How to Avoid Losing Sight of Your OS X Cursors

Let's talk cursors. Actually, it's the old-timers who say "cursors" while everyone else calls them "pointers." Apple uses both terms interchangeably in their documentation (yes, Apple does provide documentation, which can be found at 

Pointers are the endearing little on-screen indicators designed to provide feedback to users. According to the latest revision of Apple's Human Interface Guidelines document, there are eighteen system pointers in OS X.

OS X System pointers

A few of the typical OS X system pointers

The two system pointers we're most familiar with are the "mouse pointer" – "arrow" is it's official moniker – and the “I-beam." The latter is used to indicate the text insertion point wherever you need to... you know… insert text. And then, there is the dreaded "Spinning Pizza of Death.” Well, that’s what I call it, anyway.

The spinning wait cursor

The Spinning Wait Cursor (that's Apple's terminology

For the sake of accuracy, let's call it what Apple deems to be the official name: the "Spinning Wait Cursor." On second thought, "Spinning Pizza of Death" is more fun. And tasty, too, come to think of it. You don't want to see this one often. The details as to why we see it on occasion, as well as how to avoid it, are subjects reserved for future discussion. Suffice it to say that you want to minimize the appearance of this pirouetting pinwheel, which basically indicates that OS X is commandeering the system for its own needs and may be a harbinger of serious system maintenance.

Next: Resizing the Pointer

Part 2 - Resizing the Pointer

Now that our little refresher on the familiar pointer has concluded, let's get down to the main point... I mean – topic: how to resize the pointer.

The size of these system pointers can be easily altered in System Preferences – in the highly useful Accessibility preferences pane in OS X Mavericks. This feature is particularly helpful to Mac users whose eyesight may not be the best. It has other practical uses as well: finding the cursor in a sea of monitors connected to your Mac, enlarging various tools such as those found in Photoshop's tool palette, and for emphasizing operations when demonstrating software to a live audience or to viewers of a screencast. 

I know what you're thinking: "Sure, but as soon as I make the cursor even a bit larger, it really looks awful!"

That used to be the case before OS X 10.7 Lion, when any magnified cursor adopted the unwanted "jaggies." While certainly still useable and, useful to a degree, it just felt like we were back in the 8-bit graphics world of the early eighties.

Two cursors with jaggies

The Dreaded "Jaggies"

Now, the entire set of system pointers is smoothed out nicely when magnified. 

Examples of magnified and smoothed pointers

Examples of magnified and smoothed pointers

Jaggies are completely eliminated on all magnified system pointers. They look much, much better - tack sharp, and a pleasure to work with. 

There doesn't yet appear to be support for third-party application-specific pointers, such as the aforementioned Photoshop tool pointers. These will magnify, but with the less than ideal pixelated look. However, any system pointers utilized within a third-party application will sport the newer, sleeker look.

The Accessibility panel in Mavericks

The Accessibility preference panel in OS X Mavericks

Let me show you how you can set your Mac’s cursor size. Start by going to System Preferences > Accessibility. Click Display in the panel on the left side of the Accessibility pane, and then drag the Cursor Size slider to the right to make it larger. In all versions, as you make the cursor adjustment, you will see the change in real-time. Remember, this will affect all system cursors, not just the arrow pointer.

Don’t you agree that things look so much better now with your distended yet velvety smooth cursors?

For those readers who may have additional issues locating the cursor on screen, there are several utilities available from the App Store that assist in locating a capricious cursor. 

An app that I have used for several years is PinPoint by Lagente Software ($4.99 on the Mac App Store). I use this little gem when projecting my Mac's screen to an audience or class. With PinPoint enabled, the pointer becomes highlighted and animated in such a way that it is it is easily viewable by all. With keyboard shortcuts I can easily toggle the feature because there are those times during an on-screen demo where highlighting or animating a pointer becomes more of a distraction than a benefit.

I hope you have found these pointers useful! The point to all this, of course, is that your overall user experience will be even more rewarding when you adjust your cursors and pointers to your liking.