How to make Windows desktop apps look better on high DPI displays, goodbye blurry fonts

Desktop app with and without high DPI setting

We’re finally starting to see more PC makers bringing high DPI displays to Windows PCs. High resolution screens don’t only provides more viewable real estate, but they make text, photos, and videos look sharp, crisp, and more beautiful than ever before.

But what no one tells you is that applications have to be built to scale properly on these displays. If they are not, you’ll get blurry fonts and pixelated images, or they just won’t scale well at all — a really big problem, even more when you spend over $1500 in that brand new Ultrabook.

Windows 8.1 brings new improvements on automatic scaling for high density displays, and users have no problems making Windows look beautiful. But up to a point, parts of the operating system still needs a lot work. For example, sections such as Device Manager, Administrative tools, and other sections still experience blurry fonts and pixelated icons. And Windows 8.1 still doesn’t support automatic scaling on multi-monitor setup (Windows 10 includes DPI scaling support for multi-monitor setup).

Device Manger problem scaling in Windows 8.1

Let’s start with the basics, Windows 8.1 will automatically choose the optimized scaling configuration for your device that being an Ultrabook, laptop, or tablet. Users can always change this configuration by going to Control Panel, Appearance and PersonalizationDisplay. Windows will provide you with all the optimal choices, but you can always use the “Let me choose one scaling level for all my displays”, to select something more specific.

Display DPI settings in Windows 8.1

Now, because hundreds of thousands desktop applications have been created before high resolutions displays this results on poor user experience with blurry text and other inconsistency.

The primary issue is that Windows automatically tries scales applications, however older apps were not design to run on high pixel density environment as a result you’ll get blurry and fuzzy fonts when automatic scaling is apply. To fix this issue, you can easily tell Windows 8.1 no to scale applications, resulting on better looking desktop apps running on high resolution, just follow the instructions below:

1. Right click the app and select Properties

Desktop app Properties in Windows 8.1

2. Navigate to the Compatibility tab, under Settings, check the box “Disable display scaling on high DPI settings”

Disable scaling on high DPI displays

3. Click Apply and OK

Following the steps mentioned above should do some good to apps. For example, you’ll no longer see blurry or fuzzy text again, only crisp and sharp fonts and other elements, as such images, will look smaller because of the obvious loss of scaling, but they won’t be pixelated or look horrible.

Of course, you’ll only have to do for older desktop applications, as all Windows Store apps already support automatic scaling and Internet Explorer also works properly on high DPI displays.

Now if you’re a Chrome user, you can also make the browser look better on high resolution displays. However, you’ll have to install the latest beta or Canary version of the web browser.

Update, August 12, 2015: The instructions shown in this guide also works for Windows 10.