October 27th, 2005 • 3:21 pm
Depending on which font smoothing setting you have selected in the “Appearance” preference pane in Mac OS X’s System Preferences, Mac OS X will actually use not just shades of grey, but actual colours (other than black) for font smoothing.
For example, here’s some text in Lucida Grande 11 pt in TextEdit, with font smoothing style set to “Appearance“:” in “
This screen shot with a 600% zoom setting shows you the individual colour pixels used by Mac OS X to create the font smoothing.
Now look at the exact same text as displayed by Mac OS X on the right hand side of the menu bar:
I have this text displayed on the right hand side of my menu bar because I use Spell Catcher, so my input menu is visible (“Show input menu in menu bar” in the “International” preference pane is checked) and I also have the option to “ ” on in the input menu itself (at the bottom).
As you can see, there is font smoothing as well, but it’s done entirely with shades of grey. There’s no colour involved. And the problem is not limited to the input menu. It affects all the “menu extras” on the right hand side of the menu bar that are built into Mac OS X and that involve text. For example, here’s a close-up of the text of the menu bar clock:
Again, Mac OS X only uses shades of grey. There are no colour pixels—which means that this text is not rendered using the same font smoothing style as the rest of the text in the Mac OS X interface.
It’s not like Mac OS X is not able to do proper font smoothing in the menu bar. Here’s a close-up of the “” and “ ” menu headings in a generic Mac OS X application:
Clearly, Mac OS X uses colour pixels here. So the problem is strictly limited to the right hand side of the menu bar.
And it’s also not like Mac OS X is unable to display colours in the right hand side of the menu bar. After all, the menu bar icon for Spotlight is in blue. The flag icons used for the input menu heading are in colour.
Yet for some reason Apple has chosen to restrict its menu extras (the AirPort menu extra, the AppleScript menu extra, the Volume menu extra, the Classic menu extra, the Eject menu extra, etc.) to black and white. And because of this restriction, it does not use the proper font smoothing style whenever you choose to use a font smoothing style other than the standard style.
I see no justification for this inconsistency, except for this arbitrary decision made by Apple to restrict menu extras to black and white. Unfortunately, it means that anti-aliased text doesn’t look the same as it does elsewhere in the Mac OS X interface.