How to fix scaling issues on older Windows Apps

(The above shows Photoshop CS3 displaying super-tiny buttons due to scaling issues)

Having a high resolution screen is very nice – everything looks much cleaner and more detailed. Well, at least that is the theory and it works well on most modern devices where both the OS and the applications are aware of potentially large(!) variations in pixel densities across many devices. Unfortunately, Windows has a long history and much of it’s applications, even today, are not aware of this. When ultra-high dpi devices (such as the Surface devices) were introduced to the market, things looked pretty ugly – super tiny, overlapping or blurry fonts, buttons, cursors, and other elements. Even the vertical scroll bars were too thin to grab. These are the scaling issues you will be facing on all Windows devices with high dpi screens no matter who built it.

Soon, Microsoft introduced means for developers to handle wider variety of dpi displays within Windows, but the application developers couldn’t catch up quickly. And in many cases, they chose not to. Like many, I own many older copies of applications that are borderline unusable on today’s modern devices. And just to be clear, in most cases, the problem is caused by the apps, NOT Windows. Microsoft can’t help you here with some magical updates.

How do you deal with such situations? Although the following method won’t work with every single legacy apps with scaling issues, it will work for many. Unfortunately, there’s no global button you set to enable this – you must create a manifest file for each app, but once done, you can forget about it.

Here are the steps:

  1. Press “Windows Button” + R.
  2. Type “regedit” then <Enter>. It may ask for permission, if so click on “Yes”.
  3. Navigate to “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SOFTWARE > Microsoft > Windows > CurrentVersionSideBySide
  4. Right-click on “SideBySide”, then click on “NEW > DWORD (32bit)”.
  5. Type “PreferExternalManifest” then <Enter>.
  6. Once the new entry is created on the right side of the panel, right click on “PreferExternalManifest“, then “Modify”.
  7. Enter the value 1. Make sure the Base is of type “Decimal”.
  8. Finally, click on “Ok”.

You just told Windows that you want to use external manifest file by creating one new entry in the registry. Now, you must create your own manifest file and place it in the same location as where the EXE file of your app is located.

Download the following file, rename it, then place it in the right directory where your EXE file is located: (Click here to download). Your manifest file MUST be renamed to match your EXE file, then append “.manifest”. So if your EXE file was “Photoshop.exe” then your manifest file should read “Photoshop.exe.manifest”.

Now you can execute your EXE file and hopefully your app will present you with less scaling issues.

What I have found out so far on this workaround is that it doesn’t work in all cases. Out of all apps I have tried so far, about half of them worked (on the Surface Pro 4) and more the up to date the app, more likely that it will work. As an example, I have a very old copy of Adobe Photoshop (version CS3) and this workaround doesn’t work for me at all, both on the Surface Pro 4 and the Dell XPS 15. But for some of the other recent apps, it works great. Some of the more recent Adobe apps have also been reported to be working. In some cases, the scaling works better but overall, it looks a bit more blurry – still a better trade-off.

Here is the link to the original article written by Dan Antonielli.

Since I still want to use the Photoshop CS3, I’m afraid I’ll have to continue to look for other solutions… Oh well.


  • Thank you for this! It works for Photoshop CS6 on my Surface Pro 4.

    Also, the value 1 is the same in hexadecimal as decimal, Therefore, you can choose either.

  • This fix did the trick for Daz 3D’s Daz Studio and Pilgway’s 3D-Coat.

    Thank you.

    I was suffering from eyestrain and headaches attempting to be productive in these two applications. The last two in my creative application collection to yet support high pixel density displays.

  • Is there a post regarding the scaling/sharpness issues on external monitors?
    I’ve found that when I plug external monitors into my SP3, the only way to get apps like chrome to displace at the correct scaling and to be sharp is to manually set scaling to 115%. Seems like a weird fix and wondered if anyone else had had this issue (or a more efficient solution)

    • There isn’t a good one yet. I am going to be getting a large monitor soon so I’ll be looking into it for sure. I did spend few hours on this topic but it does appear to be tricky.

  • Hey John,

    You can get this to work for older versions of photoshop by changing the exe name. Ie rename the exe from Photoshop.exe to PhotoshopCS3.exe and rename the manifest from Photoshop.exe.manifest to PhotoshopCS3.exe.manifest.

    I did this with CS2 and works fine so presume it will work in CS3 also.

    May have to update any program shortcuts to ref new file too – I didn’t need to in win 10, but for ppl with older versions this may be required.

  • I recently tried this with Quicken, and it seemed to work great, except that whenever I clicked on any text field the font changed to gibberish (in some cases an asian language, and in some cases ascii graphic characters or something). I used your manifest file verbatim. Any ideas?

  • The manifest file didn’t work for me with Adobe Photoshop CS3. I was getting a runtime error (R6034). I found this information about the error :

    I used sigcheck to extract the manifest file from Photoshop CS3 using this information: and then added the element from the manifest file given in the original post to the end of the extracted manifest file. This worked for me.

  • This is a similar issue to what Mac users have experienced trying to use certain applications with their retina displays. In those cases, there was a custom application made by someone called the retinizer which actually worked fairly well in making an app retina capable. it’s too bad there is not a simple solution to this for windows high res conversion… yet.

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