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How to use DPI scaling in Windows 10 to fix blurry old apps

Nowadays, you'll find high-DPI displays on almost any device, including on phones, laptops, tablets, and on desktop computers. However, there is one problem, while Windows 10 ships with DPI scaling support to improve the viewing experience, legacy applications never really benefit from it.

You can see this scaling problem when running traditional desktop (win32) apps, where text and visual elements look blurry or they're sized incorrectly. To address this issue, Microsoft introduced some improvements with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, but it wasn't until the Creators Update that we've seen significant changes.

High-DPI scaling improvements on Windows 10

Microsoft is improving the way Windows 10 handles automatic scaling per-monitor, which reduces the amount of blur or incorrect size for legacy apps. However, there are scenarios where applications won't render correctly, such as when a developer doesn't update an app to support new DPI scaling changes. For this and other similar situations, Windows 10 now includes an option to force a particular app to run as a DPI-unware process.

The new option is called "System (Enhanced)," and when enabled the text and interface will look crispier and elements will be sized correctly. Though, some parts of the app may continue to look a little blurry, but it's still a significant improvement.

In this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through the easy steps to change the scaling settings for a particular legacy app to make text and interface look crisper and less blurry.

How to enable 'System (Enhanced)' scaling option on apps

If you're running legacy (GDI-based) apps that don't render properly on high pixel density displays, you can make them look better using the following steps:

  1. Open the app you want to enhance scaling.
  2. Right-click the app in the taskbar.
  3. Right-click the name of the app and select Properties.Quick Tip: You can also find the app's .exe file, right-click it, and select Properties.

  1. Click the Compatibility tab.
  2. Under "Settings," check the Override high DPI scaling behavior option.
  3. Under "Scaling performed by" drop-down menu, select System (Enhanced).

  1. Click Apply.
  2. Click OK.

This new option will override the way that a particular app handles the DPI scaling, which can result in interface elements and text being blurry, and allows Windows 10 to take care of the scaling.

Once you've completed the steps, restart the application to see the improvements. If the new scaling option works as expected, text and visual elements should look crisper. (Note that you may also need to reboot your computer to see the changes.)

Here are some of the current limitations with the new option:

  • GDI+ and DX content don't DPI scale.
  • Bitmap-based content won't look very crisp.
  • You need to enable the option on each app to see if it works.

However, even with these limitations, the new high DPI scaling improvements are very noticeable to the point that Microsoft decided to enable the new option on many apps built into the OS, including the Microsoft Management Console (mmc.exe). This means that on the Creators Update and later versions built-in snap-in, such as Disk Management, Computer Management, Device Manager, and others will look significantly crispier and less blurry.

Disk Management Anniversary Update (left), Disk Management Creators Update (right)

Device Manager Anniversary Update (left), Device Manager Creators Update (right)

You'll also notice two additional scaling options, if "System (Enhanced)" is not working on a particular app:

  • Application: Used to be referred as "Disable display scaling on high DPI settings." Using this option will force the app to run on a per-monitor DPI awareness.
  • System: When enabled Windows 10 will stretch the interface, bitmap elements, and text will be blurry. This is the standard way Windows 10 handles scaling.

The new DPI scaling settings are only available for traditional desktop (GDI-based) apps. Windows Store apps cannot be configured with these options because they're already optimized for high pixel density displays.

More Windows 10 resources

For more help articles, coverage, and answers to common questions about Windows 10, visit the following resources:

Mauro Huculak is technical writer for WindowsCentral.com. His primary focus is to write comprehensive how-tos to help users get the most out of Windows 10 and its many related technologies. He has an IT background with professional certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA, and he's a recognized member of the Microsoft MVP community.

13 Comments
  • Learn something new every day! Love KeePass too BTW. I store a DB on OneDrive, and it's accessibile one my phones as well.
  • Great tip! Would be useful if this option was more easily accessed for less technical users though.
  • How is this too technical? 8 simple steps. You want Cortana to spit it out?
  • Technical, as in no one would ever find it or know about it unless they read an article like this. Too many really handy features are hidden away and labeled in a way that no one could possibly figure out what they actually do without instruction and knowledge.
  • It works very well also! Office 2000 looked terrible, but now it looks as clear as a modern app!
  • Good article
  • Nice. I have a mixer app for an audio interface that is tiny on my Surface. This makes it actually usable.
  •  That's a lot of work to get rid of some blurry icons. Thanks though, may try this out when I'm bored someday. 
  • Wow, an actually useful instructional article on WC. Colour me surprised.
  • Didn't know about the new drop down options. Safe to say this is not a solution for all things .. pretty huge fail on the few things I tested. One is a java based program - it was simultaneously drawing its interface on a small and larger scaled window. And Photoshop Elements 12 - looked okay until I opened a photo - displayed as a checkerboard with blacked out regions. Someday this will all be sorted (but probably not really). For now I'll just continue using microscopic, but crisp looking applications.
  • Does this work for Steam? It looks terrible on High DPI displays. (Not in front of machine with that display at work, so I can't test right now)
  • This is great. Was there an option to change this before, just no "System (Enhanced)" option, or is the entire ability to change make manual changes to display for High DPI monitors all new with the Creators Update? In any case, one app that has been a real problem for me is Cute PDF Professional for editing and assembling PDF prints. It's so bad, that I'd open the documents in Adobe Reader DC to review them after making changes in the program (Adobe Reader DC seems to already be High DPI aware). The System (Enhanced) option is better, but barely. However the "Application" option is a HUGE IMPROVEMENT. So depending on the app, it may be necessary to try all of the High DPI options to find which one looks best depending on the app.
  • Agreed. I have an older app that works best using "System" so mileage definitely varies depending on the app and the chosen setting.