Give Your Eyes a Break by Making Everything in OS X Bigger

OS X has excellent visual clarity and is pretty kind on the eyes right out of the box. But, if you have trouble making out the small typefaces or simply want to make stuff bigger, then there are a few things you can do.

Anyone familiar with Apple’s standards and practices knows that they are pretty strict about how their products look and work. In fact, Apple publishes a style guide aimed at writers, editors, and developers that is nearly 200 pages long and their “OS X Human Interface Guidelines” weighs in at over 330 pages!

Of course, we don’t expect you to read either of those documents, but they do illustrate Apple’s obsessive devotion to quality control. That said, new or even experienced OS X users with poorer eyesight might have some problems with many of the systems’s smaller text and visual elements.

Many Methods for One Goal

The problem is that while there is one single way of making everything bigger in OS X, it’s not ideal. There’s no shortage of other options in OS X, but this is one of those cases where Windows users, who only need to open one control panel to change the size of text on menus, titles, toolbars, and stuff like that, come out on top.

Of course, that’s Windows. As we all know, OS X is an entirely different beast. In this article, we’re going to show you the myriad ways to make everything bigger in OS X.

All I Wanna Do is Zoom, Zoom, Zoom!

Most OS X users already know one of the quickest ways to increase the size of the text in applications, is to use “Command +” (CMD and the plus sign) and of course, “CMD -” (CMD and the minus sign) to decrease text size.

If you aren’t familiar with CMD+ then learn it, know it, and love it. Just remember, this only works in applications. Anything else, especially stuff like Finder views, can’t be changed with CMD+ so we need to resort to other methods.

If you’re using a Mac with a trackpad, you can use the pinch-to-zoom method. It should work by default in applications such as Safari, but will extend to other applications too, as long as it is enabled in the System Preferences.

To begin, open the System Preferences by clicking on the icon in the Dock.


In System Preferences, click “Trackpad.”

In the Trackpad preferences, click “Scroll & Zoom” and make sure that “Zoom in or out” is checked.

This method won’t work in all applications so you’ll have to play around and see where it does. Otherwise, you’ll probably have to resort to “CMD+” or, in the case of Finder views, you will need to adjust the view options.

While you have System Preferences open, you can click on “Accessibility -> Zoom.”

Note here, there’s a couple ways to zoom. You can use keyboard shortcuts, or you can assign a scroll modifier. So for example, you could hold the “Control” (or other) key down while using a two-finger swipe, to zoom in and zoom out.

But, what if we want stuff to be bigger on a more permanent basis? For that, we’ll need to adjust the Finder’s view options.

The Ol’ View Options

When we say “View Options,” we’re actually talking about the Finder menu “View -> Show View Options.” You can access this menu anywhere from the Finder using this route, or get straight to the point with “CMD+J”.

Either way, whatever view you’re in, you can change the way it looks. So for example, in the following screenshot, you see the Desktop view options.

If were to click on another location, such as Applications, the view options will change to reflect it.

Regardless, there’s some powerful controls we can manipulate to make things more readable. So, the default view settings for a location such as Applications, it will look as it does in the following screenshot.


But, let’s change some things. Lets increase the font and icon sizes, while decreasing the grid spacing. As we see, the same size screenshot shows that our icons and their accompanying text are much larger, and by decreasing the grid spacing, we can fit more icons into the view.

Obviously, this is a great way to change font and icon size in that view, and if you click “Use as Defaults,” it will apply to all new windows for that view. Unfortunately, this isn’t universal. If you want to change the view options for the Desktop or another Finder view, you will have to adjust each one individually.

Larger Sidebars and Fonts

The sidebar in the Finder can be increased (or decreased) so the icons are easier to see. By default, the sidebar is set to Medium.

With the System Preferences open, click “General.”

Click the dropdown menu next to “Sidebar icon size” and select “Large.”

And now your Finder sidebar will be much easier to see.

Keep in mind that making these changes to Finder will not change any of your apps. For example, iTunes lists must be changed using the Preferences (CMD+,) and then in the General section, choose your List Size.

In Safari, you can constrain fonts from displaying at a size smaller than you designate. Open “Preferences -> Advanced” and select “Never use font sizes smaller than” in the Accessibility section.

Let us stress that every application will usually have preferences, though not all will have ways to change their appearance. If you use word processors or text editors, you can always change font sizes using the editing controls.

You can also set the default fonts and sizes in TextEdit in the preferences.

We see a similar method in the Mail application. Open the preferences (CMD+,) and select “Fonts & Colors” and you can change message list, message, and fixed-width fonts and sizes.

Messages too has a simple slider in its preference to increase/decrease text size.

These are just a few examples. As you can tell, there’s many ways to increase the size of stuff in your applications. Not all of them will have text controls, but it never hurts to check, and for those that don’t, you can always use the aforementioned zoom methods such as CMD+.

Change Your Resolution: Quick, Easy, but Hardly Ideal

By far, the easiest way to make stuff larger is to simply change your screen’s resolution. It is certainly not our favorite method, but seems to be the route that many people go to first. Changing your resolution will instantly make everything bigger but you lose a lot of that nice visual acuity you get with your display’s native resolution.

In any event, let’s show you how to do that. In the System Preferences, click “Displays.”

In the Display preference pane, the Resolution will automatically be set to the optimum size, i.e. what is best for your display.

Click “Scaled” to show the available resolutions for the built-in display. If your display is attached, such as a standalone monitor, you may see more options. In this case, we have three choices.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 1.45.52 PM

Lowering the display resolution will decrease the total number of pixels your primary or built-in display shows. For example, on this Macbook Air, the optimum or “native” resolution is 1440 x 900, which translates to over 1.2-million pixels.

Note, in the following screenshot, we’ve scaled the image down to fit better in this post. Take note of the spacing around and between screen elements. Notice also, that the browser window has been expanded to fit the whole screen from edge to edge, yet the text still fits the view.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 2.16.34 PM

Now, we’ll pick the lowest resolution, 1152 x 720, which is well under one-million (just over 800,000) on-screen pixels. The difference between the two shots is pretty noticeable. Stuff is much larger and the browser window’s contents extend beyond the screen’s edge.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 2.16.58 PM

Yes, you can quickly and easily make everything on your screen larger though it comes at an obvious cost in terms of screen real estate and sharpness. It’s hardly ideal, but if you don’t want to fuss with view options or application preferences, then it might just be the best choice for you.

Then again, if you want to use every last pixel on your machine’s display, you have a lot of other options to explore!

So, OS X users tell us what you think. Did we miss anything? We’d love to hear from you so please make yourselves heard in our discussion forum!


Matt Klein is an aspiring Florida beach bum, displaced honorary Texan, and dyed-in-wool Ohio State Buckeye, who fancies himself a nerd-of-all-trades. His favorite topics might include operating systems, BBQ, roller skating, and trying to figure out how to explain quantum computers.