ClearType or font smoothing/antialiasing

I can’t help but notice that the font smoothing/antialiasing in Scrivener does not seem to be working very well, or at least as well as viewing a compiled PDF, for example.

I do have ClearType turned on in Windows 7, but the fonts in Scrivener are still displayed with subtle jagged edges, especially noticeable when compared to Adobe Acrobat.

I am attaching outputs from Scrivener and Acrobat magnified to similar sizes (about 200%) to illustrate the difference.

I’m wondering if there’s anything that can be tweaked to improve the display?

Thank God I’m not the only dweeb who noticed this. I’m using Cambria as a working font only because the smoothing (or lack thereof) is less distracting.

This is a problem I looked into quite closely in the early days of Scrivener Windows betas.

It’s basically an issue with Qt, the text editor library originally from Nokia, which many programs including Scrivener now use as basis. Further, it’s tied up with Microsoft’s rather different view on font rendering from Adobe for example.

Frankly, I forget the details beyond this – little we can do about them until the Qt development team provides an upgrade, which they have been lead to promise to do. It’s not just simple response to hinting, though partially; I think the issue is whether hinting is agreed to be needed in both height and width for tiny character rendering, and Microsoft took as usual a less-than-optimal way out, which Qt presently follows.

There are two ways around seeing bad renderings, however, and looking at them will also help convince you about the nature of the problem.

  1. Increase your character size on screen, by direct font size setting, or by magnification – doesn’t matter. Once any font gets beyond the point of tiny rendering, you’ll see that it will show with very clean, nice looking, and nicely spaced characters, as well as appropriate weight per font and variation. This proves a lot of things, including that kerning and tracking are really working correctly. It was my early suspicion that they weren’t, but this was wrong. I even constructed the Qt rich text editor demonstration, and it proved this point as well as that Scrivener is using the library correctly.

  2. However, you quite possibly don’t want to compose your work with big characters. Then you can choose to use any of the Microsoft fonts which they had made to fit their idea of small character screen rendering. For example, Verdana, Trebuchet, Arial, Tahoma, or Georgia. Or Courier New, for the typewriter look, which I’m actually enjoying for the moment. These will look as good as they ever do at any size in Scrivener. If you dig into it, it really is because of how their hinting and rendering is set up, not just because Microsoft distorted the shapes of more pleasant and famous fonts. If you can live with their version’s looks, then you can have a consistent optical appearance even at small sizes.

Do note that not all later Microsoft fonts follow the old rules: I like Calibri, when it’s properly rendered, but it’s apparently hinted for more modern thinking.

Yes, Adobe professional products can do much better. There is some correspondence on forums within the now public-domain Qt effort, where some probably Nokia people expressed surprise that anything needed to be done, quite possibly because they were telephone people. An upgrade was promised, once they were convinced, but I haven’t seen it yet. When it comes, it will no doubt be incorporated into Scrivener.

In the meantime, I use InDesign for nice font work, but I don’t expect or need that from Scrivener: it is for aid to the mental processes of writing, and excels in that. InDesign even has an internal editor for writing which is for the purpose of escaping any thinking about fonts or other formatting, which heads on the direction of the same principle.

Hoping this helps, and to enjoy Scrivener’s great advantages over 20 years of other means of writing on a computer.

Regards,
Clive