Text clarity is often an overlooked aspect when purchasing a monitor since we're focused on how well it performs for gaming or in a bright room setting. Considering that nearly all online content has some form of text, it's important to be able to read comfortably and not have to guess what a particular letter is. Of course, aside from resolution and pixel density, how clear a text looks is subjective and changes from one person to the next. We judge text clarity under normal viewing conditions, as well as using a close-up photo, and we look at how well it handles sub-pixel rendering techniques like Windows ClearType.
Since text clarity is mostly a subjective test, we only use a computer running on Windows 10, connected to the monitor being tested. The brightness is set to 100 nits using a checkerboard pattern as our reference, and we leave most settings at their default values, such as sharpness, resolution, and scaling. Photos are taken with and without ClearType enabled, which are then subjectively scored.
When it comes to our scoring for text clarity, we follow a few general guidelines, but the score is still subjective. Pixel density is the first thing that we judge, as it's a quantifiable aspect of the monitor; a higher resolution on a smaller display will produce a sharper-looking text with less jagged lines. Then, we judge the legibility of the text subjectively; the easier it is to read, the higher it scores. Lastly, we compare it to other monitors that we've tested and adjust the score accordingly. We also subjectively score how ClearType affects text clarity, as it doesn't always behave the same way depending on the panel type and sub-pixel layout.
Windows users have access to ClearType, which is a feature that allows the sub-pixels to be controlled individually when rendering text, independent of the entire RGB pixel. This effectively triples the monitor's horizontal resolution when rendering text. Generally speaking, ClearType does a fairly good job at sharpening text, particularly on lower resolution displays, but it can also make the edges of a letter look more blurry, somewhat like an anti-aliasing effect, a process that softens jagged edges in games. ClearType can make text look blocky and jagged on some VA panels, and displays with a BGR sub-pixel layout can also behave strangely, even though Windows has built-in support for this type of display. In this photo, we're looking at how well-defined the letters are, especially diagonal lines like the ones on the 'R' and 'N' in the photo of the Acer Nitro XV273X.
In the photo with ClearType off, we're looking at how defined the letters are. The diagonal line on the 'R' looks more jagged and the one on the 'N' is barely visible. Without sub-pixel rendering, the entire pixel at the edge of a letter is lit, creating a shadow effect and making letters like 'T' and 'I' look uneven.
The majority of monitors on the market have an RGB sub-pixel layout, but some use a BGR layout, like the Philips Momentum 436M6VBPAB, where the red and blue sub-pixels are reversed. This type of layout isn't bad in and of itself, as it isn't noticeable when displaying an image, but it can affect text rendering, especially in programs that expect an RGB sub-pixel layout like Google Chrome. Text can sometimes look thin and jagged, and some diagonal lines are nearly invisible. However, this issue is less apparent the higher the monitor's pixel density is. Below, you can see pictures of text on a BGR panel, the Gigabyte M27Q, with ClearType configured for a BGR sub-pixel layout, ClearType configured for an RGB sub-pixel layout, without ClearType, and in Google Sheets. The latter is included because Google Chrome uses its own implementation of text sharpening.
Other types of sub-pixel layouts can also affect text clarity, such as RGBW, although it's a layout that we see more often on TVs than on monitors, which you can read about here. Also, a screen's coating can affect text clarity, which is why the above photo of the Acer Nitro XV273X looks a bit blurry since it has a matte anti-reflective coating.
If you want to use ClearType to improve text clarity, type in 'Cleartype' in the Windows search bar and choose the option 'Adjust ClearType text.' You'll then be prompted to go through a five-step tuning guide where you have to choose the box that looks best to you. On the first test where there are only two options, although it isn't clearly stated, the left choice is for monitors with an RGB sub-pixel layout, while the right one is for a BGR layout. Afterward, complete the tuning as directed. As always, features like ClearType are a matter of taste, and some people may find it bothersome on some monitors, so you should adjust it to your preference. If you don't get the desired result, the tuning can always be performed again, or you can disable it completely. Lastly, ClearType doesn't work across all programs, so even if you tune it properly, it might not be applied everywhere.
If you have a monitor with a BGR sub-pixel layout and have blurry text, there are a couple of workarounds that can help, although they all have their positives and negatives.
1 - If you're on a Windows computer, enable ClearType. As you can see in the Gigabyte M27Q picture above, ClearType makes text look bolder, especially diagonal lines. However, ClearType doesn't affect all programs, so you may get blurry text in programs that aren't affected by it, such as Google Chrome, and even Microsoft's own Word.
2 - Mount the screen upside down and change the user interface's orientation in Windows' display settings. This effectively gives the monitor an RGB layout and fixes text clarity issues related to a BGR layout. However, there are some issues. When the user interface is flipped in Windows' display settings, it seems to apply some form of V-SYNC even though it's disabled, and G-SYNC doesn't work properly as the monitor's refresh rate remains static. The permanent V-SYNC effect seems to increase the input lag. In the case of the Gigabyte M27Q, it increased from 3.2ms to 15.1ms. We're not sure what causes these issues; we suspect it has to do with the user interface's orientation. The pictures below show how text looks like with the screen turned upside down.
3 - Turn up the sharpness in the monitor's settings. This can improve text clarity slightly, but some people might not like the sharpening of images.
4 - Increase the scaling in Windows settings, which increases the size of the text. This works, but you lose screen real estate.
While we often focus on picture quality or how low the input lag is, text clarity is an important aspect to consider when purchasing a monitor since most of us use them for multiple purposes. The general rule of thumb is that the higher the pixel density a monitor has, the sharper the text will look, even if you don't use ClearType. Also, keep in mind that ClearType only affects text, not text within an image.