Large Text and Icons for High-Resolution Displays

Wikis > ArcaOS > Post-install Tips & Hints > Large Text and Icons for High-Resolution Displays

On displays with very high resolutions, it may be desirable to have larger on-screen text and icons.

There is no single, global setting for this in ArcaOS – in keeping with its OS/2 roots, desktop settings are highly granular, which allows for a great deal of customization but largely sacrifices “one-touch” style configuration.

Increasing Text Size

How to Choose Fonts

In most cases, text size is configured as part of font selection. To increase text size in any particular context, one generally needs to choose a larger font.

There are two broad types of fonts:

  • Bitmap fonts are designed exclusively for on-screen use. Each size is individually drawn as a set of fixed-size bitmap images. For this reason, bitmap fonts cannot be scaled to arbitrary sizes, but are limited to the set of sizes for which they are drawn. Because of their hand-drawn nature, they generally have a very crisp on-screen appearance. Standard bitmap fonts in ArcaOS include “System Proportional”, “System Monospaced”, “System VIO”, “Helv”, “Tms Rmn” and “WarpSans”.
  • TrueType and Type 1 fonts are defined in terms of mathematical vectors, and can be freely scaled to almost any size. However, they may not be as crisp-looking as bitmap fonts, especially at smaller font sizes. They may also be fractionally slower to draw on-screen when large amounts of text are involved. Standard Type 1 fonts included with ArcaOS are “Helvetica”, “Courier”, and “Times New Roman”. The selection of TrueType fonts varies depending on the options chosen at ArcaOS install time.

Bitmap fonts are generally better for on-screen text as long as they are available in the specific size and style you want. However, if you need text of arbitrary size, a TrueType or Type 1 font is needed.

Using Large Text

Used together, the following techniques can be used to increase the size of text in the ArcaOS graphical environment.

1. ”Set the video driver font settings to maximum size

Both the SNAP and Panorama video drivers provide settings to control how fonts are scaled.

If you are using SNAP, the settings are controlled by environment variables set in CONFIG.SYS:

  • To control the basic scaling factor for fonts throughout Presentation Manager, make sure the line
    is present. (Alternatively, if your desktop resolution is 1024×768 or higher, you can remove this line entirely, as 120 is the default for such resolutions.) Make certain, however, that the value is “120” (and not “96”).
  • To determine how default fonts are chosen by the system, make sure the line
    is present.

If you are using Panorama, the settings are controlled on the ‘DPI’ page of the Screen object (or the System object, if there is no Screen object).

  • To control the basic scaling factor for fonts throughout Presentation Manager, make sure the ‘Font size’ setting is “Large (120 DPI)”. (At 1024×768 resolutions or higher, the “Default” option will have the same effect.)
  • To determine how default fonts are chosen by the system, make sure the ‘Dialog size’ setting is “Large”.

In either case, you must reboot after setting or changing any of the above.

2. Set a desktop scheme with larger fonts

In the Scheme Palette, customize a scheme with a larger font used for Window Text, Desktop Icon Text, Folder Icon Text, Menu Text, Active Title Text, and Inactive Title Text. You cannot change the default dialog (Static Text) font this way; for ways to do that, see (3) and (4).

Some notes:

  • The size of the font chosen for Window Text will also affect the size of the WarpSans font used in many (not all) Workplace Shell configuration dialogs, up to the largest available size of WarpSans (currently 11 when using 120 DPI).
  • The size of the font chosen for Active Title Text will affect the size of the titlebar and frame control buttons. If you are using a bitmap as your titlebar background (configured in Styler Preferences), you may need to enable bitmap scaling there in order to avoid visual artifacts.
  • If you have a titlebar font defined in Styler Preferences, you may also need to change it there.

3. Change or disable the dialog default font in Styler Preferences

In Styler Preferences (in the Appearance folder), the ‘Dialogs’ page allows you to change the default font for dialog windows. You can choose a larger font here; the change will be effective immediately when you select Apply. Alternatively, you can turn off the “set a default font” option entirely; this will cause the default static text font (normally System Proportional) to be used — see below. (You should not attempt to set a dialog font larger than the default static text font, as doing so is likely to cause cropped text on some dialogs.)

4. Change the default static text font (for advanced users only)

If you need a larger dialog font than the default System Proportional, there is an advanced setting in Presentation Manager which allows the static text font to be overridden in a way that rescales all dialog windows to match. This technique is not generally recommended as we cannot guarantee that all dialog windows, especially in third-party software, will handle this gracefully.

If you are using a DBCS system, this setting is available under the ‘Fonts’ tab of the Workplace Shell object (or the System object if there is no Workplace Shell object) on the first page, “System Video Font”. On SBCS systems, this setting is not exposed in the GUI, but can be set by manually creating the following key (string value) in the User Profile (OS2.INI):
PM_SystemFonts | DefaultFont = "fontname;fontsize"
(e.g. “System Proportional;14”)

You are strongly advised to use a bitmap font only for this setting.


These techniques generally cannot change fonts which are statically defined (i.e. hard-coded) within an application. If you want larger fonts to be available in a specific application’s user interface, contact the application publisher.

Different applications may provide their own methods for changing the fonts they use. For example, Firefox, Thunderbird, and SeaMonkey may be configured to use custom text sizes or fonts for their user interfaces by creating a “userChrome.css” file in the “chrome” subdirectory of the user profile (see the userChrome-example.css file provided in that directory for an example).

Desktop Icons

The recommended way to increase the size of desktop icons is by using the Dynamic Icons feature provided with ArcaOS. Consult the Dynamic Items documentation and/or online help for details.

This entry last updated: by Alex Taylor