Lens magnifiers

If you find it difficult to read letters, newspapers, books, recipes, or labels easily, consider using a magnifier to enlarge the print. Before purchasing a magnifier consider the magnification and size of the lens, generally a larger magnifier will have lower magnification and a high powered magnifier will have a small lens. Higher magnification magnifiers tend to show you less of what you are looking at, perhaps only a word or few letters at a time.1,2 Several types of magnifier are available:

Hand-held magnifiers

These devices can be used for most everyday needs and are held directly over the object to make it appear larger. The strength of magnification may vary between about 1.5 times (x 1.5) to 12 times (x 12). They are available in a range of physical shapes and sizes. How much bigger you see the item will also depend on the distance you and the magnifier are from the object you are looking at.

Some hand-held magnifiers are fitted with a built-in battery powered lamp or LED to improve lighting and enhance the text.

Hand-held magnifiers are not suitable if you have a shaky hand or find a handheld device difficult to grip and as they are held close to the page they are generally unsuitable for use when writing.

Magnifiers for use directly over a subject

If you have weak or shaky hands, using a magnifier on a stand may be ideal for reading and, if the stand is tall enough, also for writing.

Some of these magnifiers have an integral light. However, some users find it difficult to find the start of the text they wish to magnify when using a stand magnifier (Guttman, 2009).

Magnifiers with a cord that can be worn round the neck and Magnifiers which attach to spectacles or a headband

These products have a neck cord or attachment which enables the magnifier to rest on the chest leaving the hands free. Some incorporate a second inset lens, giving greater magnification.

Keeping all magnifiers clean and protected from scratches is important in maximising and maintaining clarity.

Video Magnifiers

A range of video magnifiers are available from hand-held and portable models, models that connect to computers and/or TV screens and desktop mounted models. Advantages of video magnifiers over traditional magnifiers may include:

  • the ability to vary the magnification (e.g. from 3x to 60x)
  • a variable working distance
  • a larger magnifier screen/lens for the same effective magnification
  • contrast reversal and a larger field of view.

Studies have suggested that smaller print sizes may be read at faster reading speeds when using video magnifiers compared with traditional magnifiers, but that users may be slower at initially finding the text they are looking for (Peterson et al. 2003).

Handheld video magnifiers

Handheld video magnifiers provide a magnified image on an integral screen. Most offer a choice of contrast modes and may also have the option of saving or 'freezing' the image (image capture). The magnification range for these magnifiers tends to be limited relative to desktop video magnifiers. The RNIB state that these items are generally suitable for viewing labels, books and newspapers (RNIB, 2016a).

Portable video magnifiers

Portable video magnifiers are larger than handheld magnifiers but are still transportable. The screen and camera may be combined or as separate units connected by a cable. The camera, which is often similar in shape to a computer mouse, is placed on the original image and can be moved across the paper or object while the magnified image appears on the screen.

Video magnifiers requiring connection to TV or PC

Video magnifier systems which provide a magnified image when connected to a television or PC screen are also available. They may consist of a handheld camera, similar in shape to a computer mouse, that rests on the original image and can be moved across the paper or object, or may be mounted resembling a desktop lamp with a head which contains the camera and can be angled to focus on the document. Please check the connection required to the television, as many models require a SCART socket that many newer televisions may not have.

Desktop video magnifiers

Desktop video magnifiers are stood on a desk or work surface. They have the highest magnification compared to other types of video magnifier.

Most have a fixed camera pointed down at a reading table on which printed material can be placed. On most models the table is on rollers so it can be moved up, down and left to right across the page.

The magnified image can be zoomed in and out and adjusted for contrast and colour. Some models can superimpose a line or dot on the screen to help make it easier to follow the text being read.

Further reading: DLF's factsheet Choosing equipment for communication and vision

For help choosing the right magnification device consult a low vision service. Contact your local social services department or the RNIB Helpline 0303 123 9999 or email helpline@rnib.org.uk

For more information visit the RNIB's magnifier page or the Partially sighted society www.partsight.org.uk

Advice last checked: 29 January 2018 Next check due: 29 January 2021

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
Conflict of interest statement


  1. RNIB 2010  Magnifiers
    Evidence type: 2