Need a portrait screen on your Mac? Rotate your display

I remember visiting a college in 1985 (readers, I’m that ancient), and seeing the height of glamor and magic: a portrait-orientation CRT screen that was part of a typesetting system. Because type was composed in “galleys,” long runs of relatively narrow columns, someone entering copy could more easily see a long run of text this way.

Computers have come a long way, but this orientation remains the same. You may wind up with a lot of tasks that are better suited for a long vertical, like long runs of text that you’re writing, lots of lengthy menus or a huge array of palettes, or material that stacks well in wide rectangles from top to bottom for reference, like resized windows.

Long ago, you had to rely on drivers or third-party software to rotate a monitor’s display, but Apple added it to its Mac operating systems long ago. It’s not precisely hidden—though it can be, more in a moment—but it may be something you never considered.

Some monitors even include a rotation joint where the display meet its stand. I recall accidentally partially rotating a monitor a few years ago that I didn’t know had such a joint and thought I’d broken it for a moment!

In most cases, you should be able to open the Displays preference pane and if macOS supports rotation on a monitor, a Rotate or Rotation menu appears in the Display tab, with options that can vary by version of macOS and display features. Apple notes mysteriously, “If you don’t see the pop-up menu, your computer doesn’t support this feature.” It doesn’t maintain a list of which Macs have or don’t have it. iMacs don’t appear to support native rotation.

mac911 rotate display IDG

The Rotate or Rotation menu appears for the combination of Mac and display that can support it.

On older versions of Mac OS X and macOS, you may need to open System Preferences and while holding down Command and Option click the Displays item to force a rotation menu to appear.

If your Mac won’t rotate its internal display or external displays, SwitchResX ($16) may be able to help.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Brett.