I am, like so many other graphic designers, very excited about the new MacBook 15" with retina display. But there is one thing that I really am concerned about. With 4 times the pixels as on ordinary screen, how can we be sure, that the preview of an image, is what we really get?

When images are optimized for web usage, how can we be sure that the optimized image, is what the end user (with a non-retina display) wil be seing?

  • Friendly tip: if you're concerned about how web images made on a macbook will look on other devices, and if you don't have another device around for testing, it might be wise to gain access to some old PC with a low quality screen for testing. Pixel density isn't the biggest issue: colour and font rendering have always been just different enough between PC and Mac to cause problems. I've known people heartbroken seeing their mac-designed site display with jagged text on a PC, or their PC-designed site seemingly having different colour contrasts and balance on a Mac. Jun 19, 2012 at 16:35
  • To get non-retina, you can just plug in a second monitor. The system is smart enough to use different scaling for each display.
    – SilverWolf
    Feb 15, 2018 at 2:36

3 Answers 3


Currently, Photoshop CS6 is not optimised for the Retina display, so things will appear very similar to the way they are on a non-Retina display. I believe this means each pixel is displayed in your document as a 2×2 pixel block, as is the preview in Save For Web. This is the same as how non-Retina apps are displayed on a Retina iPhone.

Basically, Photoshop is identical on a Retina Mac as it was previously. It'll be like this until Adobe update Photoshop. It's pixel accurate, but each pixel is drawn with 4 Retina pixels (a 2×2 pixel block). It'll be just as easy as it was previously to work with, but for Photoshop itself, there won't be much benefit (just higher res text in menus etc).

Adobe hasn't announced when the Photoshop Retina update is coming, or if it'll be CS6, CS6.5 or CS7.

24bit IPS display

The new Retina MacBook Pro does feature a 24bit IPS display. This is a huge advantage over the older 18bit displays on previous MacBooks, MacBook Airs, MacBook Pros and even some iMacs. 24bit IPS displays are pretty rare for laptops.

Other resolutions and scaling

There is a very big caveat when using a Retina MacBook Pro — you'll want to make sure you're using the native size of 2880×1800 pixels (1440×900 points). This is called “Best for Retina Display” in System Preferences.

If you switch to one of the other display scales, everything gets rendered at double size then scaled for the screen. So 1920×1200 is rendered at 3840×2400 off screen, then 2D bitmap scaled as a single texture to 2880×1800. In that situation, what you're seeing will no longer be pixel accurate. For some situations that will be acceptable, but for UI and icon design I'd advise against it. This is the “Scaled” mode in System Preferences.

  • So for Web and ux design, you Would not suggest the retina? The screen real estate is far to small with 1440x900(2880x1800), and my plan was to scale it up to 1680x1050 or even 1920x1200, to compensate for the small screen. But if pixels end up inaccurate, then there is no point in buying the retina. Then rather get the 15" with 1680x1050 hi-res glare model. Jun 18, 2012 at 10:41
  • Is there actually a setting for '2880×1800'? Meaning, can an end-user actually pick that and have native software rendering 1 virtual pixel = 1 physical pixel? That's interesting if you can, but isn't really what 'retina' is about.
    – DA01
    Jun 18, 2012 at 18:47
  • I'd definitely recommend keeping the display at its native setting. This is called "Best for Retina Display" in System Preferences (I'm suggesting to not use the "Scaled" mode). "Then rather get the 15" with 1680x1050 hi-res glare model" — If you want the res and UI scale of 1680x1050, then that might be a better option. Maybe visit an Apple store and take a look? Jun 19, 2012 at 3:18
  • Also, remember it's a 24bit IPS display. I can't stress enough how much of a difference that makes for design work. Jun 19, 2012 at 3:21
  • @MarcEdwards does it make a really big difference?
    – kettlepot
    Aug 8, 2012 at 22:20

Retina display isn't really affected by your standard software. As far as the software is concerned, the 'pixel' it uses to render on a retina screen is the same as on a non-retina screen.

So, in theory, nothing will change. Over time, one would assume software like PhotoShop will replace their UI elements with a sharper higher resolution set of icons, but things will still render at the same size.

The bigger question is if the software's canvas (working area) will understand retina settings and let you work in 'actual pixels'. I imagine that is something most graphic software application developers are working on.


http://retinajs.com/ looks like a solution, among what I am sure will be many. As long as you use apples @2x naming at the end of you retina images...the script will do the rest.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.