Rotate Mac Screen Orientation

Dec 28, 2010 - 43 Comments

iMac with an external display rotated vertically

A little known trick allows users to rotate the Mac screen, thereby allowing a display to run in a vertical 90 degree orientation, or even in a flipped mode. Display rotation is possible on any monitor connected to any Mac, whether that’s an external display or even on the the primary built-in screens of a MacBook Pro, Air, or an iMac. As you may have discovered already, this is not an option which is visible immediately in OS X preferences, instead users will need to access a hidden pull-down menu within the Display preferences to toggle and adjust the display orientation setting into portrait or landscape mode.

How to Rotate the Mac Screen Orientation into a Vertical Layout

Here’s how to access the screen rotation option in all versions of Mac OS X:

  1. Launch System Preferences from the  Apple menu
  2. Hold down the Command+Option keys and click on the “Display” icon
  3. On the right side of the Display preferences, look for the newly visible ‘Rotation’ drop down menu
  4. Set the rotation you want, in this case it’s likely to rotate 90° for the display to be into a vertical page layout orientation on its side
  5. Close out of System Preferences to have the settings stay in effect

Depending on the version of OS X, things may look slightly differently in the Displays settings panel. OS X Mavericks reveals a few additional options alongside the “Rotation” menu, as do displays that are Retina compatible.

Additional Display Rotation Options for Macs

There are options beyond the popular standard and sideways layouts for both built-in and external screens. Pulling down the menu reveals the four Display Rotation options available to Macs, indicated by their degree of rotation as follows:

  • Standard – this is the default setting of all Mac displays, with the screen in a standard horizontal orientation as intended by factory settings
  • 90° – rotates the screen onto it’s side into a vertical layout, likely the most desirable and useful setting for those looking to use a sideways display
  • 180° – this essentially flips the ‘standard’ display option upside down
  • 270° – flips the display and also rotates it into a vertical position

Set a Mac display rotation in OS X

If you have an external display attached to your Mac, you will have noticed that you can adjust the screen orientation on the external display by using the Display System Preference unique to that screen. This allows users to configure secondary monitors to run in the vertical position (portrait mode), rather than the default horizontal (landscape mode) that screens are typically shown with.

Prior versions of OS X like Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion, and Lion have the rotating functionality but without some of the scaling and refresh options, shown here:

rotate mac screen orientation

If you flip the screen vertically, you’ll notice that the mouse is flipped as well (essentially it’s inverted), this is pretty confusing at first and it definitely makes for a good prank to play on someone. Of course the real reason to rotate the Mac screen is to accommodate for different display setups, although rotating the internal display is a bit of an oddity which is likely why the setting to do so is hidden by default.

An example of a Mac with an external screen that has been placed into portrait mode have been shown several times in our Mac Setups features, including the image up top from here and here. You’ll find it commonly with developers and designers, as the vertical screen offers a great way for viewing full screens of code, page layouts, browsers, and just about anything else that requires a large amount of tall screen real estate.

Mac with a vertical display orientation

Keep in mind that by rotating a monitors orientation this way, you will also rotate the screen resolution of the hardware. For example, a display that shows at 1280×900 will become 900×1280 when switched 90° into the vertical portrait orientation. Mac users who own iPads should be familiar with that concept already, as it works basically the same way.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

43 Comments

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  1. jorge says:

    Great tip! very useful to read books on my macbook pro.

  2. KenH says:

    I’m running 10.6.5 on iMac (bought in 2007). Unfortunately, this option does not show.

  3. cee202 says:

    I am running 10.6.5 on Macbook Pro(2010). This feature doesn’t show.

  4. david says:

    you need to hold down the command+option keys before launching system prefs then click on displays icon. now you can release the command+option keys.

  5. Dad says:

    27″ LED CD + 23″ CD connected to Mac Pro here (10.6.5). Not hidden for me – rotation available on both monitors. Not Command+Option required.

  6. roo says:

    On my iMac9,1 running 10.6.5
    I get the option to rotate my 2nd monitor, but not the main display on the iMac.

  7. onions says:

    Remember to hold down Command and Option at the same time then click on Display icon

    Works for me, I can rotate my MacBook Pro 2010 any direction. Flipped is terribly annoying. 90 Degrees would be good for reading a book like jorge said, same with 270.

  8. KenH says:

    [you need to hold down the command+option keys before launching system prefs then click on displays icon. now you can release the command+option keys.]

    That didn’t work either.

  9. Brandon says:

    I had the same problem as everyone else
    1) close system prefs
    2) hold down (i used left) option and command keys (throughout)
    3) click system prefs, mine was on the dock
    4) still while holding option and cmd keys click displays

    there you go it should work now

  10. Wil says:

    Pretty cool tip :P It can also be a hilarious prank to play on someone

  11. KenH says:

    Thanks, Brandon. When I hold both keys, BEFORE opening System Preferences and THROUGHOUT the entire procedure, it works!

  12. Alberto says:

    Non very to use, the mouse action stay in the horizontal mode, so to go up you must go right, to go right you must go down… etc…

  13. Alberto says:

    Non very easy to use, the mouse (trackpad) action stay in the horizontal mode, so to go up you must go right, to go right you must go down… etc…

  14. John says:

    I have a Macbook Pro 15″ w i7 Processor and NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M. The trick works to bring up menu, but when I change orientation to 90 or 270, it changes the aspect ratio, but does not rotate, so I end up with a tall, skinny, but un-rotated, screen.

    • Simon says:

      I’m having this same issue. I have the same MacBook Pro, also.

    • Atu says:

      I have the same Macbook Pro as John, and I also have the same problem. Although, I should note that the trick worked like a charm for a good 4 months or so before I stumble upon this annoying problem.The first time this problem occurred, I wasn’t paying attention to the last thing I did before the tall-skinny-unrotated screen (perfectly described by John).

      I Googled some other apps mentioned on forums and tried Display Rotation Menu. Funny enough, the app changed the aspect ratio too, and didn’t rotate the display; giving me exactly the same tall-skinny-unrotated screen. Then I fiddled around and still no luck. A couple days later, still annoyed, I tried the System Preference Display trick again and it worked perfectly. The only thing that I could remember now is that within those couple of days, I did shutdown my computer (maybe a couple of times), but never attempted to solve the problem.

      The second time the problem occurred, I remember I was watching a movie using VLC in fullscreen mode, with the display rotated using the System Preference Display trick. I remember pressing command + Q from the fullscreen mode and when I came back to my desktop screen, the display rotated as standard (automatically), and the aspect ratio is screwed, giving me the tall-skinny-unrotated screen again.

      I have no idea how the problem went away the first time.

      @John – have you find a solution to this?

      • Atu says:

        How funny. Found the solution.

        For those who are still unsure how to bring out the rotation option from System Preferences – Displays, here’s how you do it.
        – open System Preferences like normal (if you have the icon on the dock, just a single, left click, you don’t need to press anything else at this point, or open it from where ever you can access System Preferences from)
        – press and hold Option AND Command
        – still pressing these two buttons, left click the Displays button in System Preferences
        – you will see the Rotation menu on the right
        – sometimes the Rotation menu disappears, then you have to close your System Preferences and start over

        If you experienced the same problem as I have elaborated in my previous post, here’s a solution that worked for me.
        – so you get the tall-skinny-unrotated screen after you select the 90º Rotation
        – open a movie file (I only use VLC)
        – and poof! the display will rotate as you have set them to be

        Weird. I know. But hey – it works.

  15. CLG says:

    Not working for me.

    Tried all timing combinations of cmd/alt.

    Please help.

  16. Dan says:

    Tried the cmd/alt technique and did not work on my Macbook display :(

    2007 Macbook running 10.6.6 here

    Any suggestions? maybe a piece of third party software is capable of doing this? Tried DisplayRotationMenu, did not work either :(

    10x in advance

  17. Filip Tepper says:

    If you have trouble using this solution try EasyPivot, it’s available on the Mac App Store.

  18. […] how you can rotate a Macs display orientation? Here’s a Mac setup that features just that… with a MacBook Pro. This a MacBook Pro […]

  19. […] same way that you rotate screen orientation on a display connected to a Mac can be done with the built-in display of a MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air […]

  20. Tom says:

    I am running Windows XP on a MacBook and have found while holding the Ctrl and Option keys together and pressing the cursor move keys (home-pgup-pgdn-end) orients the screen in the direction of the cursor key.

  21. […] I’m pretty sure that OSX already had this feature. You might want to try this before parting with your $5. I suspect that the built in feature might not rotate your trackpad, […]

  22. Friedhelm says:

    I have an imac with Leopard still and Cmd+Alt doesn’t work for me. But finally I found this small program which works fine: http://www.magesw.com/displayrotation/

  23. […] you’re wondering, rotating a Macs screen orientation is just a matter of holding down Command+Option when you open the Displays panel in System […]

  24. […] the left is a MacBook Pro 15″ Core 2 Duo with an SSD, the center rotated Dell 22″ screen, and on the right is a Core i7 iMac 27″ decked out with 12GB of RAM. […]

  25. Althage says:

    I cannot get this to work no matter what I do. I am running Lion on a 2007 MacBook, any ideas?

  26. […] ready to drool. This multi-displayed Mac setup has an impressive five 23″ screens rotated into portrait mode, and a MacBook Pro 17″ sits atop them […]

  27. […] ready to drool. This multi-displayed Mac setup has an impressive five 23″ screens rotated into portrait mode, and a MacBook Pro 17″ sits atop them […]

  28. […] awesome reader-submitted Mac setup features a MacBook Pro 13″ connected to the rotated monitor to the right, the little screen below is a 7″ Mimo display, and the iPad to the left is […]

  29. Tom says:

    To reinforce what others said:
    Hold down the Shift and Option keys as you click on System Preferences in the Dock.
    Keep holding these keys as you click on Displays.
    The rotation option should appear.
    I did this on System 10.6.8.

  30. Tom says:

    I need to correct my own posting. Hold down the Command and Option keys at the same time.

  31. Steve says:

    Here’s why I had to do to add an HP 1740 monitor in portrait mode in Lion
    same steps as above
    – in Displays select show displays in menu bar
    – in the menu bar select the HP1740 monitor
    – the display preferences for the HP1740 then appeared on the HP1740
    – then I changed the rotation to 90 degrees

  32. Richard says:

    One way to handle the mouse:

    Since I only do this for short periods (when I want to view a huge portrait photo in full resolution naturally) I just rotate my mouse physically by 90 degrees as well. Then when I move it left/right up/down etc., everything is natural. It isn’t very ergonomic, though, so I wouldn’t do that for long periods.

    I expect if one physically rotates the monitor, too, everything is fine, but since the passive convective cooling form my iMac 27″ relies on the standard orientation (intake grill on bottom, exhaust slot on top), I’m leery of doing that with my iMac.

  33. Fran Coates says:

    Thank you so much. I have not used my 24″ monitor for ages and just could not remember how to rotate it back to landscape. I knew it was something simple so thank you for put this on here.

  34. georgia dennacion-riley says:

    it doesnt show on mine, i am pressing the right keys and clicking the right icon, but it still isnt showing!
    ive done it once before, so this may have affected it.
    can anyone help?

  35. georgia dennacion-riley says:

    i am on mac os x 10.7.4
    if this helps! :D

  36. jkirchartz says:

    This isn’t consistently working for me, I have two external monitors and if I hold cmd+alt while doing the system preference thing it shows the rotation drop-down for the monitor without the rotating base, and it doesn’t show it for the monitor with the rotating base.

    It’s worked before, and this has happened before, it usually requires a reboot or two with the monitors plugged in & doing the cmd+alt trick.

  37. Bernie D. says:

    Super, thanks! Just lost about an hour, intensely pulling hair, cursing, etc etc ;-) All because I wanted to try and see what it looked like if I rotated my external screen 90′, just for fun… Oh did I have some fun!!

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