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What is the best, most foolproof way of getting nice font rendering in Linux?

Currently, I am experiencing thin, ugly fonts (shown below). I have wasted too much time tweaking fonts.conf, and I have yet to find a decent combination.

I am running Debian 6.0 with no desktop environment (just Openbox for a window manager) in a VM on a Macbook Pro (OS X 10.7.4).


The following screenshots were taken without fonts.conf and .Xdefaults tweaks.

  • running in "native" Openbox environment:

    running in "native" Openbox environment

  • running over X11, which looks a little worse than Openbox:

    running over X11, which looks a little worse than Openbox

share|improve this question
And this is what I would like to achieve: Emacs on OS X screenshot – jmdeldin Jun 3 '12 at 8:48
Note to readers: Since N.N.s edit the screenshots are shown inline but are also scaled, so the difference in rendering might not be visible. Open the images in a new tab to view them unscaled. You might also want to zoom in (without interpolation) to clearly see the difference (hinting, subpixel rendering) – Gurken Papst Jun 3 '12 at 17:15
Did you ever get rendering to look as good as the OSX screenshot you posted? I am plagued by the same issue. – stevejb Jul 12 '13 at 22:37
@stevejb: Nope :(. It was a little better in VMWare, but still terrible. I ended up reverting to iTerm + ssh'ing into a VirtualBox machine that runs Emacs in a TTY/no GUI. It works pretty well -- here's my silly provisioned setup. GUI Emacs would be great though because DocView is super handy. – jmdeldin Jul 13 '13 at 6:57
@jmdeldin thank you for the to your setup. It seems like a very reasonable approach. I just tried installing (a few minutes ago) Infinality and it seems to have improved things quite a bit. I am running Ubuntu 13.04 on a high resolution 27" monitor using the NVidia binary driver. – stevejb Jul 13 '13 at 14:32

I would definitely prefer the current rendering, but if you like bolder, more blurry and fonts with colors on the edges, you should disable hinting, enable subpixel rendering and keep anti-aliasing enabled. A better solution would be to just use bolder fonts, but this would rather look crisp as printed in a book and not blurry. So it depends on what you mean with "smooth".

Read more on hinting (and see a nice comparison screenshot) on

share|improve this answer
Thanks for your hints (har har)! I adjusted my ~/.fonts.conf, and it's better, especially with a bold font (sadly, Emacs doesn't like bold Inconsolata or Monaco). I wish it was more 1:1 with OS X, but it's a definite improvement. It's still ugly over X11, but switching to VMWare and Unity mode lets me run the "native" Emacs window without using X11 (it's much more reliable than VBox's seamless mode). – jmdeldin Jun 7 '12 at 18:17

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