Rotate Mac Screen Orientation
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 Mac OS 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:
- Launch System Preferences from the Apple menu
- Hold down the Command+Option keys and click on the “Display” icon
- On the right side of the Display preferences, look for the newly visible ‘Rotation’ drop down menu
- 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
- Close out of System Preferences to have the settings stay in effect
Depending on the version of Mac OS, things may look slightly differently in the Displays settings panel. Mac OS X Mavericks and later 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
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 Mac OS X like Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion, and Lion have the rotating functionality but without some of the scaling and refresh options, shown here:
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.
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.