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Windows is highly customizable. The fonts that it uses are one of the items that you're actually given a fair amount of control over.

Can I change the font that is used on the screen? For example can I make it Verdana, Trebuchet MS, Georgia, or any other I could name? It probably has to be a True Type Font. What is the name of the font that is normally used with Windows XP Professional? Thank you for any suggestions you may have.

This is one of those areas where I typically recommend people not go playing. Not because it's dangerous, but because it is an area that Microsoft has done a lot of research into determining and developing a look, including font, that seems to be the most effective for the most people.

But of course, what if you're not "most people"?

Then there's a lot you can fiddle with.

I do need to point out that if all you're trying to do is make text bigger, there's a different, simpler approach outlined in How can I make the text on my screen larger?

To start, know that font used "on the screen" is actually several separate settings. The text in a menu might be different than the text in a window caption and those might be different than the text in the content area of a window. If you want to change them all and have a consistent look, there's a bit of work ahead.

Right click on your desktop and click on Properties and you should get something similar to this:

Windows XP Display Properties Dialog

Click on the Appearance tab to get this:

Windows XP Display Properties Dialog Appearance Tab

And finally click on the Advanced button for this:

Windows XP Display Properties Dialog Appearance Tab Advanced

To get to this same dialog in Windows Vista:

  • Right click on the desktop

  • Click on Personalize

  • Click on Window Color and Appearance

  • Click on the Advanced button

If you now click on the drop down list labeled Item: you'll see a list of items that should be similar to this:

Windows XP Display Properties Dialog Appearance Tab Advanced List Dropdown Contents

These are the items whose appearance you can control. If you click on one of those, then the nearby controls labeled Size, Color and most notably Font, among others, will enable if that setting can be adjusted. For an item where the fonts can be selected, you'll see that the Font drop down list is most likely chock-full of fonts for you to chose from.

Be careful! You can certainly select a font that, if accepted, could render all your text unreadable. Take a little time, experiment a little, and see what works best for you.

In most cases, what works best is, of course, doing nothing.

Article C3344 - April 8, 2008 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

April 8, 2008 9:24 PM

A few tips: the main font that Windows Explorer uses for filenames is whatever you've selected under "Icon", and the font that dialogue boxes (such as the window you're using to select the different fonts) use is what you select under "Message box".

Also, if you're just trying to make fonts bigger, try changing the DPI (in Settings tab -> Advanced).

Regarding font choice, for a refreshing but still professional look to XP, get hold of Segoe UI from somewhere, and replace Tahoma with it everywhere it appears (Segoe UI is the font that Vista uses instead of Tahoma; it's more rounded, more humanist).

And make sure Cleartype is turned on! (In Appearance tab -> Effects ->font smoothing) If Cleartype is too thin and spindly for you by default, that's fixable: Google "Cleartype Font Tuner".

Damon Littlewood
April 8, 2008 11:45 PM

To get Segoe UI installed on XP, all you have to do is install Windows Live Mail.

Change your system font to Segoe UI and you have that lovely Vista look, without the hassle :D

February 27, 2009 11:55 PM

This did not help me because in "Advanced Apperance" I click in "Active Window" the "text area" and am not able to get a font menu. Do you have any ideas of what I can do?

February 3, 2010 3:45 AM

How can i add more fonts in the font list of Advanced...?
thank u.

June 1, 2010 11:45 AM

I'm sorry, actual mileage may vary. My windows explorer windows text is *fixed*. Your Appearances tip Does Not Work, on my stock XP system.

Windows 7 is warmed-over XP, Mac simplifies by simply welding the hood shut, and Linux, shudder, is Linux. sigh

July 8, 2010 11:07 AM

My months of search in Internet
could yield the below content.


Windows Explorer uses for filenames is whatever you've selected under "Icon", and the font that dialogue boxes (such as the window you're using to select the different fonts) use is what you select under "Message box".

March 18, 2012 2:30 PM

Okay, if you're patient, try these methods:

Do the regular appearance settings to choose a font you're happy with. I usually go with Verdana 10, as it's the easiest on my eyes.

Now, go to Control Panel and Folder Options, and
in the view tab, change the radio button to point at "Show hidden files and folders", and untick "Hide extensions for known file types", and untick "Hide protected operating system files". It will cry, say yes anyway. Once you're done with the rest below, you can undo these changes here.

Moving on, this part requires third party software: Tgtstylesoft Stylebuilder for Win XP, or VistaStyleBuilder for Win 7 (it's paid but trial period should be enough to make your changes). With any of these programs edit a file that ends with .msstyles in \Windows\Resources\Themes. It will allow you to change every font that a style uses (it's not for the faint-hearted as it requires patience, but it can be done). It takes me approximately over 1 hour to change Win 7 msstyle fonts completely.

The next step is to adjust registry setting. This is easy and fairly quick. Hold the Windows logo sign on the keyboard and hit R, in the window that pops up type regedit and hit enter. Press File and Export, backup your registry. Done? Okay: now press Ctrl +F and enter the phrase FontSubstitutes. Once the FontSubstitutes key is found, on the right pane of the window double click and change these values:

Win XP:
Default (value not set) to Verdana (or any other font you want)
MS Shell Dlg Microsoft Sans Serif to Verdana
MS Shell Dlg 2 Tahoma to Verdana

Win 7:
Default (value not set) to Verdana (or any other font you want)
MS Shell Dlg Segoe UI to Verdana
MS Shell Dlg 2 Segoe UI to Verdana

Additionally: every instance of the Segoe UI value in the registry has to be changed to the font of your choice. No rocket science here.

You can also do this in Windows 7 with these tools:
Download: (36KB)

The final step is to use a program such as resedit or Restorator 2009 (resedit is free, Restorator not, again, trial should suffice) Copy a file Shell32.dll from \Windows\System32\ to the desktop for example. Open Shell32.dll with resedit or Restorator 2009. Then expand the Shell32.dll + sign, there will be a directory within it called Dialog. Expand it and have fun inside, each Dialog number has a font you have to change. After you're done, save changes and exit the program. Now switch the file in System32 folder with the one you edited (keep an extra copy of the original somewhere). If Windows is using the original file, you'll probably have to switch it by booting to a different system: like a Linux distro or Windows on another drive. Or maybe Windows will let you do copy and replace. Of course, in Windows 7, you have to take ownership of the file. There's a nice tutorial for making that easy here:

Once you've completed all of it, it would be a good idea to restart your system.

A note to remember: programs that are hard-coded with fonts will not always obey our changes. Task manager for example (in most part of its UI) uses MS Shell Dlg, so yes - it will take Verdana, but it will determine its own size, which is 8. To change that, we would of course, have to recompile Task Manager in Visual Studio, which I don't think is possible. (I don't even know if you can disassemble any of the MS source code, probably not, I never tried). Other applications that are not entirely built in Visual Studio, may come with their own fonts completely, so they won't honor your settings at all.

It wasn't my intention to make this tutorial hard or easy, just to make it work. If you can improve it significantly, add to it, change it, rewrite it or make a new one, please do so, so that others may benefit. I have to put up with this all the time because of my eyesight, and I have met many people who like their fonts bigger than provided by MS. I think the clearest readability comes with Ubuntu, but that's another topic.

It might be good to change font settings in the internet browsers, such as Firefox or Chrome, or any other applications that allow fonts to be set.

I wish you luck and patience.

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