista.

Life would be so much easier if there were a a way to turn off the #$!*% ClearType if I request it? I feel certain that the problem here in printed material screenshots, which is a very real one, is just as important to cover as a scenario as the ones that ClearType is designed to support....


This post brought to you by C (U+0043, a.k.a. LATIN CAPITAL LETTER C)

Wesner Moise on 11 Sep 2006 3:59 AM:

Some screen snapshot utilities could do a WM_PRINT on the actual window which could altogether eliminate the problem as well as improve the resolution of the printed image. I am assume that WM_PRINT gets you a vector representation of the screen in an offscreen graphics device context.

Michael S. Kaplan on 11 Sep 2006 4:15 AM:

Hello Wesner,

Actually, that full screen image will fail in exactly the same way -- because the image of the screen is showing ClearType working at a lower actual resolution. This is the problem that folks face with screen shots, all of them.

Michael S. Kaplan on 11 Sep 2006 5:37 AM:

Or alternately if printers develop their own notion akin to ClearType as well....

Mike on 11 Sep 2006 2:58 PM:

Mostly what your example shows is that what Windows calls "DPI" is almost entirely unrelated to dots-per-inch.  It's a mis-named scaling factor for UI elements and nothing more.

That is of course unless you monitor is physically changing size as you adjust your DPI independently from your screen resolution...

Michael S. Kaplan on 11 Sep 2006 3:02 PM:

Actually, it would be less confusing if it were called DPSI (dots per screen insh) since that is what is acvtually trying to be.....

Maurits [MSFT] on 11 Sep 2006 4:08 PM:

> Life would be so much easier if there were a a way to turn off ... ClearType

Hear, hear.

The most important part of any new feature is the ability to turn it off.

John Hudson on 12 Sep 2006 12:21 AM:

I've had the slightly different problem of actually wanting to print screenshots with ClearType, screenshots that show ClearType in action. This is quite difficult, because 1:1 scale reproduction of antialiased screenshots looks terriblly fuzzy; greyscale is bad too, not just ClearType. My solution, which only works for quite small amounts of CT rendered text, is this:

1. Get a high resolution monitor with a decent size, such as 1900x1200 pixels, running at native resolution.

2. Set your CT text sample and stick it as far into one corner as possible, occupying as little screen space as possible.

3. Use Zoomin or some other enlargement tool, let it occupy as much of the screen as possible without obscuring your CT sample, and enlarge the sample as big as you can get it.

4. Take a screen capture and save it as e.g. a jpeg.

5. In your page layout application, scale the screenshot down so that you get the CT text sample to the size you want. You now have a fairly high resolution graphic which will print much better than a 1:1 screenshot.

Michael S. Kaplan on 12 Sep 2006 1:10 AM:

I was joking about that today with Carolyn -- how do you print the ClearType manual? :-)

Dean Harding on 12 Sep 2006 1:46 AM:

If you want to show the ClearType in action, you can just take the screenshot normally, and most image-manipulation programs let you scale images using a 'best-fit' algorithm. So you just scale the image 400% (or some integer multiple) using a 'best-fit' algorithm, and it'll give you nice square pixels.

That's how I took the screenshots in this post (where I'm pointing out ANOTHER problem with ClearType, naturally!):

referenced by

2006/10/25 It is a challenge to make ClearType irrelevant

2006/09/11 WYSINLAWYG (What You See Is No Longer Always What You Get)

go to newer or older post, or back to index or month or day