I'm trying to get an Ubuntu laptop functional for a visually impaired friend. Her impairment is such that a screen magnifier would solve the issue. I've tried out Kmag (as its the only hit when searching the software center for "magnifier"), but it seems odd the Ubuntu lacks a default. So I'm assuming I'm missing something obvious.

  • 2
    I am visually impaired myself. I need a full screen magnifier all the time in order to work with any distribution (or windows / mac). A very good magnifying experience can be achieved with Compiz Manager like Mitch said. A pitty that the newer desktop enviroments seem to forget that when they completely disposed of compiz. That's way I'm never returning to linux again! Unless a better alternative comes up... but still no luck. I understand your problem, no suggested magnifier is good enough in comparison to windows 7 or 8's build in magnifier... – user141122 Mar 17 '13 at 17:16
  • I can't speak to the quality of Window's built in magnifier, but compiz is still being used in the default Unity desktop as of Ubuntu 12.10. – nelsonda Mar 20 '13 at 14:58
  • Check out this answer, similar Louis Gagnon's. – Pablo Bianchi Dec 19 '18 at 2:49

12 Answers 12


Unity (until Ubuntu 17.04)

CompizConfig Settings Manager

To use magnifier in Ubuntu, you can do so by using CompizConfig Settings Manager. If you don't have it installed, you can do so from the Ubuntu Software Center.

Or, just press Ctrl+Alt+T on your keyboard to open Terminal. When it opens, run the command below.

sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager

You can also use Synaptic Package Manager

Once you invoke the program, look under Accessibility for magnifier, and click on it to configure it.

enter image description here

enter image description here

Or you can try Virtual Magnifying Glass 3.5

  • 2
    In Ubuntu 14.04, the command to invoke the program is ccsm. – Ben Dec 27 '14 at 23:03
  • 5
    there is only "Enhanced Zoom Desktop" in default compiz-plugins-default, if you want "Magnifier" you have to install compiz-plugins(formerly compiz-plugins-extra) – adrenochrome Dec 28 '16 at 13:54
  • What's Button4 and Button5? – AlikElzin-kilaka Feb 19 '17 at 14:41
  • 1
    Button4 is scroll wheel up and Button5 is scroll wheel down. – AlikElzin-kilaka Feb 19 '17 at 14:53
  • On my Ubuntu 18.04 this doesn't work reliable. For example, currently (uptime 83d) this works on my 1st screen but not on my 2nd. It's NOT a hardware issue. If you run Ubuntu desktop for a longer time, some features start to vanish until the next restart of X-Window. No idea why (I think due to some race conditions when things are slower than expected due to RAM pressure.) BTW this reminds me on Windows 95 which became unreliable after some days, too. Guess that Ubuntu still is some 20 years behind Microsoft in re-inventing all of their bugs from scratch again. – Tino Nov 8 '19 at 10:19


I found a simple solution that is working very well for me. I installed xzoom from the default repositories.

The usage is very simple, and exactly what I wanted:

  • start xzoom.
  • place the window where it does not disturb you.
  • "drag" your mouse cursor from within the window to the spot of the screen you want to magnify.

xzoom example

Additional note: I'm on Ubuntu 14.04 and before discovering xzoom, I tried the approaches suggested in the accepted solution. My experiences:

  • In ccsm I failed to find the "Magnifier". Under "Accessibility" I have an "Enhanced Desktop Zoom", but it is not really clear to me how it works, and I don't like to enable a global shortcut for this.
  • The Virtual Magnifying Glass is not in the repositories, and the downloaded version does not like my libgdk_pixbuf-2.0.so.0 (at first it did not find my installed libgdk_pixbuf-2.0.so; fixing LD_LIBRARY_PATH turns out that it is not a 64-bit executable...).

Another alternative I found is gpick, which is also available natively on Ubunutu. It works by showing a zoomed in window in the left area -- and the zoomed area follows the mouse cursor:

enter image description here

Compared to xzoom it seems to lack the possibility to scale and resize the zoom window, but offers the additional feature of picking pixel colors -- which sometimes is a related use case for me.

  • 3
    This is perfect, thank you! I'm using this for doing some pixel-level work and it is great strain relief for the neck. – Lenar Hoyt Nov 9 '14 at 20:15
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    @mcb: Same for me, mainly for checking anti-aliasing quality etc. BTW: You can also control the magnification e.g. xzoom -mag 4. – bluenote10 Nov 10 '14 at 9:21
  • 2
    @bluenote10 : to enable the "Magnifier" under ccsm/"Accessibility", you have to install the package compiz-plugins (formerly compiz-plugins-extra) – adrenochrome Dec 28 '16 at 13:50
  • Unfortunately this tool doesn't show the mouse cursor :( – user1754322 Sep 22 '19 at 12:59
  • 1
    @user1754322 That is a feature for me. – totymedli May 9 '20 at 22:33

With Cinnamon desktop

I'm visually impaired (I have Cone Dystrophy and thus my central vision is gone and I absolutely have to use full screen zooming to use a computer). This was my solution:

First of all, get rid of Unity and install the Cinnamon desktop; it's a much better interface anyway IMNSHO:

Once you have that installed, you can install Tobias Quinn's excellent gnome-shell-mousewheel-zoom.

This will provide Compiz-style mousewheel zooming functionality with Cinnamon.

Another alternative is to use Linux Mint which is an Ubuntu-based distro with Cinnamon built in by default.

If you choose this option, you simply have to add the Tobias Quinn PPA and install the gnome-shell-mousewheel-zoom package.

Canonical has abandoned visually impaired users and their actions are, to say the least, reprehensible and shameful. Every other OS creator provides quality full-screen zooming support for visually impaired users but since the advent of Unity, the actions of the devs of Ubuntu indicate that they no longer care about those users. I'll continue to use Ubuntu-based distros but Unity is now permanently on my "no-fly" list.


Gnome Shell / Ubuntu 17.10+

In Ubuntu 18.04 you don't need to install anything.

  • Go to Settings -> Keyboard by using the Applications icon enter image description here at the bottom-left end of your screen.

  • From there, scroll down to the Universal Access section.

  • Then setup the 3 keyboard shortcuts you wish to use for the magnifer:

    • turn on/off zoom, zoom in, and zoom out.

Visually: keyboard shortcut screen for zooming/magnifier

  • At my Ubuntu 18.04 (still using Compiz/Unity) which was updated from 16.04 which was updated from 14.04 which was .. (you guess it) it is somewhere else: "System Settings" - "Keyboard" - "Shortcuts" - "Universal Access". And changing settings there seems to not have any effect at all, so it does not work for me. Note that Unity runs 80+ days now, perhaps it needs a restart to work. Fun fact: If you search for "zoom" in System Settings, you are routed to some other "Universal Access" which shows no trace of any "zoom" feature. (This might be some leftover from previous Ubuntus.) – Tino Nov 8 '19 at 10:44

Literally every UNIX X11-enabled system typically has a set of tools, including a magnifier utility in question. Of course, nowadays most of them look quite old-school, but anyways they do what they were meant for. Here it is:

$ which xmag

$ man xmag | egrep -A1 '(NAME|AUTHOR)'
       xmag - magnify parts of the screen
       Dave Sternlicht and Davor Matic, MIT X Consortium.
  • Sadly this does not help much, as this does not update the zoomed area when the contents changes. So you cannot magnify what you type etc. – Tino Nov 8 '19 at 10:20
  • Well, maybe it doesn't help much in this very case, but it doesn't mean it's the only case ever possible. – poige Nov 8 '19 at 10:22

This might not be the answer you want but so you know there is also the gnome-shell magnifier which would require you to install gnome-shell and remove unity in Ubuntu.

I wrote a how-to on installing gnome 3.10 on ubuntu on my blog which might be useful if you are interested in trying this out. GNOME Shell 3.10 magnifier has focus and caret tracking as well as mousetracking which I think is not offered by many.

However, the caret and focus tracking settings are still controlled via gsettings in case you want to turn either of them off and cannot find out where to do that. Additionally the magnified view cannot provide a scaled level of magnification at the moment so expect larger magnification levels to lead to a lower quality graphic until that is improved.

More information about that is in another post about GNOME Shell's magnifier scaling which may be of use to you. It also explains how to scale the desktop view via gsettings without any magnifier at all.


I am not aware of any default screen magnifier in Ubuntu.

In many applications you can hold Ctrl then scroll the middle mouse button to zoom the screen, or pressing +/-.

I have upvoted your question because I would also like to know of a better alternative to Kmag and I'm sure many other users would too, especially those in similar situations to your friend.


Virtual Magnifying Glass

To me, Virtual Magnifying Glass is the best for portable computers.

Yes, as reported in a previous post, there is a specific problem with Ubuntu LTS 14.04 Trusty 64 bit (no problem with older 64 bit versions of Ubuntu, neither with 32 bit versions). If you dont feel like compiling the source of VMG, you may manually install the contents of the i586.rpm of the 3.2.1-1 version. The application executable file was "magnifier" instead of "vmg", and it works under Trusty 64 bit. Compared with the latest versions of VMG, you will lose direct control of zoom factor by mouse wheel in the magnified window, that's all, and this older version of VMG is still the best inmho.


For Ubuntu 16.04

Press Ctrl + Alt + T

The terminal opens, type

sudo apt install compizconfig-settings-manager

Go to Ubuntu icon on Top Left corner of desktop

enter image description here

Click on it and type compiz

enter image description here

Click on the compiz icon that appers in the window

The following window opens:

enter image description here

Click on OK

Go to Accebility --> Enhanced Zoom Desktop --> Tick the box

enter image description here

Click on Enhanced Zoom Desktop

enter image description here

Click on Zoom In Key --> Disabled

enter image description here

Tick the box Enabled

enter image description here

Click on Grab Key Combination

enter image description here

Press together

Ctrl + F7

enter image description here

Click on OK

enter image description here

Click on Zoom Out Key --> Disabled

enter image description here

Tick on the box Enabled

enter image description here

Click on Grab Key Combination

enter image description here

Press together

Ctrl + F6

enter image description here

Click on OK

enter image description here

Close the window

enter image description here

From now on

to Zoom In press

Ctrl + F7

and to Zoom Out press

Ctrl + F6

  • I have compiz enhanced up and went through your screenshots above. My shift combo is Shift + F1 for zoom in and Shift F2 to zoom out. Clicked ok as above but nothing happens when I use the key combo. – a coder Apr 7 '17 at 12:35
  • @acoder Perhaps Shift+F1/F2 are no good settings. At my side (Ubuntu 18.04) it works with Super+Alt++ and Super+Alt+-. At least if the gods of Unity are in the right mood it sometimes seems to work. So best is to retry this setting after a fresh boot. (And make sure no other shortcuts occupy what you choose. (Some might be taken like Super+P, this ususally is taken by BIOS.) – Tino Nov 8 '19 at 11:10

There is another answer to press Print Screen and to use your image viewer. The main advantage is in a usual, clean interface.

enter image description here

  • This is a valid but complex way to get some magnification. Usually, a magnifier is a tool, not a complex way to do something. At least that was why I came here. So I'd expect that people which search for a magnifier usually want it to update dynamically to the current changes on the screen, to better see differences in rendering after they change things. Not all tools have some easy zoom feature like the browser. (Also doing a zoom in a tool often changes the aliasing or layout, so this usually is not what you want if you are looking for a magnification.) – Tino Nov 8 '19 at 11:38

USE DEFAULT OPTION. No need to install anything extra In UBUNTU 18.04 LTS,. It is lot more easier than ever.

Magnify a screen area

Magnifying the screen is different than just enlarging the text size. This feature is like having a magnifying glass, allowing you to move around by zooming in on parts of the screen.

Step 1: Open the Activities overview and start typing Universal Access.

See this screenshot 1

Step 2: Click on Universal Access to open the panel.

Step 3: Press on Zoom in the Seeing section.

See this screenshot 2

Step 4: Switch Zoom to ON in the top-right corner of the Zoom Options window.

See this screenshot 3

You can now move around the screen area. By moving your mouse to the edges of the screen, you will move the magnified area in different directions, allowing you to view your area of choice.

You can quickly turn zoom on and off by clicking the accessibility icon on the top bar and selecting Zoom.

You can change the magnification factor, the mouse tracking, and the position of the magnified view on the screen. Adjust these in the Magnifier tab of the Zoom Options window.

Reference: link

  • Do you know if there is a way to have more granularity than Screen Part: Top Half, Bottom Half, etc? I'd like to simulate how the Windows Magnifier works in "Docked at the top" mode – Reezy Jun 22 '19 at 13:54
  • This seems the same answer as Louis Gagnon's – Pablo Bianchi Sep 23 '19 at 0:39
  • I have Ubunut 18.04LTS, but "Universal Access" looks entirely different at my side. However I came from 12.04 to 14.04 to 16.04 to 18.04, so perhaps something got mixed up in this path. – Tino Nov 8 '19 at 11:20
  • I have Ubuntu 18.04.3 LTS and "Universal Access" is same as posted above. – Kevin Patel Nov 9 '19 at 12:28

After installing a lot of applications, now I am using gnome-shell-mousewheel-zoom from Tobias Quinn. Download the package, install it, and use Alt + mouse wheel to zoom in and out.

To install using PPA:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:tobias-quinn/gsmz
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install gnome-shell-mousewheel-zoom

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