Rant - Text size

Any rationale for web designers using the smallest font size possible? My display is running in 1280x1024,
and if it wasn’t for a 19" monitor I wouldn’t be able to tell those horizontal lines across the screen are
text. I still have to squint to read it though, because the height is only 6 or 8 pixels.

I imagine its some misguided attempt to fit more content on the page, to make it appear fuller
somehow. This might work with menus and other “click here” things, but geez, a whole page
full of text? I usually skip reading the articles and avoid the sites, because it shows a lack of
skill in the web designer - that he can’t/won’t take into account scalable fonts and large resolution displays.
Or maybe a marketing decision - going to ZD News and the advertisements are easier to
read than the articles.

Sometimes I really miss the BBS days when you only had one font and one size =)

  • until the end of the world -

1280x1024? Good grief! No wonder you can’t see anything! :wink:

What would you consider to be the minimum for a good readable font size? I’ve been exploring the issue myself, and 11 pixels (defined via stylesheet) SEEMS to be a good minimum.

Keep in mind that a lot of people 800x600 resolution monitors, and many people also run on the generalization that they make up most of the people currently online (this generalization might be true but I’m not sure myself).

I’m on a 1153x864 with my browser sized to be equivilent to 800x600 :slight_smile:


And I thought 1024x768 was too big…

I tried those resolution sizes and I still find 1024x768 big enough. As a general text size I find Verdana(which is very readable) at 10-12px (stylesheets) formidable in those resolutions.

It depends on the users needs. I personally would like a 1280x1024 monitor, but alas, I have to save my money for other priorities …

I often run many programs at once and need to navigate between windows and still see good portions of them (I almost NEVER maximize a window, I personally hate maxing windows) and somewhere above 1024x768 suites my needs very well. I do newspaper layout at my part-time job, and being able to view our templates and layouts at 1280x1024 is SOOOOOOOOO much better than the 1024x768 monitors we used to have.

I used to have roommates who their computers set to 640x480. One of them is a CS major, the other had a new computer and kept it at 640x480 … I don’t know what they were smoking.

10px is starting to get too small for me, add one more pixel and I can read much more comfortably :slight_smile:


Hey! What you actually see depends on the monitor size, and often times on personal preference. I would LOVE to have a 1280x1024 monitor because I keep zillions of windows open and like to have some of them within good view (mind you none of my windows are maxed, I hate that).


640x480 is still used by some people, especially those with 15 inch monitors. I have a 17 inch monitor and run at 800x600. I can’t imagine a higher screen resolution now…any higher than 800x600, my 17 inch monitor is useless…


That’s the problem I have - people are using pixels, not points. Pixels don’t scale. The larger the resolution, the smaller the text becomes, and next thing you know your page isn’t worth the headache you get reading it. Points are easy to use, too - a point is supposed to be 1/72 of an inch. So if your display is 800x600 with
a 96 dpi, your line height in pixels will be smaller than on a display of 1280x1024 with a 120 dpi.

  • until the end of the world -

I should have clarified. I know some people still use 640x480. Just that my roommates had big monitors and they were still running 640x480, and watching them visit web sites where they have to scroll left and right made me want to jump in front of their computer and change the resolution for them!

I have a 15 inch and I’m 1152x864. I know lots of people who run 1024x768 at 15 inch (and they’re just casual computer users, not people like me who might be classified as a “power user”).


That’s actually the problem, points vary from computer to computer so fonts can vary greatly with undesirable effects for both the designer and the user. Mac OS uses 72 points of inch, Windows uses 96 (72 is also a publishing standard, but let’s not get into why Mac and Windows uses different dpi settings). However, IE5/Mac and Netscape 6 render text to scale to 96 dpi by default (to be consitent with the majority right now, which is IE5/Win at 96), so that eases the problem, but someone can still go into preferences and change them (some reason, my school decided to standardize all the computer labs with IE5/Mac back to 72 dpi making me have to squint to read some text, I’ve complain to them about this but they just give lame reasons to justify the smaller font).

The font size problem is a tricky and a complicated one, since points really apply to printing much better than they do on computer monitors. However, browsers do let people increase or decrease the font size on their monitor, regardless of whether the fonts were sized with pixels or points.


The point of having a higher-resolution monitor is that you can stick more applications on the screen at once.

Some Flash pages take five minutes to arrive. The rest take longer. What do you do while waiting on pages - read a Russian novel? I use my computer.

Try running your browser at 640x1200…

I’d like to see browsers support ‘minimum size’ and ‘maximum size’ settings. A browser for Mac OS X, OmniWeb, just added support for this and it’s quite nice. It won’t display fonts under (or over) a certain size.

Designers would do well to remember that the medium isn’t static, and they should be careful and make sure that resizing fonts doesn’t mess up the usability of their sites.

  • Jeff @ DreamHost
  • DH Discussion Forum Admin

You’re right-- The studies n’ stats show that most people browsing the Web are using 800x600 screens.

This is another old conundrum caused by the fact that HTML wasn’t invented for this kind of use…

The thing is, the only way to lay out a page that’s flexible enough to allow the user to make the font any size they want is to make a really, really boring page-- fundamentally, a page full of text, and no graphics.

Using a pixel-size doesn’t always work; text flow in HTML can get screwed up if the monitor’s resolution is above or below certain limits…

This issue doesn’t just apply to Web docs, though. Any document you view on a hi-rez monitor is going to be potentially too small to read. It’s just that some docs can be on your screen resized without compromising the layout, and some can’t. When all elements in a page can be resized together, it’s safe. But HTML doesn’t allow for that.

There are various solutions that are possible… Using a page-description language like Display PostScript (or one of the other languages under development) might allow the user to set the magnification for the whole page, zooming in and out when necessary to read body text. Or, it could provide a way to re-flow text blocks without screwing up the page design.

Heck, a really smart browser developer could figure out a way to allow true zooming within the browser window.

But in the end, small type is one price you pay for being so technologically advanced.


I’ve found that 1152 x 870 is a nice compromise. I can crank my monitor all the way up to 1920 x 1080, or down to 640 x 480. The problem is that I use a lot of apps that use palettes (like Photoshop and Illustrator), and every time I re-rez, I have to move them stinkers back into place by hand… Not to mention the desktop icons.

Hmmm… Do I remember hearing of a Mac utility that puts palettes and desktop icons back where they belong after a resize?

Anyone? …Anyone?

Bueller? …Bueller?


Bueller here:



  • Jeff @ DreamHost
  • DH Discussion Forum Admin

Thanks, Ferris!

And I’m glad you’re feeling better.


That’s a very good suggestion. I just filed a bug with Mozilla, it’s no. [url=http://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=82944]82944[/url.

Hopefully it won’t be a dup and the topic would get serious enough discussion and consideration to make it into the critical 1.0 milestone a few months ahead (which would mean that it could make it into the next major version of Netscape 6.xx).


That’s a very good suggestion. I just filed a bug with Mozilla, it’s no. 82944.

Hopefully it won’t be a dup and the topic would get serious enough discussion and consideration to make it into the critical 1.0 milestone a few months ahead (which would mean that it could make it into the next major version of Netscape 6.xx).


Okay, my bug reported turned out to be a dup, I’m not surprised even though I tried to search for it before hand.

But those of you interest in Mozilla or Netscape 6 should check out bug 30910. If you have a Bugzilla account, vote for it and add your constructive and encouraging comments to it.

I would really like to see more browsers support something like this.


Personally, I run 1024x768 on my 17" monitors. To fix the “not enough desktop” problem, I run 2 monitors on my main desktop. I like maximized windows, and would take two 17" monitors over one 25" monitor (well, maybe not, if only considering the price difference :wink:

I also run 1024x768 on my notebook, which is it’s native resolution. It’s only 13.3", but being TFT it’s a lot sharper than my CRTs. Oddly enough I also run 1024x768 on my 14" linux box… and 352x200 on my 27" TV (Linux mp3 box).

But back to font sizes… I generally use 10 point. I didn’t realize the dpi varied between Windows and Mac, but I do know that under Linux (in Konqueror and Netscape 6.x) my fonts always appear much smaller. I almost always use point in a style sheet. The main reason I go for point rather than pixel is that, at least when I last tried, certain pixel sizes don’t match up well with a given font’s point sizes… and thus they end up resampled and looking rather odd. I’ll admit I never tested this thoroughly, just long enough to see that 10 pt worked for me.

One disadvantage to using point or pixel is that it will not scale when the user chooses to change text sizes (in IE anyway). The only way that feature works is if the site uses the standard <font size=> with the normal arbitrary numbers. That could be a problem with vision-impaired users, though I would imagine they’d use a larger monitor with lower resolution settings…

In the end, there is no easy answer other than, as someone else mentioned, use very basic HTML with little or no graphics. Most documentation sites are like this; Yahoo as well. In fact Yahoo doesn’t even specify colors, using your default background, text, and link colors, as well as fonts. No CSS, no font specifications (other than relative sizes). And for some reason, they’re still ungodly popular…

  • Jm4n