OS X Lion: New Zoom Features

The zoom ability in OS X is obviously helpful for the visually impaired, but it’s also a valuable tool for everyone else. I’ve seen it used, for example, by presenters to make something they’re showing on a large screen more obvious to their audience, and I know folks who zoom in to be able to see text from across a room. In Lion, though, there’s a particularly interesting new way to use this built-in, handy-dandy feature, and I’m going to tell you how. ‘Cause it’s my job, that’s why. Settle down, you.

To check it out, go to System Preferences > Universal Access and choose the “Seeing” tab. If you’re visually impaired or know someone who is, there’s a ton of stuff there to know about, including VoiceOver, Apple’s way of making the Mac easier to control without relying on sight. The radio button we’re looking for in this tip, though, is Zoom.

Toggle that on, and then hit the listed key combo to invoke it (Option-Command-=). Your screen will zoom in a little when you press it once. Keep tapping that shortcut, and you’ll zoom in incrementally. Hold those keys down, and you’ll zoom all the way in—and I do mean all the way. Move your cursor around, and you’ll get up close and quite personal with what’s on your screen.


This is a shrunken view of my entire screen when I zoomed all the way in. No foolin’.


To exit, hold down the “zoom out” shortcut (it’s Option-Command-Hyphen) until your screen returns to normal, or you can turn off zoom entirely and pull all the way back out by hitting Option-Command-8. That same combo also works to turn zoom on if it’s already off.

All of that may be familiar to you from Snow Leopard, but here’s where our favorite new operating system comes in. With Lion, you’ve got a new choice to turn on within that System Preferences pane. It’s labeled “Zoom in window.” If you click that checkbox and then hit the “zoom in” keyboard shortcut mentioned above, you get a nifty little magnifying window instead of zooming into your whole screen. The shortcuts I mentioned work exactly the same—hold down the one for zooming in, and your window will pull in until you can see your grandma’s nose hairs in that unfortunate picture. Then hold down Option-Command-Hyphen to zoom all the way back out, and the box disappears.


This is my zoom window, not a cry for help. Mostly.


An interesting thing to note about this is that your selections under the “Options” button (see my first screenshot above) will change depending on whether you have “Zoom in window” turned on. If it’s off, you’ll be adjusting the way that your whole screen zooms. Switch it on, and the choices you’ll have will be reflected only in your zoom window. You can make the window show up tiled along the edge of your screen as opposed to the floating window shown above. You can invert the colors within it if you so desire. You can even tell OS X to read anything under your cursor to you.

After you’re done looking at all of the neat choices, make sure to click on “Adjust Size and Location” to configure your zoom window to be your preferred size. 

And as an aside, the way I remember the keyboard shortcuts for zooming is by thinking about the other symbols that are printed on those keys. Option-Command-Plus is used to zoom in; Option-Command-Minus is for zooming out. Just don’t tell Apple, OK?