The great thing about buying a Monitor for Graphic Design, Video Editing, Photo Editing or 3D Animation and CAD, is that all of these tasks are visually demanding and therefore require very similar features from a Monitor.
You can get an excellent Monitor for editing your photos, and at the same time have great screen quality in Video Editing or when hopping into your 3D Modeling Software of choice.
Many creatives work in more than just one field of Digital Content Creation, and it helps a lot that you don’t necessarily need highly specialized Hardware for every single task, at least when looking for Monitors.
When buying PCs or Laptops, many of the abbreviations such as CPU, GPU, Cores or RAM, are mostly already well known.
Monitors, though, still have lots of features that sound gibberish and it is hard to tell what kind of feature is important and what is just marketing speak.
We will go through all of the important features to look out for when comparing and buying Monitors for graphical-intense work and finish the Article with some great Monitor suggestions, depending on your budget and requirements.
Let’s dive in!
What Medium will your work be shown on?
The first thing we should ask ourselves when looking for a new Monitor, is: what type of Media are we creating our work for?
When we work in Photoshop we might edit some photos, that will then be printed on an Inkjet Printer.
If we work in Graphic Design, we might be designing Logos that both will be shown on Websites and also be printed on Posters and Flyers.
When working in Motion Design, Video Editing or 3D Animation, we can usually say that our work stays digital and will be shown on screens.
What kind of screens, though?
Are you animating for Film and your work is shown in Movie Theaters? Or are you editing some clips that will be shown on Instagram and will mostly be viewed on mobile devices?
Why am I asking all of this?
Because firstly, you should have a good grasp of how your target group will experience the work you are creating. This can be done through proofing devices, such as a proofing Monitor or Mobile Phones, or TVs, depending on what your target group is using.
And secondly, you can always overproduce your work and spend too much time on details, color accuracy or frames per second, that your target group might not even be able to appreciate, given their inferior devices.
Here are some examples of Monitor-features that might not be entirely necessary, depending on your work and target group:
- getting a 4K Monitor when you usually output small-resolution gifs
- buying a highly color-accurate Monitor when your target group only uses low-quality Mobile screens
- going for a 144Hz Display when your Animations run at 25FPS
You can easily save some money here, so it is good to know how accurate and high-quality your work has to be, to find the minimum feature requirements in a Monitor.
Of course, you might need the features elsewhere, 144Hz when you are gaming, for example, or the 4K display for having multiple applications open at once, but you get the gist.
Long story short:
Think about what the final Media output will be, that your work will ultimately be shown on (print, magazine, internet, mobile, TV, projector…) and keep that in mind when reading the rest of the article.
Let’s take a look at the most important features in a great Monitor for visually demanding tasks:
There are three main Panel Types in today’s modern Monitors.
- The TN Panel (Twisted nematic)
- The VA Panel (Vertical Alignment)
- The IPS Panel (In-plane Switching)
Now, these three panel-types have some very specific characteristics, and it will become clear quite fast, what panel type we should pick for our kind of visually demanding work.
Take a look at the following table:
|Performance||Fastest: low response times, highest refresh rates, minimal motion blur; Low input lag||Longest response times typically; Higher refresh rates possible||Slower response times than TN, faster response times than VA; Gaming-quality refresh rates are rare|
|Display||Worst viewing angles;
|Viewing angles typically better than TN, worse than IPS;
Best image depth
|Best viewing angles;
|Pricing||Cheapest||Pricier models can have performance comparable to TN||Most expensive|
|Best Use||Gaming||General Use||Professional|
The IPS Panel is the best panel type for our kind of work. We need the best color display possible to be able to accurately design our project’s contents.
Having a high viewing angle, lets us view the Monitor from different perspectives, so even a colleague or client standing or sitting next to you can take a look at what you are seeing, without obscuring the contrast and colors too much.
Top of the line Monitors with IPS Panels usually have at least a 178° Viewing angle vertically and horizontally, which is very helpful.
The two main downsides to an IPS Panel Monitor are the Price and the latency. The Latency doesn’t concern us as much, as we are buying the Monitor for professional use and not high-end gaming.
The Price, of course, is another matter, but given that we mostly earn our living with the work we do at the PC and in front of the Monitor, it should be worth spending a premium for the highest-possible quality-Display that will serve us well for a long time.
And it is true, Monitors usually last a lot longer than, say, PC-Components, as the technology progression is much slower. You can easily use a good Monitor for 2 – 3 generations of PC Upgrades or more.
Glossy vs. Matte Reflection
Here is the thing about Display Surface finishes:
There are a lot of Tablets, iMacs, and Monitors out there that just look expensive and high quality, very much thanks to the polished and reflective finishing treatment they received.
But the thing is, we should stay clear of glossy/reflective Monitors because having bright Objects, such as lamps and windows or even other displays, reflect in your Monitor, distracts you from your work and can make it hard to see what is displayed.
Professional Monitors have Matte surfaces, meaning the reflections that bounce off of the surface of the display, are being scattered and at the same time dimmed, to make the picture quality as clear as possible.
Always go for a Matte Finish over a Glossy Finish for professional work.
Color accuracy & Gamut
The color gamut describes a range of colors within the spectrum of colors that are identifiable by the human eye (visible color spectrum).
Within this visible Color spectrum, there are areas that a monitor can be rated for. “sRGB” and “Adobe RGB” being the most popular.
As you can see in the Image above, Adobe RGB covers a larger color spectrum than sRGB, which is why you will find many monitors supporting a higher percentage of the sRGB spectrum more easily than the Adobe RGB spectrum.
Our goal, when buying a good monitor, is to maximize the percentage of both sRGB and Adobe RGB.
As discussed above, to get the best possible color ranges we will have to look at monitors with IPS panels, as TN panels lack accuracy in this area. But even within Monitors that have IPS panels, there are still great differences.
You will usually see most Monitors have at least 90% sRGB Spectrum coverage and above 70% Adobe RGB spectrum coverage. The higher the coverage percentage, the more expensive the Monitors get.
Monitors with 99% or even 100% of Adobe RGB coverage can cost a good premium, compared to monitors with around 70-80% of Adobe RGB Spectrum coverage.
This is an excellent time to think about how important color accuracy is to you and your work, as you pay a large premium for highly color-accurate monitors.
Color Bit depth
Monitors usually have one of two popular Color Bit depths. 8bit and 10bit.
These bit depths are understood as bits per channel, meaning with 8 bits you will have 256 color steps per channel (R, G and B). Together they make up the 24bits per color, or 16.7 Mio Colors-range, that we are mostly accustomed to.
10bit Monitors can output 10bits per channel, so 1024 color steps per channel. This makes 30bits per color and totals a 1 Billion Color-range.
Let’s go with the 1 billion colors, which should be much better than just measly 16.7 Mio colors, right?
The problem with this though is, yes more colors are better, but your other Hard- and Software (apart from your Monitor) has to support this too!
You will need a Graphics Card that supports 10bit output (usually just Quadro or Radeon Pro Workstation GPUs) and your work will have to be in at least 10 bits too.
If you are working on a JPG Image, or MP4 Movie, or Render your Animation to a png-sequence, all of these formats store color in 8bits per channel, meaning your 10bits per channel Monitor will not show any additional Bit depth in your work.
Then again, if you work on Canon RAW, RED 10bit, or EXR Sequences (and others), you might very well be able to see the higher color range, that a 10bit Monitor will grant you.
Especially in Gradients, or Vignetted uniform Backgrounds, you can quickly spot if a Monitor is making good use of its 10bit capability.
Apart from the native 10bit capability, there is an interesting way for Monitors to achieve higher bit depth, called FRC (Frame Rate Control).
8Bit Monitors can increase their Bit depth by rapidly flashing pixels close to each other on and off, which gives the impression of higher Bit Depth, as multiple pixels and colors are blended this way.
If you truly want to make good use of a 10bit Monitor, go with a 10bit Monitor that achieves 10Bit color without FRC though, as FRC can produce flickering and will never be as accurate as true 10bit support.
So to summarize: 10bit is great, but only if it can be achieved without using FRC.
Monitor Size & Resolution
The Size and Resolution of Monitors is more deeply intertwined than one might think.
The Size of a Monitor is usually stated in Inches (“) of the Diagonal of the Screen Span. This makes it somewhat troublesome to discern the actual width and height of the Screen, as you additionally have to look up the Aspect Ratio to truly know how wide and tall a Monitor is.
So a 27” Monitor that has an Aspect Ratio of 4:3 would be much taller and less wide, than a 27″, 16:9 Monitor.
Take a look at the following two Monitors. They are both 25″! So be sure to also look up the Aspect Ratio.
Nowadays Monitors usually come in Aspect Ratios of 16:9 or 16:10, and Ultra-Wide Monitors are making appearances more and more, with Aspect Ratios of 21:9 or wider.
The most popular Monitors for professional work are sized 24” or 27” inches and up, with an aspect ratio of 16:9.
There are many reasons why wide-Screen Monitors have become so popular:
- Looks more Cinematic
- Better fits our eye’s Field of Vision
- Lots of work being created is in a wide-screen format
- In games, Objects of interest are usually placed on a landscape, which extends horizontally
Now, because the Pixel-distance in a Monitor depends on the size and Resolution of the Monitor’s Panel, one should keep in mind that buying larger Monitors should usually go hand in hand with higher Resolutions.
The reason is quite simple:
You sit at a more or less fixed distance of about 60cm from your Monitors and the larger the Monitors get, the easier you will be able to see individual Pixels in the Monitor’s panel if you don’t also either:
- increase the Resolution or
- increasing the sitting distance, when increasing the Monitor size.
As we want bigger Monitors that can fit more details, the only viable potion is to also increase the resolution. Sitting further away would not help us much and would only use up more room in our office space.
At standard sitting distances, we want to avoid seeing individual pixels as much as possible, for the best work experience possible.
Here are some pointers as to how high the resolution should be on your Monitor, so you see an even Image without any individual Pixels:
- At 24” Monitor sizes you will need at least a Full HD (1920px x 1080px) Monitor
- with 27” go with at least WQHD: 2560px x 1440px
- at 32” and up you will need 4K displays (3840px x 2160px)
This is based on the assumption that your viewing distance stays the same.
If you sit far enough away, say your Desk is very deep and your Monitor sits a lot farther back than 60cm from your eyes, of course, you can get away with a lower resolution than recommended above.
4K and High-DPI Displays
When going with a smaller Monitor that has a high resolution, say a 23” Monitor that has a 4K Resolution, you should beware, that although you fit more on the screen, the text, icons, menus, GUI and other on-screen information will also become much smaller.
This can strain your eyes and might make you tired earlier, so don’t overdo the Resolution on smaller Monitors.
Microsoft Windows has a feature called Display Scaling, which can scale your User Interface Elements up, so they are easier to read on high DPI Monitors, but not all third Party Software supports this and it might make your Interface somewhat blurry when interpolation kicks in.
When browsing for new Monitors you’ll most likely come across some Manufacturers advertising their Monitors as having 1,000,000,00,000,000,000 gazillion to 1 dynamic Contrast ratio.
This sounds great but is pure marketing speak and doesn’t help us in discerning if the particular Monitor is good or not.
Two things are usually stated in the spec sheet:
- Dynamic Contrast Ratio and
- Static Contrast Ratio
You can ignore the Dynamic Contrast pretty much, as this value is obtained by measuring the widest distance between dark and light a monitor can project at different brightness settings.
“Different” is the important word here, as you certainly won’t switch around your brightness or turn on and off the back-lighting all the time to get that great contrast the manufacturer is speaking of.
What we want is the widest distance between dark and light a monitor can project at the same brightness setting.
This is what Static Contrast Ratio states and what we should look out for when buying the best Monitor for Graphic Design, Video Editing, 3D Animation or many other visually demanding use cases out there.
Aim for an IPS Panel Monitor that has at least 500:1 static contrast ratio, better 1000:1.
Brightness is an easy one. The higher the cd/m² (candela [light intensity] per meter squared) the brighter the Monitor will be.
Don’t make the mistake of getting a Monitor that is too bright though.
Think about where and when you work and what your environment looks like.
If you do lots of night shifts or work in dark rooms, a bright Monitor will be counter-productive, as your eyes can adapt to overall ambient light intensity.
This means, when it’s dark the pupils dilate, let more light onto your retina and you will need less brightness on your Monitor.
If you work outdoors or are in a very brightly lit environment, a Monitor with high cd/m² will do wonders for you.
Long story short:
Lean towards a slightly brighter Panel and look out for a Monitor with 300cd/m² – 350cd/m² Brightness, which is a good value for most environment settings.
In the end, you can always regulate the brightness down somewhat but never increase it over the value the underlying hardware is capable of.
Monitor Refresh Rate: 60hz, 120hz, 144hz +
This Image nicely shows what Refresh Rate is NOT about:
Asus had this Image floating around for a while, and I am taking they were exaggerating a bit to push the point they were trying to make:
The higher the refresh rate of a Monitor the more individual Images per second it can display.
This doesn’t mean, Monitors with “just” 60Hz all of a sudden start showing Motion Blur in fast movements.
It means that when playing games that run at over 60fps or watching Movies that have higher frame rates than 60fps, or playing back anything on the Monitor such as a Video Editing timeline or a 3D Animation Viewport, your screen will also output more than 60 Images per second.
The human eye will see a difference in having a game run at 60fps compared to 144fps, that is undeniable. But do you need it for professional work?
Think about what your work entails:
Are you animating at 25fps, or Editing Videos at 60fps or higher? Are you designing static Brochures and Logos, which don’t really have all that much movement at all?
Or are you a game developer, who constantly has to test their Games and who optimizes for VR which should have extremely high refresh rates?
You probably get the gist. If you often work on projects where high refresh rates are important, you will need a high refresh rate Monitor. 🙂
Most of the time, though, apart from Gaming or high-fps Video editing, I’d say 90% of us Graphics Designers, Video Editors and 3D Artists will need no more than a 60Hz Monitor.
Curved, Flat or Ultra wide?
In addition to 16:9 standard Flat Monitors, I have worked on both Ultra-wide Curved and Ultra-wide Flat Monitors and I have to say that I personally still prefer standard-sized Monitors (or multiple standard-sized Monitors) over Ultra-wide Monitors.
I feel it is much easier to arrange and maximize windows across Multiple standard-sized Monitors than trying to place them precisely on an ultra-wide, which takes a bit more time than a simple double click.
There is some extra Software that usually comes with Ultra-wides which tries to simulate having multiple displays, but this just doesn’t feel like the real thing.
Another benefit of going with multiple normal-sized Monitors is that you can go with different types of monitors, one having a high resolution the other having good color quality, which just makes me able to work more flexibly.
For Gaming, Ultra-Wides or curved Monitors are quite popular and the benefits for gaming are undoubted, but I wouldn’t yet recommend these for most kinds of professional work.
How many monitors?
As can be seen in the following survey, most people who work in 3D Animation, Graphic Design or Video Editing have at least two Monitors.
You can have your Software palettes and Main GUI as well as your Timeline on one Monitor, and have a second Monitor for your Footage and Previews or Images you are working on.
A 24” lower quality Monitor for your Software Interface and a 27” Monitor with great color and contrast is a quite popular setup.
Almost all Monitors have VESA mounts which let you mount your Monitors on Monitor Arms. This frees up a lot of your desk space and can increase flexibility and ease of use especially with Monitors that Pivot or have to be tilted around a lot.
If you want to go with only a single Monitor you should consider a larger one, with a high resolution that will fit both your Software Interface and your Footage on the same screen, without having to switch between maximizing or expanding different areas of your Software all the time.
Going 27” or larger with a WQHD Resolution or even 4k Resolution would be recommended in this case.
Sun-Shade: If you find yourself in an Environment that often reflects bright lights off of your Monitor you might want to get a Sun-shade or Monitor Hood. This can greatly reduce environmental reflections and also helps with increasing privacy.
Pivot: Some Monitors have the ability to Pivot 90° or more which comes in handy when switching between 16:9 and 9:16 Editing, or reading long Websites and Documents that fit 9:16 much better than a 16:9 Monitor. Combine a Pivoting Monitor with a Monitor Arm Mount for maximum flexibility.
Additional Connectors: Nowadays, Monitors even offer Connectors such as USB and Headphone Jacks, where you can plug in your Devices without having to reach underneath your desk for the PC. This comes in Handy with devices that have short Cables or can act as a (USB) HUB if you are short on plugs.
Multiple Display Connectors: Many Monitors come with multiple Display Input Connectors, such as HDMI, Display Port, DVI, and VGA. Firstly this means you can use the cable you like and have handy, but secondly you can attach multiple PCs or Devices to your Monitor and use the On-Screen-Display Source Switcher to switch between the Source that should be displayed on the Monitor without having to unplug and rearrange cables constantly.
Warranty: Check the Warranty duration as this can be an area where Manufacturers like to save some Value on.
Audio / Speakers: Built-in Speakers can be a nice add-on too. They will never have great quality but can be quite practical when switching away from your headphones to show a client, boss or friend what you are working on.
Calibrating your Monitor
The best Monitors are only truly great when they are calibrated correctly. You want to make sure the colors and brightness are set to calibrated values, as this makes sure the projects you are working on will look the same on your Monitor as they will later on in the Movies, in Print Products, on TVs or on Mobile Phones.
Many Monitors come with calibrated presets, but not all Monitors are manufactured exactly the same and can differ from time to time.
A great way to calibrate your Monitor is to use a Monitor Calibration Tool such as the Datacolor SpyderX Pro. You hook it up to your PC and attach it to your Monitor for a short time and let it do its calibration.
This is especially helpful when you have more than one Monitor, and both don’t seem to be displaying colors in the same way, which can be a nuisance.
Now that we have had quite an in-depth look at the most important features a great Monitor for Graphic Design, Video Editing, 3D Animation and other creative tasks should have, let’s do a quick summary.
The best Monitor for creative and graphical work should have of the following features:
- Panel Type: IPS Panel
- Surface Finish: Matte Reflection
- Color Accuracy: Adobe RGB and sRGB should be as high as possible percentage-wise
- Color depth: 8bit for most, go 10bit Color Depth if you know you can make use of it
- Size: at least 24” at Full-HD Resolution, the larger the Monitor the higher the Resolution should be
- Contrast: static contrast ratio of at least 500:1, better 1000:1 (not dynamic contrast!)
- Brightness: Depends on the brightness of your work environment, but good specs are between 300 – 350 cd/m²
- Refresh Rate: 60Hz Refresh Rate for most. If your Work entails high-speed footage or game-design, go 100Hz, 120Hz or 144Hz
- Multiple Monitors & Type: I recommend at least two Flat, Standard-sized Monitors over Ultra-Wides or Curved Monitors for professional work
- Additional Features: If you need them: Pivot, USB / Audio Connectors, Multiple Display Connectors such as HDMI, DVI, VGA, Display Port, VESA Monitor Arm Mount Capability, Speakers
Considering all the above must-haves, here they are, the best Monitors for Graphic Design, Video Editing, and 3D Animation work:
Best Monitors for Graphic Design, Video Editing, 3D Animation & other visually demanding work
Best 27″ All-Rounder: Motion Design, Video Editing, 3D
|SIZE||PANEL||Color Accuracy||Bit Depth||Resolution||Brightness||Contrast|
|27″ / 16:9||IPS||100% Adobe RGB||10bit||WQHD 2560×1440||300cd/m²||1000:1|
The extremely popular Dell UltraSharp UP2716D is a 27″ IPS Monitor comes at a very reasonable price, given its high quality. It has a WQHD Resolution which is good for a 27″ Monitor when you plan on displaying lots of Software GUI from Premiere Pro, After Effects, 3D Animation Software or other DCC Software on it.
Given its 16:9 IPS Panel has 300 cd/m² Brightness and 1000:1 static contrast ratio, it is astonishing that it reaches 100% coverage of both the sRGB and Adobe RGB spectrum.
Serious Print Work, Graphic Design
|SIZE||PANEL||Color Accuracy||Bit Depth||Resolution||Brightness||Contrast|
|24″ / 16:10||IPS||99% Adobe RGB||10bit||FullHD 1920×1200||400cd/m²||1500:1|
The Eizo ColorEdge CG2420 is a 24″ Monitor of the finest Quality. It has in-built Color Calibration Hardware, that makes sure everything is set correctly, without having to use external color calibration devices. It comes with a Sun-Shade that minimizes bright reflections on the screen’s surface.
The aspect ratio of 16:10 gives you those additional extra pixels vertically, that let you work more easily on Projects that have brochure- or other print-product-dimensions. With 99% Adobe RGB Color Accuracy, 400cd/m² and a 1500:1 (!) static contrast, this Monitor has you all set for some serious high-quality design work.
4K: Best 27″ extreme Budget Monitor
|SIZE||PANEL||Color Accuracy||Bit Depth||Resolution||Brightness||Contrast|
|27″ / 16:9||IPS||70% Adobe RGB||10bit||4K 3840×2160||350cd/m²||1000:1|
You absolutely wouldn’t expect these kinds of features at the price point the Philips 276E8VJSB comes in at. It, too, sports a 1000:1 contrast ratio and 350cd/m² brightness with a 27″ IPS Panel and a 4K Resolution of 3840×2160. The Adobe Color Spectrum Coverage isn’t as high as some of the more expensive Monitors, but 70% Adobe RGB and 100% sRGB are not too shabby for this price.
A great pick for beginners who need 4k and more color accuracy than you can get from a TN Panel Monitor.
4K: Best 32″ Monitor with great Color Accuracy
|SIZE||PANEL||Color Accuracy||Bit Depth||Resolution||Brightness||Contrast|
|32″ / 16:9||IPS||99.5% Adobe RGB||10bit||4K 3840×2160||350cd/m²||1000:1|
The Asus ProArt PA329Q is a monster of a Monitor. It has a 32″ IPS Panel Display with a resolution of 3840×2160. 350cd/m² brightness and 1000:1 contrast are solid and it reaches 99.5% of Adobe RGB Color Spectrum Coverage.
It, too, has 10bit capability that lets you drive the Monitor at higher bit depths, given your other Hard- and Software supports this. Because of its size, you can easily get away with just one of these for your work-place, and can even sit further away from it.
That’s about it! What Monitor are you buying?