Change Your Display's Screen Resolution & Make Text & Icons Bigger

In this guide, I would like to continue our discussion about screen resolutions and share very practical things such as: how to change your display resolution, how to make text and other items larger or smaller and how to revert back your changes, if you are unhappy with the end result.

A lot more automatic than it used to be

As I mentioned, in years gone by, the choice of screen resolution was almost entirely up to the user, since Windows defaulted to one or two low-resolution screens. This was a "lowest common denominator" approach that guaranteed that people installing Windows would at least be able to see what was on the screen from the get-go. Higher resolution displays were the job of the graphics-card manufacturers, and each card came with a disk full of drivers. Even after that, not all resolutions were appropriate for all monitors, and you could (and often did) get garbage or a black screen if you tried to use them. Fortunately Windows has always had a built-in safeguard, which I’ll discuss in a moment.

In Windows 7 and Windows 8, things have changed for the better. The operating system tries to correctly identify your monitor model, its aspect ratio and supported resolutions. If all goes well, it will automatically set the resolution to the maximum supported by your monitor. That’s really great and it means you get the maximum screen space available as soon as you log into Windows for the first time. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t want to change the resolution at some point, for whatever reason.

Before you move forward, I recommend you to read our previous article: What is the Screen Resolution or the Aspect Ratio? What do 720p, 1080i & 1080p Mean?. It provides a very good history lesson and explains some important concepts you need to consider.

Making your changes

Changing the screen’s resolution, or its orientation is done from a panel named Screen Resolution.

You can get to Screen Resolution from Control Panel -> Appearance and Personalization -> Adjust Screen Resolution, but the fastest way to get there is to right-click anywhere on your desktop and choose Screen Resolution from the menu.

Screen resolution

This will bring up a window that will allow you to make changes. Here, I am working with a single monitor that has the 4:3 aspect ratio, so it’s almost certain your window will look different from mine. Still, regardless of what you see, the changes work the same way.

Screen resolution

Here’s how it looks like when using a dual-screen configuration. As you can see, both monitors are shown. Select one of the with the mouse and you can change its settings.

Screen resolution

To begin making changes, click on the drop-down menu labeled Resolution.

Screen resolution

You can adjust the slider up and down to whatever setting you wish. If your monitor is 1080p or 1080i, for example, remember that that translates to a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080. You may see higher resolutions than that, depending on your monitor.

NOTE: If you are using a portable computer, you may not be given a chance to change your screen resolution. Some laptop/notebook/netbook screens have a fixed resolution and there is no way you can change it; others will allow you to make choices. Luckily, this is not very common.

Try moving the slider up and down. At some places on its travel you may see a warning that if you choose that resolution, some items may not fit on your screen. How does Windows know this? It’s already detected what your monitor is capable of displaying.

Screen resolution

Since the available resolutions are mostly dependent on the display’s aspect ratio, you will see resolutions that work for its aspect ratio. However, you can see also lower resolutions that are meant for other aspect ratios. While the monitor will be able to use them, things won’t be as proportionate as you would like.

Evaluating your changes

Once you’ve picked the resolution you want to try out, click Apply.

IMPORTANT: Do not click OK, yet. If you do that, you will lose the ability to revert back if the change is unacceptable.

Screen resolution

Your screen will go black. Don’t worry, this is normal. Then your new resolution will be used on the screen and you’ll be given the option to keep it or put it back the way it was.

Screen resolution

See the message "Reverting to previous display settings" at the bottom? That will do a countdown to zero and then automatically revert your display to what it was before you changed it. This is the safeguard I mentioned above. If your screen stays black or displays garbage, all you have to do is wait a few seconds and you’ll get your original display back.

However, if you are happy with the way things look, click on Keep changes.

The consequences of changes

Once you have changed the resolution of your screen, two problems may occur:

First, you may find that video-intensive displays (such as games) may be noticeably slower, since the video takes more time to render at higher resolutions. This happens only if you have a video card that is not able to meet the demands of the games you are playing. Other hardware components can negatively impact the experience too, even though the most important role is played by the video card.

Second, you may find that your screen looks considerably different. The icons and text may have changed size, and if you’ve chosen an extremely high resolution, they may be so small that you can’t read them.

For slowdowns, the fix is to change to a lower resolution. It will probably take some time to experiment with the various choices to get an acceptable combination of graphic clarity and speed. For the icon/text problem, there are two choices: Change to lower resolution, or change the size of the icons and text.

Changing the size of icons and text is very easy, and can be done right from the Screen Resolution window. See the links at the bottom of the screen? Click on "Make text and other items larger or smaller".

Screen resolution

This will take you to a window where you can change the text and icons together. There’s also a thumbnail preview that gives a general idea of what your screen will look like if you make the changes. Try clicking on the other options to watch the preview change.

Screen resolution

Once you’ve decided which size you want, click Apply. You will get a warning that you will need to log off to make the changes. Close any open applications and follow the instructions.

Screen resolution

If the text and icons are still not right when your computer restarts, go through the procedure again to try another size. Unfortunately there is no "try before you make changes" option in this section.

Experimentation is the key

In the CRT monitor days, choosing an incompatible resolution could actually cause problems. Luckily, technology has improved and today’s monitors and Windows operating systems are made of sterner stuff. Don’t hesitate to experiment with the different settings until you find those that work best for you.