How to make fine print readable

So, you’ve just purchased that new iMac, iPhone, iPad or any other brand or type of digital device. You’ve just opened the box, and then you saw the legal stuff — the obligations and exonerations the manufacturer agrees to. Unfortunately, if you’re not in any way related to an eagle, you’ll find it hard to read the small font type many of these leaflets are printed with. Here are four ways to make the fine print readable.

Legal agreements as forced upon you by manufacturers can quickly turn your exciting purchase in a legal risk if you don’t know what the manufacturer agrees to in the first place. So, my advice as an ex-lawyer to you would be to read the fine print! However, the Apples, Microsofts and other vendors of this world would rather you don’t read their legal commitments. So, they print their legal leaflet with a nice printing press at 2400 dpi and 4 point type. They prefer not to use too much whitespace, and shout their principal exonerations by using capitalization abundantly.

Prof. Brian Lawler at California State Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo has studied typography of every kind, and he says if your eyes get tired from just scanning the pages, there are clear reasons for that:

  • Margins of only about one-eighth of an inch with hardly any white space
  • Characters’ height hits only 4.5 points
  • The liberal use of uppercase letters — which makes the paragraphs nearly impossible to read.

Modern laser printers allow you to output print at 4.5 points, and I personally witnessed a huge VUTEk GS3200 spit out razor-sharp type of just 6 points. From a point of view of technology, it’s perfectly feasible to print this way, even for a SOHO business.

So, what can you do about it? Given that a reseller will only allow you to open the box and read manuals and leaflets after you’ve purchased anyway, here are a couple suggestions:

  1. Scan the lot, copy the text and print it. As most of the booklets with fine print are smaller than an A4, if you print each scanned page onto an A4, the print becomes huge. If your scanner has OCR like the Doxie does, you can save to a PDF and even search for key terms.
  2. If it’s digital, you can also save it to a PDF, then open it in Preview or Adobe Acrobat and magnify.
  3. If you lack PDF reading software and don’t want to download Adobe’s free Acrobat reader, save it to a text file, open it in Word or another text editor, select all content and choose a font and font size to your liking.
  4. To get rid of the all capitals sentences, on the Mac install TextSoap and click the capitalize sentences filter. All capitals are replaced, with only the words starting a sentence being capitalized — as is proper.

If none of the above suits you, the only remedy will be to try change your country’s statutes so that ‘checks and balances’ — that seem so lost in our modern world — add up again. Alternatively, migrate to Europe where strict consumer regulations forbid legal nonsense of which below you’ll find a couple examples.

  • Not Fit to Buy. Many software and technology products now include a “disclaimer of warrant of merchantability.” This literally means the manufacturer doesn’t guarantee that the product is fit to be sold. Microsoft’s fine print (outside the EU) says it’s liable for no more than 5.. USD in damages.
  • There’s No App for That. Smartphone makers may advertise their products as do-everything devices, but an US-American iPhone user contract warns users that the device isn’t suitable for “the operation of nuclear facilities, airport navigation…life support or weapons systems.”