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How to Manage 4K Display Scaling in Windows 10

Posted by Jim Tanous on November 23, 2015
windows 10 display scaling

Now that high resolution displays are more affordable and prevalent than ever, it’s important to understand how to configure Windows to ensure the best experience at 4K resolutions and beyond. For years, traditional “standard resolution” displays were typically handled by Windows in a 1:1 ratio, with your PC’s video card providing one pixel of the actual user interface for every physical pixel on the display. This worked well for resolutions up to 2560×1600 on an adequately large monitor, but once you get into the 4K resolutions of today’s high-end monitors, a 1:1 pixel ratio — or 100 percent scaling, as Windows refers to it — produces an image that is unusable in most circumstances. The answer, therefore, is to make the user interface relatively large enough to be useable while still taking advantage of the millions of extra pixels available on high resolution monitors — something called display scaling in Windows (you may also recognize this basic idea from what Apple calls “Retina” resolutions). Here’s a quick look at display scaling in Windows 10.
First, let’s look at an example of why display scaling is needed in most cases when using a high resolution display with a Windows 10 PC. In our example, we’re using a 27-inch 4K monitor with a native resolution of 3840×2160. With 100 percent scaling — that is, a 1:1 pixel ratio — the Windows desktop and user interface appears tiny, and is likely too small for most users.
windows 10 display scaling 4k native
To fix this problem without giving up on our 4K monitor, we can adjust Windows 10 display scaling options in Settings. With your high resolution display connected to your PC, head to Settings > System > Display.
windows 10 display scaling
Here, you’ll see a slider labeled Change the size of text, apps, and other items. With compatible hardware, Windows 10 will attempt to automatically set this value to an appropriate percentage when connected to a high resolution display. However, you can manually adjust it by clicking and dragging the slider. Moving the slider to the left reduces the display scaling percentage, which will make things appear relatively smaller, while moving it to the right increases the display scaling percentage, making things look relatively larger.
In our example, we’ll move the slider to a value of 150 percent, which will give us a user interface with the same relative appearance as 2560×1440, which is a common and certainly workable resolution on a 27-inch display. To see how the math works out here, notice how 150 percent of 2560×1440 is exactly 3840×2160, our 4K monitor’s native resolution (2560*1.5 = 3840; 1440*1.5 = 2160).
windows 10 display scaling 4k scaled
If this scaled image is still too small, we can raise the Windows 10 display scaling percentage even higher. For example, a display scaling value of 200 percent would produce an image that is proportionate to 1080p resolution, or 1920×1080 (again, just check the math to see that 1920*2 = 3840 and 1080*2 = 2160).
The benefit of this configuration is that you end up with a user interface that is the same perceived size as the one you’re accustomed to, except that it’s noticeably sharper because each UI element is being drawn with four times as many pixels as a standard resolution display.
There’s no “correct” answer when it comes to display scaling percentage — the best percentage for each user will depend on the size and native resolution of their monitor, as well as their personal needs or preferences — so feel free to experiment with different values until you find a percent that you’re comfortable with. The only caveat is that you’ll need to log out each time you make a change. You’ll see some elements of the user interface change immediately as you adjust the slider, but Windows 10 requires a complete log out of your user account to switch everything over to the new scaling percentage.
Also note that Windows 10 display scaling isn’t limited to those with high resolution monitors. While the feature is certainly most useful on these large or pixel-dense displays, a user with even a standard resolution monitor can adjust display scaling, too, although raising the scaling percentage too much may make the Windows user interface comically large and unwieldy. If you have experience with OS X, this is similar to a Mac’s HiDPI Mode.

19 thoughts on “How to Manage 4K Display Scaling in Windows 10”

Midix says:
Hm, and how exactly does this differ from just setting desktop resolution to 1920×1080 ? Wouldn’t the display’s built-in scaler also able to scale the image exactly 200 with sharp pixels and no any interpolation whatsoever?
I’m asking because I’m legally blind, and currently using my 1080p on non-native resolution, and it does not look as crisp as I would want because of interpolated half-pixels, but if I went for 4K, I would have much more resolutions to evenly match pixels, if only the display itself could correctly scale the image onto its 4K pixels.
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Colin Mellows says:
Many thanks for that, very useful. However some apps such as VLC Media player menus and even Canon printer set ups remain with ridiculously tiny text. I had to borrow a projector just to install my Canon Pixma MG7750
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Mels Rogue says:
Have programs (Rockwell Automation – Machine code) that DO NOT play well with 4ks – heads up – research your comparability before you buy to save headaches …
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thomas card says:
This is a great & informative article but I still have issues, so first here I’ll list my configuration; I have a Windows 10 Pro Alienware 15 R2 (ie 15″ Monitor) Laptop that had a 1080p monitor originally but then when it went in for warranty they switched it out for a 4K with a Native resolution of 3840×2160, plus they switched out my processor from the stock i7-6600k to i7-6870k which I had absolutely no issues with them upgrading me especially whenever its free. But now that I’ve had my laptop for quite awhile I keep running into the same issue over & over when installing new software &/or apps that DO NOT have their own GUI meaning that whenever I try using the Windows 10 Screen scaling on those specific programs instead of “re-arranging/ or re-orienting” whatever it may be called so that I’m able to view the entire program (IE the entire screen that you normally should be able to see) I move the WIN 10 scaling arrow to 200% & do the whole login & log-out thing but those just show up all squished up & not legible at all, & me not having any PC coding abilities am unable to go in manually to all the coding of the various software programs & apps to even begin to attempt trying adjust any of the UI for any of them! Does any of you have any suggestions for me on what to do? My Alienware Laptop features an onboard Intel 530 series Graphics Processor as well as abuilt in Nvidia Geforce GTX 980M with 8GB of GDDR5 in it & of course any of you familiar with Alienware know that if I ever needed any additional Graphics power for whatever reason I have the (Graphics Amplifier Plug at the rear of my unit that allows me to connect any desktop graphics card that I’d ever want or need).
Is there any possibilities to for example, have my normal desktop screen view set up so when I don’t have anything else open & only viewing the desktop or just everything else is minimized my screen resolution could be set at say 1080p or somewhere in that range of low resolutions & then whenever I open any of my specific apps or programs that DO have a built in GUI so meaning that they are able to handle the 4k resolution without looking distorted, I would be able to set the screen resolution to either the full native 4k Resolution of 3840×2160 or somewhere in that upper range of resolutions? Is that at all any kind of possibility either that is native with WIN 10 or my NVIDIA GTX 980m or if not possible with either of those then possibly is there an app or software of somekind that I possibly would be able to do that with?
Thank you so so much in advance to anyone out there that may be able to shed any kind of light in my direction to put me on the path to at least eventually finding a solution to my issue. Thomas Card, [email protected]
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d0x360 says:
what about mouse over/hover text? For example on youtube you can mouse over a title and if its too long it will show the rest but when running 4k the text is insanely small. Is there any way to fix that?
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Michael Campanella says:
heres my problem: when I set scaling to 200% it has trouble doing so. When I right click in an already open window (not desktop) I get just the frame of the submenu for about 10-15sec THEN it comes in. If I open the RUN window I just get a frame for 10-15sec until the content is displayed. even opening a windows explorer window it can take several seconds when highlighting different files. Only running 1 4k monitor at this time. was happening with NVDIA 970 card and the Intel Video Chipset built into my MB. once I downscale to 150% everything works fine. its like everything slows down or bogs down when Im at 200%. Got my monitor a month ago and was working fine til about a week ago. cant figure out for the life of me what changed other than Windows update
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vipsphinx says:
Ok this is very helpful, but when I’m playing a game on the pc, the scenery looks amazing but my game window menus are tiny. How can I fix this? Thanks
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Jimbo's Films says:
see if the game your playing has gui scaling options if it doesn’t suggest it to the dev
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Dave says:
I am trying to determine if Windows 10 remembers custom display settings for multiple monitors when they are NOT connected at the same time. I have read numerous articles about how Windows 10 offers custom DPI scaling for multiple DPI displays. However, they all refer to multiple monitors connected at the same time. My situation is that I have 2 high DPI displays. The display at work is a WQHD resolution while the 2nd in my home office is a 4K display. The Samsung WQHD monitor does not require custom scaling. The BenQ 4K display requires custom DPI scaling of 125%.
If I set custom DPI scaling to 125% for the BenQ, then go to the office and connect only the Samsung WQHD monitor, Windows 10 retains the 125% custom display scaling โ€“ requiring me to reset display scaling to 100%, log off and log back on. Windows 10 should retain the scaling for each monitor, should it not? How to fix this issue, as resetting display scaling each time I use a different monitor is not a solution.
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David W Stewart II says:
Very helpful. Thx!
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Kravik says:
I do this, but Winamp refuses to scale.
Can this be fixed some way?
All else scales perfectly. Winamp is too small to see.. ๐Ÿ™
I listen to music a lot via Winamp, and a different player is out of the question.
Can I make it scale manually?
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TekRevue says:
I’m not able to test this myself at the moment, but here’s an article from Winaero discussing how to force an app to scale via the Registry.
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d0x360 says:
what about mouse over/hover text? For example on youtube you can mouse over a title and if its too long it will show the rest but when running 4k the text is insanely small. Is there any way to fix that??
Daryl O says:
Winamp has had built in scaling for years and years.
Click the main menu -> Window Settings –> scaling –> set it to whatever you want.
I just set it to 300% to test on my 4k screen, it works well.
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Kravik says:
WOW! Thanks! That I must test! I am kind of drunk now. :p Could you reply to this so I see it later? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks again! Never knew Winamp had that! ๐Ÿ˜€
chris says:
isnt the point of getting a 4k screen the fact that you can fit more windows open on it? if you use display scaling it defeats this purpose because all the windows get bigger. why not spend your money on a few 1080p screens as you’re going to waste money on an expensive 4k screen and not all the pixels will be unable without the scaling?
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TekRevue says:
Well, there are two benefits of high resolution displays that will differ depending on the needs of the user. As you point out, one of them is running the panel with native resolution and 100% scaling to achieve a much larger work area. But this isn’t always ideal as smaller high-res displays may be too dense (i.e., UI elements too small) to be useable.
The other benefit is using display scaling to improve quality at the same effective UI size. This works very well with those smaller high-res displays often found on laptops, and it’s the default approach for companies like Apple. Users get crisp visuals at readable sizes, and still have the option to view things like photos and videos at 1:1 pixel ratios. So there’s really no “right” answer, just user preference.
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chris says:
About 6 months ago i bought a 40 inch 4k LG tv and connect it to my laptops hdmi. Windows automatically put it to 200% scaling. it looked ok at 200% but the screen real estate was the same as a 1080p screen so i decrease the scaling to 150% but all the text became blurry and at 100% it text was so blurry that i couldn’t stand it. At 100% the text was big enough to read because it was on 40 inch screen but was blurred. Do you think this was because the screen was just of a poor quality or are all large 4k screens like this at 100%? perhaps it was because it was a tv and not a monitor? i did use a windows text setup wizard but it didn’t help.
duck says:
It’s probably working in 1080p mode since the HDMI port bottlenecks the output. If you want true 4k output, please use the display port(DP). 4k through HDMI is possible on HDMI 2.0 version, but HDMI 2.0 is only found on the most recent higher end laptops n TVs.
Kravik says:
With or without scaling. You would still benefit in ways of being able to watch UHD on YouTube e.g.
(Simply not possible on a 1080p screen.)
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TekRevue says:
Excellent point. High resolution video and games may be the primary factor in upgrading to 4K for some users.
Brage Mogstad says:
4k is the new future standard, thats for sure. I just had to make sure the screen was 40″ 60hz and my PC supported 4k 60hz to avoid the need for scaling completly. 30hz will be fuzzy, and is not going to work out for 4k programming needs like mine. It really was like stepping into a brand new world. Programming is so more efficient, and Excel may never be the same again. Now Im thinking, a 48″ 4k 60hz curved screen would be perfect. And really, Im starting to wonder how a 80″ curved 8k 60 hz screen would be like. Anyways, stay clear off small screens if you are going 4k and make sure its all supporting an at least 60hz update rate. Run CPU-Z to check your screen card, and for me displayport w/o docking station did the trick. I’d guess 60 hz would be as important for gamers.
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chris says:
Thanks for clearing that up. I think there would be a certan point that the screen size would just be too large. e.g if you’re working on a 80inch screen you would have to bend your neck a lot and would presumably not be able to physically see text on the far sides of the screen without moving your chair side to side. ๐Ÿ˜€
how do you manage your open windows on your 40 inch screen? do you have a program that positions them?
E-Nonymouse A says:
Wish this was a work around in Win 7
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James Miller says:
8 year old OS. No software co in the world would support software that old when it comes to updating it for new hardware tech if they have newer versions of that software that had that support. Don’t be like those ancient guys screaming and crying while trying to grasp onto Win XP like their lives depended on it.
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MB Whitcomb says:
Screaming and crying about what? Having to re-do workflows every few years? Having to switch to monthly pay software? Having to deal with monopolies like Adobe who abandoned customer service now that it has access to our monthly paycheck? Screaming and crying because some of us started on typewriters and have changed, and changed and changed to keep up? Screaming and crying because we are older and our minds are a little less sharp, or because we are disabled, or because we try to live off part-time income because of our health? 8 years is not a lot of time…and 100.00 is a lot of money for me…so yeh…boo hoo, and AARRRRHHH! Our lives DO depend on it. (whipper-snapper)
Anirudh Murali says:
Thanks, helped with Windows 10 on Mac (Parallels).
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Greg Couch says:
IKR! i was wondering why the sticky notes and windows were HUGE and blurry. come to find out that they were set to 300%. not my 43″ tv looks great. i cant believe i didnt consider this, i am now ashamed to call myself an IT guy lol. but then again. this is my first time messin with 4K settings on my new GPU, so ill forgive myself soon enough. even the smartest and most skilled of people are bound to have a dumb moment here and there.
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Kravik says:
True! ๐Ÿ™‚
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Gerard Freeman says:
Thanks for the helpful info ๐Ÿ™‚
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Roland Strauss says:
I just bought an Acer Nitro with 17.3″ 4k display. I am rather diappointed. Even Hyper-V dialog boxes don’t scale properly. A remote session leaves everything tiny. My games used a resolution of 1540 something and look blurry. I will stick to full hd on notebooks.
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Lund4ever says:
Problem with programs that donยดt get the win10 setting.
Examples: Adobe Bridge. all text is micrometric
Visma >Proceedo (uses java and a browser, used for controllers / economics), all text micrometer size
Microsoft Skype: The person displying a presentation has to have a high resultion output. Otherwise everything i like post stamp on my screen.
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Dean Mokhtar says:
What about programs that do not scale as a result? I use Articulate Storyline 2.0 for example, it does not scale when I do this, so I have to change my screen settings completely to be able to use it, which is very frustrating. For other programs this method works fine. Any ideas?
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Mary Stein says:
Haha. This looks better than expected. โ€œfree to experiment with different valuesโ€ I actually do the same, and for now I have my own style.
[email protected] app development
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