Why Your PC Game’s Graphics Look Grainy And Pixelated (7 Fixes)

What’s more annoying than firing up a new AAA title only to have the graphics look like a PS1 game?

Grainy and pixelated graphics are often caused by setting issues like anti-aliasing, sharpening, and scaling. They can also be caused by hardware mismatches or a glitch in your graphic driver. Keeping your monitor nice and clean is also a great way to improve the consistency and sharpness of your graphics.

You shouldn’t have to be stuck dealing with grainy graphics. Let’s take a look at 7 quick fixes and the causes of these problems.

Why Your PC Graphics Look Grainy

Grainy graphics within Rocket League
Grainy graphics within Rocket League

There’s going to be a few key reasons why the graphics of your PC games look grainy. Like with any PC problem, it’s always good to know the cause of these issues before we jump into the fixes.

It’s Just How That Game Looks (Sometimes)

The first thing that we’re going to look at is a variation on the classic IT problem—is it plugged in?

In our case, we’re not so much concerned with cables being properly connected, even though they should be, we’re more interested in the settings and graphic style of the game that’s being played.

There are some pretty surprising games that have intentionally built-in grainy graphic effects. Cyberpunk 2077 by default has a grainy, film Noir filter put over its graphics. This might make things look grainy when you’re expecting glossy, high-end gaming graphics.

Cyberpunk 2077 on Steam for 60 dollars the game rating is finally into positive territory
The Cyberpunk 2077 listing on Steam.

Plenty of other games and movies have similar effects. Old movies shot on film are going to have the screen with no way to have it removed. It’s part of the art and part of the aesthetic and should be embraced rather than rejected.

However, if you’re really looking to kick out the film grain style you can always toggle that off in games like Cyberpunk 2077.

Hardware Mismatch Issues

My partially built Ryzen 5900X build with 750W PSU and slightly older RX480 GPU
My partially built Ryzen 5900X build with an older RX480 GPU.

They can be hardware problems limiting the raw power that you can get out of your graphics card. This could lead it to graphic settings that are beneath what your graphics card is actually capable of:

  • You need to make sure that your graphics card is plugged into a motherboard that is able to make the most of the power that your GPU brings to your PC.
  • You might have a graphics card that is a bit too powerful for the PCIe slot that it’s plugged into (such as a modern PCIe 4 graphics card in an old PCIe 2 motherboard slot).
  • Other hardware mismatch issues also come into play. If your power supply unit can’t put out enough energy to fuel your PC, your graphics might take a hit.
  • RAM compatibility is also an issue to consider as this could be causing input problems that will look like graphic failures.

Graphics Driver Problems

Your graphics driver is responsible for helping your GPU communicate with the rest of your PC. If you have a problem with your driver, you might be experiencing graphics problems.

This often happens during updates which can cause a glitch if they’re not installed properly. New updates can also cause glitches on their own which need to be fixed by rolling back to a previous update.

Example: I recently had an issue where my games all had 1 FPS! When trying to open the AMD Radeon software, it said there was a mismatch between my driver and the expected AMD Radeon version. It turns out that Windows Update somehow updated the main GPU driver, resulting in a clash of graphics software on my computer.

The Problem With Advanced Graphics Settings

One thing we have to take a close look at are all those advanced graphics settings that come as standard features in everything from your GPU’s software, to games themselves. Plenty of these features sound like they’re doing amazing things for your graphics (“AMD Super Resolution” must be awesome, right?!), but they’re actually messing with the overall graphic quality of the games and movies that you play.

Sometimes less is more – disabling any ‘enhanced’ graphics options, and just playing with the recommended game settings, can be enough to solve some of the weird grainy or pixelated graphics issues that you are experienced.

How to Fix Grainy or Pixelated PC Graphics

Rocket League graphics were slightly grainy due to a weird driver or settings bug I experienced
Rocket League graphics were slightly grainy due to a weird driver or settings bug I experienced

We’ve got 7 quick fixes that are sure to get your graphics looking nice and clean again.

Problems With Individual Games and Apps

The first thing that you want to check is the settings in the individual games and apps that are experiencing grainy or bad graphics.

There can be settings inside of your games that wind up messing up the graphics. These include scaling settings, graphic effects like film grain, or effects like anti-aliasing:

Various anti aliasing options within Rocket League
Various anti aliasing options within Rocket League

You also might have too many high-end graphic effects toggled on, which could be creating problems for your graphics card (by working it too hard).

Take some time to play around with the settings of the game that’s been having graphics problems and you’re sure to find a combination of settings that eliminates the issues you’ve been dealing with.

Tip: Keep in mind that this fix is only going to work if you’re experiencing graphic problems in a single piece of software. If it’s just certain games running on Steam – or Netflix videos – then you know that the problem is probably in that app, and not in your hardware or the rest of your PC.

If the graphic problem extends outside of one app and into multiple apps, then you’ve got a system-wide issue.

System-wide Graphics Issues

System-wide graphics problems can have more complicated solutions. We’re going to look at two main issues that you should check.

The first thing you need to check is the graphics settings in the software that runs your GPU. This could be Radeon or another program designed to make the most out of your GPU. Play around with the settings in here the same way you took a look at the settings for your games to see if you can find a problematic feature that’s actually been causing graphic problems on your PC.

AMD Radeon Adrenalin Edition software suite
AMD Radeon: Adrenalin Edition software suite

You should also look at hardware issues. Your motherboard might not be strong enough to handle your GPU. Mismatches between CPU, GPU, and RAM can also cause problems for how your games look.

Use DDU to Reinstall GPU Drivers

One major source of graphic problems are glitches and bugs in the GPU drivers.

You could just use the included software to uninstall and reinstall a GPU driver, but this often leaves behind files that could be the source of the problems you’re trying to fix. This is where Display Driver Uninstaller comes in.

DDU is a piece of software that exists for one purpose. It uninstalls graphic drivers and it uninstalls every single file that’s connected to them. This will completely remove a problematic graphic driver so that you can have a completely fresh reinstall free of any glitches or bugs.

Toggle Radeon Image Sharpening

One PC setting that you need to specifically check is Radeon image sharpening. It seems like a lot of PC builds that use this software have trouble with the specific setting. It either causes grainy and blurry footage if it’s on or if it’s off. Try toggling this setting on and off (within the AMD Radeon software suite, under “Settings” and then “Graphics”) and seeing if your graphics improve:

Various AMD Radeon options including image sharpening which is enabled
Various AMD Radeon options including image sharpening which is enabled

Image sharpening works by making adjustments to the native graphics of a game or video. Even the best image sharpening software is always a little hit or miss because it’s attempting to balance a lot of factors that often don’t play well together. Leaving the setting off often leads to better graphics and having it on.

Disable Anti-Aliasing

Anti-aliasing is one of those features that we mentioned earlier. On the outside, it looks like anti-aliasing exists to improve the graphics of your games, but it can actually be making them worse.

Anti-aliasing works by attempting to smooth out rough edges on the graphics for older games. This makes some games look smoother, but it can also make games look muddy or grainy. Disabling anti-aliasing is a great way to improve the quality of your graphics, especially on older games.

Check Your Graphics Scaling Settings

One thing that you want to check right away are the graphics scaling settings in the software that’s having the grainy graphic problems.

If you set a game scaling to below 100%, it’s going to downscale the game and then upscale it again to fit your monitor’s screen real estate. This scaling creates a problem where the game all of a sudden looks jagged and grainy because it had to scale down and then stretch those images back up to fit your screen.

There are a few scaling options available. One is “AMD Super Resolution”, also within the Radeon Software suite – double check the sharpening options, because these can result in graphics that look a little ‘off’:

AMD Radeon Super Resolution is great but it can make game graphics too sharp
AMD Radeon Super Resolution is great but it can make game graphics too sharp

There is also the Windows “Scale and layout” options, which have been known to cause weird zoom or cropping issues within games:

The scale and layout options within Windows Display settings
The scale and layout options within Windows Display settings

Always make sure that the graphics for your game match the size of your screen.

If you want to play with a smaller scaling, you can always use windowed mode. This will lock the game into a smaller window and preserve the native scaling so it doesn’t look as grainy. This is often a great choice for retro titles but struggle to scale up to the sizes of modern screens.

Clean Your Monitor

Okay, here us out: You should really clean your monitor.

I thought my screen was clean but it actually is not
I thought my screen was clean… but it actually is not!

We’re all eating snacks and drinking energy drinks in front of our monitors. Even the strictest and most well-kept gaming PC is going to gather some dust eventually. If it’s been a while since you cleaned your monitor, you should dust it off.

A lot of the grain that you might be experiencing could just be dust and other debris on your screen.

cropped A picture of me Tristan
About Tristan Perry

Tristan has been interested in computer hardware and software since he was 10 years old. He has built loads of computers over the years, along with installing, modifying and writing software (he's a backend software developer 'by trade').

Tristan also has an academic background in technology (in Math and Computer Science), so he enjoys drilling into the deeper aspects of technology.

Tristan is also an avid PC gamer, with FFX and Rocket League being his favorite games.

If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions about this article, please leave a comment below. Please note that all comments go into a moderation queue (to prevent blog spam). Your comment will be manually reviewed and approved by Tristan in less than a week. Thanks!

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