Typography on a (scaled) HiDPI display

Manuel FantoniManuel Fantoni Posts: 3
edited January 2017 in Technique and Theory

I have a question regarding how fonts render on a modern HiDPI computer screen.

I'm going to buy a new 15" Windows 10 laptop: the brand new Dell XPS 15 9560 (i7 cpu, 512gb ssd, 16gb ram and gtx 1050 dgpu). My only dilemma is about the display resolution options: FHD (1920x1080) or 4K (3840x2160)?

I read long articles and books on my laptop (pdf, epub and doc files; web pages) and I really, really love to see sharp and crisp typography and images on screen.

With the FHD display, I would set Windows scaling to 100%; with the 4k display to 200%. As a result, I will get the same screen estate with either option.

So my question is: will I see fonts and images more sharp and crisp on the 4k display scaled at 200%, comparing to FHD scaled at 100%? And if this is true, will the difference be really noticeable watching the screen at standard distance?


  • If you don't have a store nearby that has the Dell on display, try to find an Apple Store. All of the Mac laptops have hiDPI screens. The Mac rendering is a bit different then on Windows but it should give you a good enough idea. 
    Me personally will never by something with a standard resolution screen. 
  • There is a substantial difference. It is really noticeable to most users. Exactly how big that difference is... is somewhat subjective. But like Georg I would almost certainly go for the higher res screen. I really noticed it when I switched to a Retina screen.

  • The benefit of high DPI comes from two factors: 1) the number of pixels used to render a given size of text, and 2) the size of pixels as your eye sees it.

    If you're running the FHD at 100% and the 4k at 200%, then the 4k will use twice as many pixels to render a given size of text. I.e. the FHD will use 16 pixels to render "12pt" text; meanwhile, the 4k will use 32 pixels to render "12pt". (I put 12pt in quotes because it's 12pt from a software perspective (i.e. what you type in the app), not because that's how big you can measure it on the screen with a ruler). So, the 4k will have the advantage here - because it's got twice as many pixels for 12 point, it can render more of the letterform.

    If these monitors are roughly the same size, then the 4k will have pixels that are half the size of the FHD, making it harder to see them. Here again, the 4k will have the advantage because letters will have smoother edges. 

    Worth noting: the screen's contrast has as much of an impact as DPI (see Kevin Larson's AtypI Brazil talk). So also take a look at the contrast numbers on these displays. More contrast is better. (Take a look at Mac laptop or Microsoft Surface displays - you'll see they have a huge amount of contrast and color gamut in addition to being 200+dpi).
  • You may find some non-hi-dpi-aware apps that render at physical pixel sizes, making things look tiny on the 4K display. Older versions of Adobe apps, for example. Windows 10 does attempt to make some such apps scale, and that may make text look fuzzy, but you can control that. I think most common apps are becoming hi-dpi-aware, though, so I'd go for 4K.
  • I've got Dell XPS 13" 3200x1800, and it makes a big difference, in my view.
  • My 5k screen makes text look incredible. Not as good as print, but the difference between this and 1080p is astounding.
  • I presume that there is also some dependence on the font rendering engine used by the specific app - for example, text in Word (where I unfortunately spend most of my time) definitely looks worse than in Indesign on a 1080p display, and I wonder whether any amount of increased resolution would help?
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