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For some reason, the font-sizes on macOS appear very small.

For example, if I use Apple's own Pages and set the zoom to 100%, I would expect it to represent the page accurately on my display. However, it is actually way smaller on the display. The same holds for Microsoft's Word. Only Libre Office's Writer seems to get the right result.

So, I am wondering what might be going on there and whether something can be done about it.

Edit

This is on a MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2014), 2880-by-1800 resolution at 220 pixels per inch.

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  • One way is to change screen resolution to a lower resolution : it will increase text size.
    – Ptit Xav
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 16:18
  • @PtitXav I tried that. But the result isn't ideal. In particular, even at the lowest resolution the size did not match the physical size at 100%.
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 18:01
  • 1
    What Mac? What Screen? What resolution? And a screenshot of Display Prefs showing resolution would help.
    – Gilby
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 23:05
  • @Gilby Does that mean that you cannot reproduce? You just need to set the zoom in Pages to 100% and hold a paper to the screen to compare the size. I've added the information to the post Display Prefs shows nothing interesting: Resolution is "Default for display".
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 6:52
  • Yes, I can reproduce and see my answer for some reasons.
    – Gilby
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 9:13

3 Answers 3

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The original Mac came with a display that had 72 pixels per inch. This fitted nicely with the typographic unit, the point, so that 1 point on the page was 1 pixel on the screen. Thus 100% zoom was 1pt = 1px, and 'Actual Size'.

As technology improved, the pixel density of displays increased. 100% was still 1pt = 1px, but no longer Actual Size.

In the View > Zoom menu, Pages (and TextEdit, Preview, Safari, and most other native Mac apps) has a command called "Actual Size".

enter image description here

If I select that, I get a zoom magnification of 151%. This is because my display has a pixel density of 109ppi. 109 divided by 72 (pixels to the inch) gives 151%.

Eventually, displays got such high density that it made sense to scale everything by a factor of 2. Make everything twice as big, but pretend it's not.

On a Retina display with default scaling, the zoom factor for Actual Size should also be c. 151%. (219ppi, divided by 2, then divided by 72.)

TL;DR: Press Command0 (that's zero) to get Actual size, and forget about the %.

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  • That explanation seems about right: 220 ppi / 2 / 73 ppi is approx. 1.53. Which is also what "Actual Size" gives me. Still these percentages on Pages and Word are madness though.
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 19:31
  • @Daniel 110/72 is 1.527777.
    – benwiggy
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 20:42
  • It was just a typo. I meant 220 ppi / 2 / 72 ppi is approx. 1.53.
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 21:50
  • "Eventually, displays got such high density that it made sense to scale everything by a factor of 2." I am not disputing it at all but can you provide a source for this information?
    – Alper
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 12:17
  • @Alper Ever tried using a Hi-res display at native resolution? You'll say "everything in tiny: it needs to be bigger." Steve Jobs introduced 'Retina' displays on the iphone 4 in 2010, which had a 326ppi display, over the previous 163ppi phone. youtube.com/watch?v=Hq8j5vsqCCo He shows drawing a letter 'a' at the same relative size on a display with a finer display. It's not spelled out, but obviously, if you're using 4x pixels to draw something the same physical size, then you're scaling it by 2.
    – benwiggy
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 12:36
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Windows uses a different pixel density. If you are used to 100% being readable in Word on Windows for example, it’s jarring to see that you need to increase zoom to 125% or more in Word on macOS to get the same relative font size on screen. Office seems to use the system pixel density to set screen display size. Pages apparently does the same. It’s a consistency thing - if you as a Mac user expect to have to set zoom to 125% in your word processor program, it’s easier to get you to switch to Pages if it uses the same scaling factor you already expect in Word.

The different philosophy behind what scaling factor should be presented to the user is not new. You’ll find a lot of similar questions dating back to WinXP and likely before if you search. Base difference in pixel density of the display seems to be the most commonly cited root of the difference.

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  • Thanks. Although it is more than just a "readability" issue. When I set the zoom to 100%, I expect the size on the screen to match the printing size. And even a zoom of 125% is still too small. So, am I supposed to fiddle around with the zoom until the size matches. That seems really strange.
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 17:57
  • It is 150% for 220 ppi.
    – Gilby
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 9:13
  • This might be good to know but the question is about macOS, not Windows or macOS vs Windows.
    – Alper
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 12:19
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The standard zoom in Microsoft Word running on Windows to get true to life paper size on the screen is 150%. The origin of that is lost in the mists of time (i.e. I haven't researched it). This standard zoom carries over to the Mac version of Word.

Pages has copied the Word scaling. So to get paper perfect size, you must use 150% zoom.

Pages also makes it easy to set the default zoom to 150%. This is set in the General Preferences:

Preferences

On Mac, that all works out so long as you screen is set to 220 ppi. A different scaling and a different zoom is required.

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  • 150% does not match the true size on macOS either. I would say around 154% does it about right. Writer matches it without any such fiddling.
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 12:55
  • The origin is not lost in the mists of time. See my answer.
    – benwiggy
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 17:47
  • @benwiggy Your answers much better. Gets my vote!
    – Gilby
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 22:40

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