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Hi I need to read PDF files but find that my 24" LCD screen fatigues my eyes too much. I realise that eInk screens are better but I do not currently possess one and so have to use LCD's.

Can you tell me what are the best settings for reading PDF's on an LCD in terms of:

  • PDF display % size
  • PDF reader application
  • Screen size
  • Screen brightness
  • Screen contrast

  • Anything else you have found helps

I am currently running a 17" Macbook Pro with an external 24" BenQ LCD

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Lance Roberts, harrymc, ϺОŞΣŞ, random May 16 at 2:09

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

6 Answers 6

up vote 2 down vote accepted

A 24'' monitor is indeed a little too big for a long eye exposure to text. Some people can take it without a problem. But these are usually young eyes. More tired eyes (or older) will have trouble with such monitors when doing concentration reading.

Here's a few loose ideas (meaning some may not couple well with others):

  • Reduce empty space (which does fatigue the eyes) by setting at least a two-page view in your screen and increasing the pages zoom factor to occupy the most of your screen (without forcing you to scroll if that bothers you).
  • Invert contrast if available (it seems you have it). But careful, only if you take more than one minute reading sessions. If you are constantly flipping between a dark screen and a white screen (like flipping between your PDF and your browser) this is in fact bad for your eyes.
  • Set your PDF Reader to Read mode (or Full Screen if unavailable). On most readers, this turns the background black and the white page in the center with a reasonable zoom factor that you may have or not the ability to change. Many people find this the least tiring method.
  • Get yourself a vertical monitor (or a rotatable one) between 19'' and 21''. These screen sizes are the least damaging to your eyes, force less eye movement and are very friendly to a wider range of space between you and the monitor (a larger monitor forces you to place it further away). Vertical if you can, because you will be able to use higher zoom factors without forcing you to scroll within the same page.
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1  
+1 for rotating your monitor –  Doug Harris Oct 19 '09 at 14:02
    
I did find the vertical monitor much easier for reading text, along with lowering my monitor brightness. Thanks and thank you for everyone else's answer, they all helped. –  Brock Woolf Nov 1 '09 at 20:37

Some tips:

  • Sit at a comfortable distance from the screen. If you're too close then you'll be turning your head and/or eyes a lot.

  • Change the zoom level so that the words are a comfortable size for your eyes.

  • The brightness of the areas around your monitor should be the same as the average brightness on your monitor. All human eyes automatically do something called saccades where they flit around every once in a while to get extra contextual information for the brain. If, for example, you are in a dark room with a bright monitor, your iris will have to keep changing between more-closed (when looking at the monitor) and more-open (when flitting to the dark non-monitor background). This can cause fatigue, headaches, etc.

  • Depending on your eyes, the monitor, and your distance from the screen, you might consider the heretical choice of running the reader on Windows instead of OS X. Hear me out. Apple has the philosophy that all text should be positioned exactly as if it were printed, even if that means that it creates fuzziness when antialiased on a screen. Microsoft's philosophy is that a document should look good if viewed on a monitor and it's okay to shift font strokes by sub-pixel amounts to avoid blurriness. If you're a professional doing layout for a print process, the Mac is probably the better option. If you're just trying to read some text with little eye strain, there are those that would argue Microsoft got it right. It's possible that Adobe has some option on the Mac version to use Microsoft's rendering choices, avoiding the need to install a VM or bootcamp.

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Your third point is interesting. But raised me one doubt. Assuming the PDF document isn't a scan (in which case it would be irrelevant), doesn't Mac offer an equally attractive and "highly" configurable equivalent of the Windows ClearType? I think remembering this was a problem a couple of years ago (they were blurrier indeed). But I seem to have been told it has improved since. –  A Dwarf Oct 19 '09 at 12:30
    
fifth point: ... than print it and read on paper. –  Roberto Russo Oct 19 '09 at 12:50
    
Yes. Mac OS X does font anti-aliasing. The text looks the same in inverted colours mode (sorry, not inverted contrast) I just found it easier because the monitor was less bright. It's easier to stare at a black screen than a white one (It's late at night right now) –  Brock Woolf Oct 19 '09 at 12:51
    
@A Dwarf: perhaps you're right. It's been a while since I've used a Mac (I tend to prefer Windows and Linux). I'll have to check with someone who is a current Mac user. –  Mr Fooz Oct 19 '09 at 12:53
    
@Brock & A Dwarf: when it does font anti-aliasing, does it take liberties with stroke placement like Windows (reducing blurriness), or does it do strict stroke placement (keeping the spacing the same as the printed form)? Note that cleartype effectively triples the horizontal resolution for text; stroke placement is an independent matter (but is 3x less important with cleartype). –  Mr Fooz Oct 19 '09 at 12:56

Adding to others advice: Another way to smoothen the reading session is f.lux when you're reading in the evening. It makes the screen's color display adapts to the time of day, automatically. Available for free for all major OS'es.

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OMG Thank you for this. I find this even better than inverted colours/contrast! –  Brock Woolf Oct 19 '09 at 12:58

Regarding brightness: I once read that white areas on your monitor should match the brightness of a white sheet of paper when you hold it next to your screen. This way reading from the screen should be about as easy to the eyes as reading from paper and your eyes don't have to switch between monitor-brightness and room-brightness.

I've tried it and it works for me.
At the beginning it seems to be very dark and of course you have less contrast, which makes the content of the screen not look as nice. But you'll adjust to that quite quickly (I'd say it takes a day at max).

Of course, this assumes that your room lighting is constant.

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I may have discovered part of the puzzle.

Command + Option + Control + 8 enables inverted colours mode on a Mac.

This actually makes it much easier to read. I guess getting rid of all the white helps a lot.

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I guess the BenQ is a TN panel, which means unstable pictures when moving your head. Maybe it is even set up very bright.

I recently bought a discontinued EIZO S2031W, they are about the cheapest S-PVA panels (S-PVA has the highest contrast) at the moment, and they can be pivotted. 20 inch vertical with PDF's looks gorgeous. Also web browsing is much better on a vertical screen. I have 1 computer for document editing, web viewing and PDF reading now with this vertical screen.

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