Make desktop text easy to read

You stare at your computer screen for hours each day. You owe it to your eyes to make the text on your screen as easy to read as possible, but choosing the right system fonts can be difficult. Windows lets you use TrueType and other scalable fonts of almost any size, but many scalable fonts quickly become illegible when shrunk, and a too-large font can clutter your workspace.

These tips will help you achieve compact yet readable fonts for your icon labels and other Windows elements.

BASIC STEPS To change the size of the text labels that Windows uses in your icons, title bars, menus, and other interface items, select Start-Settings-Control Panel and open the Display applet, or right-click the desktop and choose Properties. Click the Appearance tab and choose a screen element, such as Active Title Bar, from the Item drop-down list. Now select a typeface from the Font drop-down list and a size from the box to the right. Click Apply to see the results, and then click OK.

STICK TO BITMAPS Most bitmap fonts are designed specifically for on-screen viewing, and they're often easier to read on a monitor than PostScript, TrueType, and other scalable formats. The problem is figuring out which fonts listed in Display Properties are bitmap fonts. Click Start-Settings-Control Panel and open the Fonts applet. Make sure you have Large Icons selected in the View menu. The icons labelled with a red capital A are bitmap fonts, and those with two capital Ts are TrueType fonts. Though some dialogue boxes show these icons in the drop-down list, Display Properties does not.

SEE ALL AVAILABLE FONTS If only TrueType fonts are listed when you open your Fonts folder, your system is probably configured to hide all other fonts. To change this setting, click Start-Settings-Control Panel, open the Fonts applet, and then choose View-Options or Tools-Folder Options, depending on your version of Windows. Click the TrueType tab and make sure the box next to "Show only TrueType fonts in the programs on my computer" is unchecked. Now click OK and follow the prompts to let Windows restart.

TRY AN ADOBE SYSTEM FONT Many Adobe applications - including Photoshop, InDesign, and recent versions of the free Acrobat Reader - use a special bitmap font for dialogue boxes and floating palettes. The small version of this font creates crisp, readable icon labels and maximises screen real estate.

If you have one of these applications, chances are you already have the font. To tell Windows how to use it, choose Start-Find-Files or Folders or Start-Search-For Files or Folders, depending on your version of Windows. In the top box, type ad*.fon. To save time, have the search start in the folder where your Adobe applications are installed - for example, c:\program files or c:\program files\adobe. Click Find Now or Search Now. Look for a file named AdobeUI.FON or Admui316.FON - either of these names will do. Now click Start-Settings-Control Panel and open the Fonts applet. Go back to the Search Results or Find Files window, and drag either of the .fon files to the Fonts window to create a copy of the file there. If you see an error message, you've selected a version of the font that doesn't work with Windows. In that case, try using a font from a different Adobe application folder (if you have one).

Once you've found a font that doesn't trigger an error message, close the Search/Find and Fonts windows. When you reopen the Font drop-down list under the Appearance tab in Display Properties, you will see fonts with such names as AdobeLg, AdobeSm, ADMUI3LG, and ADMUI3SM. Experiment with these fonts to find one that suits your needs (to do so, select Icon in the Item drop-down list).

FIX THE WIDTH Once you've customised your icon and folder labels, you may find that the text under the icons is too wide or not wide enough. To fix that, return to the Display Properties dialogue box. Select Icon Spacing (Horizontal) from the Item drop-down list. Increase or decrease the Size number to the right, and click Apply to see the width of the area occupied by the text change. This setting changes the spacing between icons when you right-click the desktop or a folder with large icons and choose either Line Up Icons or an option from the Arrange Icons menu.

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