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I'm using Illustrator CS6 on OS X. When choosing View -> Actual Size, the displayed elements are smaller on the screen than their actual size, say in centimetres. How can I "calibrate" Illustrator to my screen's resolution (dpi) so that it can display objects at life size when using 100% zoom?

(Acrobat does have a DPI setting in its preferences, and I assume Illustrator must have it too. But I cannot find it.)

Edit: To clarify, if I put a ruler next to the screen, and also turn on the ruler in the document, I want them to match up when selecting View -> Actual Size.

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Illustrator doesn't have a setting to adjust the Actual Size view of print documents to a screen's pixel density.

To 'calibrate', I helped myself by holding an A4 sheet against an A4 document on the screen and zooming until they matched. Then I – ahem – wrote down the zoom percentage on a super-sticky Post-it, which now adorns the frame of my screen… (The percentage works for InDesign and Office applications as well.)

Shortcut key workaround: Illustrator can't have a shortcut key for a user-defined zoom percentage, nor can you record an Action macro for that (which would have allowed for a shortcut key). A workaround would be to create a custom view of your document at that zoom percentage View > New View… and then Save the document. This custom view is then saved within the document file and appears in the View menu. Illustrator allows to set shortcut keys to change to custom views of documents. Use Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts… and in the drop-down menu choose Menu Commands > View > Custom View 1.

(based on Illustrator CS5.1)

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The custom view workaround is great, thanks! This solves my problem. –  Szabolcs Nov 7 '13 at 16:09
@Szabolcs This may also be interesting in combination with Illustrator's option to show multiple windows of the same document Window > New Window (especially if you have a larger screen or use multiple screens.) –  TehMacDawg Nov 7 '13 at 22:39
Thanks, this is useful too. I'm using it now. I'm not very good with Illustrator, so all of these comments help a lot. –  Szabolcs Nov 7 '13 at 22:42
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The Macintosh 128K had a 72PPI display, as did many subsequent Mac models. Lots of print design applications used the known display PPI to their advantage and were able to show documents at very close to their physical size.

Displays have increased in pixel density, and these days 72PPI is considered incredibly low density. Typical PC displays in the early 90s were around 96PPI.

I believe Illustrator, InDesign and a few other applications still make the assumption that your display is 72PPI, which means zooming to “actual size” is smaller than it should be.

If you know your display’s PPI, you should be able to work out the zoom level needed to pretty accurately display elements at their actual size.

The formula to work out the percentage zoom should be:

( your_screen_ppi / 72 ) × 100


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