If you’re like me, when shopping for TVs and, more importantly, monitors, you feel like Darth Vader in Lucas’ “renewed” (cough-cough) trilogy. One look at the screens, and your knees start melting, the weight of the world on your shoulders, conspiring with gravity to bring you down. You kneel with a supposedly heart-wrenching “NOOOOOoooo!” while diehard Star Wars fans bystanders laugh at you.
Because colors matter. And other people might not know or care, but you do.
A cold-hearted scientist will tell you “they’re only waves,” but as a visual artist, you know those “waves” are responsible for Mona Lisa, Guernica, The Persistence of Memory. Our eyes work with our visual cortex to transform those light waves into colors, shapes, forms. They’re responsible for our perception of reality, and the primary tools of even the worst graphic artist on the planet.
“So, what’s the problem?” others ask, while your eyes almost bleed in front of showroom monitors.
“The problem,” you think as you fight to contain your Hulk-smash-rage, is that a monitor, a good monitor, strives to present colors as-they-are. Not to over-saturate them, making Blade Runner look like Futurama and National Geographic like The Lion King.
To pull that off, pro-level monitors need a wide color gamut. They need excellent brightness and contrast. They must have a vibrant but accurate panel. They shouldn’t distort details by either looking “too fuzzy” or “too sharp.” If they fail at accuracy, all your work might go to waste. What’s the point in trying to find the perfect teal for a cartoon character’s headband if it’s going to be printed as green?
And that’s where professional monitors for visual artists like the ones we’ll see here exist in a whole different world compared to “consumer-friendly” products. Yes, some of them are good all-rounders, but when buying a professional monitor, you don’t seek smooth gaming and “a fast panel,” nor eye-popping colors that can bring your favorite soap opera to life. Your utmost priority is color and detail accuracy, followed by trustworthiness, then ergonomics, then everything else.
You won’t have to search high and low for that rare bird, though: I found the best ones available today, so you don’t have to waste your time poring at the details through hundreds of listings. And I’ve even categorized them based on what they excel in, to make your choice easier. Our journey into the crisper pixels on the planet begins in 3… 2…
- Summary of the Best Monitors for Graphic Design
- Product Reviews – Best Monitors for Graphic Design
- Buying Guide – Things to consider when buying a pro-level monitor for visual work
- Frequently Asked Questions About Buying a Monitor for Graphic Design
ViewSonic VP3268-4K PRO
Best Overall for Every Visual Artist
There are cheaper alternatives, but the VP3268-4K PRO by ViewSonic is where the difference between pro-level monitors and consumer-level options becomes obvious. It has pretty accurate and wide coverage of the sRGB range, and that should be enough for most budding artists. The most demanding professionals would prefer better AdobeRGB coverage, and gamers could do with a faster panel. For the rest of us, though, at around $800, ViewSonic's VP3268-4K is more than "good enough."
Summary of the Best Monitors for Graphic Design
|Tablet Model||Panel Size||Resolution||Response Time||Current Price|
|Dell UltraSharp UP3218K 8K||32''||7680 x 4320 (8K)||6 ms (gray-to-gray)||Check price|
|EIZO ColorEdge CG2730||27''||2560 x 1440||13 ms (gray-to-gray)||Check price|
|EIZO ColorEdge CG247X-BK||24''||1920 x 1200||10 ms (gray-to-gray)||Check price|
|Dell UltraSharp UP2718Q||27''||3840 x 2160||6ms (gray to gray)||Check price|
|BenQ SW271||27''||3840 x 2160||5ms (gray to gray)||Check price|
|LG 27MD5K||27''||5120 x 2880||12ms/14ms (gray to gray)||Check price|
|Asus ProArt PA329Q||32''||3840 x 2160||5ms (gray to gray)||Check price|
|ViewSonic VP3268-4K PRO||32''||3840 x 2160||14ms (typical gray to gray), 7ms (overdrive gray to gray)||Check price|
|LG 27UK850-W||27''||3840 x 2160||5ms (High)||Check price|
|BenQ SW2700PT||27''||2560 x 1440||5ms (gray to gray)||Check price|
Product Reviews – Best Monitors for Graphic Design
1. Dell UltraSharp UP3218K 8K
Illustrators, sketch artists, and everyone who likes to work on many pieces in parallel, will love Dell’s 8K offering.
When you have so many pixels on your screen, you can take advantage of them in two ways: either to work on a single piece taking up the whole panel with top clarity or by working with many windows side-by-side. So, if you need the fine details in your 3D sculpts always visible, or are refining characters for a game and need many assets visible at the same time, the UltraSharp UP3218K is the one for you.
Crisp and Colorful
The UP3218K is a stunner since apart from the clarity its high pixel count brings on the table, it’s also a great performer as far as color accuracy goes. The monitor has a wide gamut, covering 100% of both Adobe’s RGB and the sRGB range, and comes precalibrated to show its true colors (pun intended) from the get-go.
And Now, Buy Something Else!
I initially considered using a different title, but I think this was the quickest way to get the point through. You see, although it’s a relatively old model by now, the UP3218K remains a piece of tech from the future. You – and I – can’t take advantage of all it has to offer today. There’s simply not enough content at 8K resolutions to consume. “OK, yeah, but we want to create content on it,” you might argue. And I’d have to answer, “using what?” You need not one but two DisplayPorts to have enough bandwidth for its display, and either the latest Mac Pro or a PC with a fast CPU, even speedier GPU, and tens of GBs of RAM, to be able to work at 8K resolutions.
It does look stunning, though.
Crystal-clear 8K panel.
You (probably) can't take advantage of it.
Wide gamut & accurate color reproduction.
Expensive (if you consider that you probably can't take advantage of it).
Looks excellent - not only its panel but also design-wise as a unit.
2. EIZO ColorEdge CG2730
Digital painters, illustrators, and everyone working primarily with color who demands top accuracy from their screens, look no further.
A Reliable Tool
Usually, thanks to a professional monitor’s pricing and how often you (don’t) upgrade, it’s considered the primary tool for your job. And “a tool for a job,” be it a hammer, a soldering iron, or in this case a professional monitor, should always perform as you expect it.
That’s where the CG2730 shines: it’s not only that it comes with a crisp and ultra-accurate IPS display, and rich controls to configure it to your liking. It’s that you can trust its screen to be accurate, day-in, day-out.
The secret at the heart of CG2730’s reliability is its included sensor. After you calibrate it for the same time, you can set it and forget it to “auto-calibrate.” From then on, the CG2730 will continuously monitor lighting conditions and adjust its settings accordingly, so that what you saw on it in the morning keeps looking the same when you’re still working on it after midnight.
Only For Graphics
If you have only one computer, that you use for other things apart from your design work, and are also looking to buy a single monitor for it, look elsewhere. Especially if you’re also gaming. For all its greatness as far as display quality and color accuracy goes, the CG2730 has a relatively slow panel. Videos won’t look smooth on it, and games will look even worse. As I said, this isn’t “general-purpose equipment,” but a premium tool for every job that relies on color accuracy. Treat it as such.
Stellar color coverage and accuracy.
Only for design work.
Slow response times.
3. EIZO ColorEdge CG247X-BK
A friendlier for general usage “little brother” to the CG2730 for just about everyone who demands reliable color reproduction without much fuss.
Colors And Auto-Calibration
What I said about the CG2730 also stands for the CG247X. Just like its larger sibling, the CG247X has excellent color coverage and accuracy. So, although it’s officially advertised as optimal for video editors, it’s just as good for everyone who primarily deals with color in their line of work.
And just like the CG2730, it comes with a sensor that allows it to auto-calibrate continuously, rendering it a truly trustworthy tool.
Smaller And Friendlier
Some might consider the CG2730’s size, with a 27” panel, as too much – that’s why 24” monitors remain the most popular size. And CG247X is just that, a 24” monitor that offers everything you’d need for your design work in a more compact format.
Unfortunately, this leads to a small toll in pixel count. Its resolution is a typical, close-to-Full-HD 1920 x 1200, and nothing to write home about. It is clear and precise, and the monitor also checks its uniformity and brightness to make sure it remains accurate. But you will have to zoom-in when working with details.
It’s also worth noting that its smaller panel is faster than CG2730’s, making it a somewhat better choice for general use. If you’re looking for a single monitor for your artistic endeavors but also gaming, you’d better look elsewhere. It’s more than “good enough,” though, for the occasional kittens-on-YouTube procrastination streak.
Stellar color coverage and accuracy.
Slow-ish response time.
Old-school "typical" Full-HD resolution (although with more vertical space, at 1200 over 1080 pixels and a 16:10 ratio).
4. Dell UltraSharp UP2718Q
HDR “is a thing” for movies and, lately, some games. If you think it’s time it found its way into professional monitors, meet Dell’s UltraSharp UP2718Q.
My title doesn’t refer to the performance of the monitor, although Dell’s UP2718Q does manage to impress when you feed it with HDR content. Instead, it’s about you. You’ll be a master of all things HDR since that’s the primary reason to choose it over alternatives.
“Wow.” This expresses how you feel when you look at HDR content on the UP2718Q for the first time. The combination of HDR and a 4K display up close can leave you speechless. Then, you realize you’re watching expertly crafted HDR videos, explicitly designed to “wow” you, and you start noticing some annoying details.
Yes, HDR can be impressive, but in actual use, the results are not that different compared to a high-end optimally calibrated IPS display that already had wide gamut, brightness, and contrast. HDR demos feel like they have somewhat squashed gamma, and their contrast dialed to eleven, to make their imagery more vivid. When you’re designing, you don’t want “colors that pop.” You want them to be accurate. And for that, you’ll have to recalibrate UP2718Q and forget anything HDR-related.
"Wide color range" does not equal absolute accuracy.
HDR ends up feeling like a gimmick in the long run.
Wide color range.
Adequate response time for both videos & gaming.
5. BenQ SW271
Allow me to be blunt: would you like a Dell UltraSharp U2718Q for $300 less? Well, here you go!
Many people forget there are more monitor manufacturers than panel manufacturers. And with this, I mean that both Dell’s U2718Q and BenQ’s SW271 share the same panel. By LG, in case you wondered. The-exact-same-panel. Thus, they’re the same monitor, and there’s nothing else to say about them. Buy the BenQ. It’s cheaper.
OK, that didn’t work. Not that it was that simple, anyway.
For Creatives. Only.
If you directly compare Dell’s U2718Q and BenQ’s SW271 side-by-side, showing the same HDR image, it’s rational to choose the cheaper choice, since they’d look pretty much identical. And even better, if you looked closer, the cheaper BenQ seems a little better calibrated than Dell’s offering, right out of the box.
If instead of looking closer, you took a step back, you might notice some variations in brightness across its surface. They’re almost non-existent though, and honestly, I didn’t feel them affecting my work, in actual use, at typical use distance.
Plus, you probably didn’t see the little bullet point in Dell’s U2718Q that’s missing from the BenQ: “Adequate response time for both videos & gaming.” That’s the reason to pick the Dell over the BenQ: it’s better for general use, and especially for gaming. Not perfect, mind you, but if you look at the details, Dell’s panel comes with 9ms of Input Lag, whereas on the BenQ it’s up to 15ms.
In other words, yes, it rocks for professional use. Which is supposedly what all of us here spend our time on, instead of gaming. Supposedly. By the way, have you watched Destiny 2’s 4K HDR trailer?
Not for gaming.
Almost unnoticeable uniformity variations - emphasis on the "almost".
Wide color range.
Cheaper than UP2718Q for the same performance.
6. LG 27MD5K
Sitting between 4K and 8K displays, LG’s 27MD5K is a good option for the Mac lovers among us. And since its for Macs, it just had to be “1K better” than your typical PC display.
Do It Like Apple
I admit I didn’t know that the 27MD5K was designed collaboratively by LG and Apple. “That explains a lot,” I thought while googling where to find the -expletive- power button.
Like any genuine Apple product, the 27MD5K sacrifices versatility for simplicity, to the point of being an impairment. So what if HDMI is considered the standard not only for PCs but also for other audiovisual equipment? You only need Thunderbolt, for your Mac, next to your iPhone, close to your iPad.
You don’t need buttons. You don’t need extra ports, apart from Thunderbolt. You don’t need Adobe RGB or sRGB. And since Apple always knows better than you, you also don’t need any adjustability apart from height and tilt.
I could go on with the sarcasm, but I’ll quit before I tire you.
Is It That Bad?
LG’s 27MD5K isn’t a bad monitor, although I’ve only talked about the negatives. And they’re not the only ones. I could also talk about how even cheaper options offer better color gamut and accuracy, or how it looks like it was designed ten years ago. Then, “why buy it?”
Because it is the best plug-and-play 5K professional monitor for Macs. From the moment you plug it in, the 27MD5K and your MacBook Pro will work without the slightest glitch, like they’ve known each other all along.
Crisp 5K display.
Only supports Thunderbolt.
Ease of use - if you have a Mac.
No hardware buttons.
Restricted gamut & accuracy than even cheaper alternatives.
7. Asus ProArt PA329Q
A professional monitor by Asus? Offering great features and ergonomics? Color me interested!
There is a specific group of visual artists that will be very happy with the PA329Q: digital painters. Asus’ first professional monitor comes with a clear 4K IPS panel, wide color gamut, and great color accuracy.
It’s also easy to tweak and packed with every feature you could wish for. A total opposite to LG’s 27MD5K, the ProArt PA329Q has easily accessible buttons and all the types of ports you might need. OK, except DVI. And D-SUB / VGA. Who uses those today?
I also liked its QuickFit Virtual Scale feature. Yes, it is a gimmick, presenting an overlay of actual paper sizes on its screen to assist when working for print. And yet, I did find it useful when making an illustration for a friend’s fanzine.
Far From Perfect
For all its positives, the PA329Q is not the best performer. Its wide gamut is offset by irregularities in brightness across its surface, to the detriment of color accuracy. I don’t know about Asus’ crazy high “Smart Contrast Ratio,” but its actual contrast felt quite low to my humble eyes.
It’s also worth noting that, for some strange reason, changing one option in its menu might “lock” another. Do you want to start with the Adobe RGB profile as your base, and then customize it? Maybe you’d also want the monitor’s full brightness on the sRGB profile? I did, too. You can safely guess the reason for my sarcastic tone.
Ports. Almost all of them..
QuickFit. I like it!
8. ViewSonic VP3268-4K PRO
You can find much better options than the VP3268-4K PRO. They will also be much more expensive.
What If sRGB Is Good Enough?
ViewSonic’s VP3268-4K PRO major flaw in the eyes of a picky professional will be its low performance in the Adobe RGB scale. For those who don’t need more than a wide sRGB gamut, though, the VP3268-4K PRO can be a great choice.
It’s also pretty accurate in sRGB, with great uniformity across its surface. For its price, I was expecting to see brightness irregularities or some light bleeding. There was none.
Turn The Lights Off
I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but the lackluster Adobe RGB performance is not VP3268-4K PRO’s only shortcoming. ViewSonic’s offering also came with seriously low brightness and was the dimmest of all monitors in this buying guide.
The VP3268-4K PRO also has very slow response times compared to what a gamer would expect from a monitor in 2020. Although gaming is not a priority for me, VP3268-4K PRO’s pricing places it smack between premium gaming monitors and affordable professional ones. And yet, there are better options for both at a similar cost. Gamers would be better with a quicker monitor, professionals with one with a wider color gamut. And the alternatives would also probably be brighter.
Impressive uniformity (for its price).
Low Adobe RGB coverage.
Top sRGB accuracy (for its price).
9. LG 27UK850-W
If someone said you can’t get a 27” IPS 4K monitor with a sharp display and good color reproduction for a little over $500, it surely wasn’t LG.
The Journey Down
If you start looking at the best professional monitors available, and then begin your journey downwards, towards the one that meets your budget, LG’s 27UK850-W will look like it makes too many compromises. Its color range might feel restrictive, and its luminance uniformity is lacking. But that’s not the proper way to look at it.
For Artists Who Game
If you started by looking at most affordable gaming monitors and then went upwards, aiming to find one that would also be good enough for your artistic adventures, you’d stop at the 27UK850-W.
Its 4K display is perfect for sketching and illustrations, although not optimal for digital painting. With a 5ms Response Time and FreeSync support, it’s even better for gaming.
Less than ideal color gamut.
Quick response times.
10. BenQ SW2700PT
BenQ’s budget-friendly but truly pro-level and feature-complete proposition is one of the best options for everyone who doesn’t want to invest up to four times its price on their next monitor.
Established professionals might not bat an eyelid looking at Eizo’s prices. For many new graphic artists and photographers, though, who are SW2700PT’s main target group, a single Eizo monitor costs as much as the rest of their gear.
And yet, when looking at BenQ’s SW2700PT, it doesn’t seem like anything is missing compared to much pricier options. For $599, you get a 27” IPS panel with 100% sRGB coverage, almost the full Adobe’s palette, great ergonomics, plenty of ports, and quick enough response times that are more than good enough even for gaming. But how is it possible? Did BenQ somehow manage to employ Willy Wonka’s Oompa-Loompas to keep production costs at zero?
The SW2700PT is a joy in actual use if you compare it with “consumer-grade” monitors. Place it next to something like Dell’s UP2718Q, though, and it’s easy to see how BenQ managed to keep its price so low.
It starts with its panel that at 2560 x 1440 sits between Full HD and 4K panels – a “2K” panel. Although its specs talk about a wide color gamut, its backlighting – at least in my case – wasn’t as uniform as I’d expect from a pro-level monitor, and there was also some bleeding from one side. Those factors can affect color accuracy enough to push demanding professionals to pricier but also more performant models.
Still, for the budget-conscious among us, that’s an insignificant quirk. Plus, the lower-than-4K resolution won’t be too hard on lower-specced hardware, demanding an upgrade.
Affordable pro-level performance.
Light bleeding on one edge of the screen.
Sub-optimal brightness uniformity.
Good response times.
Great features and ergonomics.
Buying Guide – Things to consider when buying a pro-level monitor for visual work
When buying a monitor as “consumers,” the worst that can happen is that it ends up atrocious, and we’ll have to tolerate it until our next upgrade.
For professional visual artists, though, their monitor is their primary tool in their line of work. It isn’t “a purchase” but “an investment.” If it doesn’t perform as it should, it can end up costing way over its asking price, in both time and money.
That’s why designers, architects, illustrators, and painters might come off as nitpicky when choosing a new monitor. It’s not that most of the options are bad. It’s that they are… inadequate. Let’s see why.
Resolution and DPI/PPI
The display resolution in monitors refers to the number of pixels, short for “picture elements.” They are the small colored dots that make up a screen. The more such “dots” you have, the more detailed the on-screen image. And yet, that’s not always true.
For example, a 4K gaming monitor with a restricted color range might display a pattern of bright oranges and light reds as the same solid color. There goes “the extra detail” of the, theoretically, 4K screen.
When comparing two displays of different sizes but the same resolution, the smaller one will have a higher DPI/PPI (Dots Per Inch / Pixels Per Inch) value, since it crams the same amount of pixels in a more compact space. Higher DPI/PPI values can make images crisper, curves smoother, but also details look smaller. Generally, if you don’t have 20-20 vision, there is no point in buying a 4K 21” monitor. And vice versa, a 46” Full HD screen at arms reach would look like a blurry mess without your glasses.
Illustrators, sketch artists, 3D designers, and architects deal more with details than color, so they should prioritize a higher resolution.
Brightness affects the amount of light on the whole screen. Too high, and the deepest blacks turn into grays. Too low, and the same happens to the brightest whites.
The proper brightness setting on a monitor depends on the lighting conditions where you are using it: higher settings for bright environments, lower for dark ones. It should always be adjusted so that pure black appears almost as if the monitor was turned off, and the brightest white as close to a brightly lit piece of paper.
With “contrast,” we refer to the difference between the brighter and darker parts of a screen. The higher the contrast, the more striking the difference between black and white.
When tweaking contrast to increase the perceived gap between absolute whites and blacks, we end up “shifting” all the in-between shades of gray towards either the brighter or darker side. And the linear progression from black to white (as the screen’s brightness increases) turns instead into a curve.
That’s where gamma can help.
The simplest way to explain gamma is as an alternative to contrast, but instead of affecting the endpoints, it tweaks everything between them. Where with contrast you increase the difference between the brighter and darker parts of an image, with gamma correction you tweak how bright or dark the whole picture looks.
Although this might read like another take on brightness, the critical difference between them is that gamma doesn’t affect the entire color range equally.
As painters know, you only need three basic colors to make every other one. Monitors work in the same way, by displaying “clusters” of pixels that can show three basic colors, Red, Green, and Blue. By varying the intensity of each color in a single pixel, they can “mix” them and display millions more.
That’s what a monitor’s color gamut is: the range of colors its screen’s pixels can display. A wider gamut range means more color variations can appear on the screen and leads to higher color accuracy. The two most popular gamut standards are Adobe’s RGB and the narrower sRGB. The better a high-end monitor is, the wider its coverage of those ranges will be – preferably, of the former one.
Although in name it’s all about gray, “grayscale” actually has a lot to do with a monitor’s color performance. All monitors come with a “global” brightness setting, and most also allow you to tweak each color’s brightness levels individually. When displaying a single black to white gradient on their screen, the variations between the absolute endpoints of the gradient should be different shades of gray.
Great grayscale capabilities translate to a smooth gray gradient, where you can tell each shade from the other. Bad grayscale capabilities show up as abrupt changes in that gray gradient, between sub-ranges that should display as different shades but show up as solid grays.
The worst performers also display a tint, colorizing what should be pure grays. That’s where individual color controls and color calibration come in handy.
Due to many different factors, ranging from the panel itself to its backlight, even if a screen displays a single solid color, you might notice some irregularities. At least, if you’re using a cheaper monitor, that doesn’t account for them, reducing image uniformity.
Professional monitors acknowledge their shortcomings instead of ignoring them. This allows their manufacturers to minimize the resulting problems, like increasing the levels of backlight that reach the edges of the panel to account for luminance drop off.
Resolution of the Tab
There is a general rule of thumb. Anything that is associated with graphics needs to come with better resolution. With better resolution, you will get better display output with extra details. As you are working on various projects you will need your table to produce top quality resolution so that you can produce more detailed artwork. It will enable you to add more finesse to your art.
Some will tell you that 21” monitors are too small nowadays. Others the 32” are too large. The truth is that we are not all the same, and you should buy what feels good for you.
There is a method to find the best screen size for you, but it comes with a caveat: you must be able to test a monitor beforehand in real-world conditions. Sit in front of it at arm’s reach. Align the top of your head with the top of the monitor. Look at the screen. Congratulations, that was the whole test! How come?
If you had to move or tilt your head in any way to be able to see everything on the monitor, it’s too large for you – except if you’re planning to sit further away from it when using it. For desktop use, though, an arm’s reach is considered the optimal distance.
On the other hand, if you had to move closer or squint to read something on the screen or see the fine details of a sketch, it’s too small for you. You could go for a lower resolution, though, that would make everything on-screen look larger – but also “cruder.”
Finding the optimal monitor size is only one of the bullet points under the “ergonomics” umbrella term. In the ancient days of CRTs, the screens were bulky and heavy, but most came with at least some basic tilt and swivel customizability. This way, you could ensure you were watching the screen from an optimal 90° angle.
With modern flat panels being more compact and light, some offer way more customizability than their CRT ancestors. They allow wider swivel and tilt adjustments, or even their full rotation by 90°, “to turn them vertical,” that helps when working for print or with long chunks of text. And for them, height adjustment is almost a given.
Flat panels are also cheaper to make, though, and many that prioritize affordability over anything else end up less customizable than most long forgotten CRTs. You can even find models that offer as much “customizability” as a tablet leaning against a wall: you can adjust their angle (slightly) before Gravity decides to horizontalize them, and that’s about it.
There are three different types of panels inside our screens. Thankfully, for creatives, the choice between them is usually easy – go for IPS. That’s true, though, only if you are planning to use your monitor strictly with static graphics-related workloads. When anything moving enters the picture, IPS stops being the optimal choice, and you should also consider the alternatives.
The older and most popular type of panels is Twisted Nematic (TN). They are considered the best for gaming, as well as any workload that prioritizes motion over still images, smoothness over clarity. That’s because they can update their pixels at a quicker rate than the alternatives. Not everything is rosy, though. TN panels come with restricted viewing angles, and the further you stray from the optimal point of view, the more the colors distort.
In-Plane Switching (IPS) panels offer much better viewing angles than TN panels, as well as increased uniformity, higher color accuracy, and better contrast (but somewhat worse brightness). That’s practically everything most visual artists desire. Except if you also deal with “things moving around.” That’s the shortcoming of IPS panels: they are worse than TN panels in the display of motion, with details getting lost in blurs and ghosting appearing next to fast-moving objects.
The newer VA panels offer a nice compromise between TN and IPS. They come with a better color range than TN panels, but worse than IPS ones. They are better at presenting movement than IPS panels, but worse than TN ones. And that’s their primary problem: they don’t excel in anything. Still, they are a better option for creatives who also work with multimedia, than having to choose either a TN or an IPS panel, speed or accuracy.
Before spending a significant amount of money on a pro-level monitor, you should first make sure of a tiny easy-to-miss parameter. A parameter whose importance becomes apparent only when you’re setting up your new monitor in your workspace: that you’ll be able to use it.
Most monitors today come with at least a typical HDMI connection, rendering them compatible with most modern computers. If you’re buying a second monitor for your setup, though, and your PC’s GPU offers only a single HDMI-out port, you’ll have to use a different type of connection. You should note the outputs available on your computer and make sure your next monitor supports them.
You can use devices that “translate” one type of connection to another, like the older DVI standard to the newer HDMI, but those are an extra purchase on top of the monitor’s cost. The cheaper “converters” of that kind can lead to lower image quality. So, you mind find yourself paying a significant “bonus” over your monitor’s original price for the “privilege” of being able to connect it to your computer.
Some monitors offer more than graphic input connectors, though. You might find the option to directly connect headphones or speakers on the monitor, that help in keeping your cabling tight and your desk tidy. Or to connect your monitor to your PC through an extra USB cable, and then use several ports on it as a USB hub for quick Plug’n’Play of portable devices. And some even come with card readers.
Optimally you won’t have to fiddle every single day with your monitor’s controls, but for when you do, you’ll thank yourself if they aren’t like those of an airbus. On most monitors, you’ll find an on-screen menu and dedicated buttons for adjusting each function. The more adjustable the monitor, the more it will rely on its on-screen menu for tweaking its parameters. You can even control some with your mouse and keyboard, by connecting them with a USB cable to your PC and running custom software. Many BenQ’s models come with extra “control pucks”, that bring the monitor’s controls to its more accessible base.
If you have the option, try to avoid touch controls like the plague. They initially look sleek, but they’re hard to find and use in low light conditions. It’s annoying having to turn the light on to find the button that will allow you to adjust the brightness for when you have the lights off.
Also, make sure to check the options available for customizing the display. When paying a premium for a pro-level monitor, you should expect something more than two switches for brightness and contrast, accompanied by a single power button. If you plan on using specialized calibration equipment, check that your next-monitor-to-be supports it directly, to avoid having to input values manually.
A monitor might not look right from the get-go without some tweaking. I’d group monitors by their customizability in the following four groups.
- The most affordable monitors offer basic customizability of brightness, contrast, and the individual levels of Red, Green, and Blue. If the monitor you’re considering doesn’t have those basic options… run!
- Mid-level but still affordable monitors add gamma correction and maybe some extra color controls in the mix.
- High-end models might offer more than one control for affecting each color. Some models can connect to the PC through USB, allowing you to control them through easy to use software instead of having to use their onboard controls. Those also make it easy to swap color profiles.
- Pro-level monitors also offer uniformity controls that allow you to eliminate irregularities from their display. They can directly connect with specialized calibration hardware that removes any need for fiddling with individual controls – that is, *if *you have access to such expensive hardware.
Years of wide availability have driven monitor costs down. Today you can find pro-level gear for the price of what would be a mid-level CRT around a decade ago. At the very least, you can go for a good IPS panel, that even when not advertised as “professional,” will offer better color accuracy and viewing angles than your average consumer monitor or TV.
An affordable monitor can perform pretty close to a pro-level one nowadays – and in many cases, they even share screens and tech. Where they differ is that the premium pricing reflects not only their build and material quality but also their feature set. A mid-level monitor might be almost as customizable as its pro-level cousin from the very same company, but lack in ergonomics and color uniformity.
As is to be expected, though, the more you pay, the better the product you get.
Have you ever made your own flipbook equivalent by drawing stickman ninjas fighting on the pages of a fat schoolbook? I know I did. And that’s how motion is achieved in cinemas and our monitors, by the quick succession of individual frames. On cinema movies target 24 frames per second to produce the illusion of movement. Our screens update X times per second, and that rate is measured in Hertz (Hz). Each update can show a different full frame. So, to display a cinematic movie as intended, they should update 24 times per second – at 24Hz.
Unlike in a cinema, though, our eyes can and do perceive anything less than 60Hz on a monitor as stuttering. And that’s how 60Hz became the standard refresh rate for most flat-panel monitors.
Today you can find monitors with even quicker refresh rates, but that usually comes at the cost of image quality. If you’re not planning on gaming or rendering high-speed videos on your monitor, go for a 60Hz IPS panel instead of a quicker VA or TN one.
If a monitor advertises G-Sync or Freesync compatibility, “that’s for gamers,” only. They are solutions by Nvidia and AMD, respectively, that try to minimize the motion stuttering that appears when a computer can’t update its graphics output at a framerate that matches the monitor’s refresh rate. Feel free to ignore them.
Monitors aren’t picture frames, although they’d wish they’d be. And that’s because they’re great at presenting static content, but when they’re called to display motion, problems rear their ugly head. The bulky Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) of ye olde days still reign supreme in the display of motion. And it’s the grid-like positioning of a specific number of pixels in our flat panels that’s to blame.
All “flat” types of monitors come with a specific number of pixels on their screens. Those pixels need to change color to display movement as one motion frame after another. And that’s what the Response Time is. The time it takes for pixels on the screen to change from color X to color Y.
The optimal way to know the actual performance of a monitor would be to measure the time needed for a pixel to change from absolute black to absolute white and then back. But since I’m a realist who likes saying things as they are, this wouldn’t allow monitor manufacturers to impress us with fake numbers. So, they measure their monitors’ response time “from gray to gray.”
See the problem with that?
Yeap, it’s that no manufacturer ever explains “what this gray corresponds to.” Is it RGB 50,50,50? Is it RGB 200,200,200? One is closer to black. The other to white. And manufacturers could use whatever values they fancy.
Thus, although Response Times are representative of a monitor’s performance, they also allow for a variation compared to what the numbers would be if black-to-white-to-black was the benchmarking base. That’s why a monitor with a 6ms Response Time might perform better in actual use than one with 5ms. But no, that doesn’t mean that an IPS panel with 15ms Response Times could somehow show more fluid motion than the five times faster TN panel of a gaming monitor.
Compatibility with existing hardware
Many get dazzled by 4K displays, the popping colors, and the clarity of their accompanying demo material. They buy one, only to realize afterward that their computer isn’t beefy enough to power them.
The problem with modern flat panels is that they look their best only at their native resolutions. If you have an HD panel, you should use it with a 1920 x 1080 resolution. A 4K one can display up to four times that amount of pixels, with a 3840 x 2160 resolution.
And those pixels have to come from somewhere. That “somewhere” is your computer.
If the computer and its GPU aren’t quick enough or don’t sport enough RAM or CPU power to deal with 4K material in realtime, you’ll have to deal with pauses and stuttering. And since unlike the flexible CRTs of yesteryear, “flat panels look their best only at their native resolutions,” you won’t be able to lower the resolution and call it a day: doing so would compromise the image quality. Why pay a premium for a 4K panel, to then use it as an HD one?
Frequently Asked Questions About Buying a Monitor for Graphic Design
Allow me to offer the quickest and simplest possible answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the purchase of a professional monitor.
Is there a point in buying “a professional monitor for artists”?
Yes, but if you’re similarly “a professional artist.” The “professional” tag should follow both ends of the equation. If you’re not a professional, you won’t have an actual need for what a top-tier professional monitor offers, and you’ll be OK with anything better than a “merely good” IPS panel.
Is color coverage THAT important?
Yes. You should give it your highest priority if you’re buying a monitor for anything design-related. Inadequate color coverage means your screen won’t display your work (or anything else) accurately. And your potential customers won’t be happy if they ask for a red logo and you send them over an orange-ish one.
Isn’t 24” enough?
It’s both a matter of personal preference and an even more general “it depends.” Are you into architectural drawing and CAD/CAM? You could take advantage of even a whole video wall. Are you a traveling illustrator? Why chain yourself to a typical monitor when what you really want is a Wacom tablet? Do check the method I mention in the Resolution sub-section of the Buying Guide, though, for a way to test if a screen size is a good match for you.
Should I go Full HD or 4K?
This choice, too, depends on many factors. This choice, too, depends on many factors: Can you afford it? Does your vision allow you to really tell the difference in actual use? Can your computer “power” it? If you answered positively to those three questions, go for it. If not, stick with Full HD.
What is this HDR thing?
New tech in both the panels and their electronics that allows for an extended range of brightness, contrast, colors, and luminance, striving to display white areas as bright as the sun and dark ones as if you were in a pitch-black room with no lights. Its full name is “High Dynamic Range,” by the way, and it can supposedly make movies and games feel more realistic.
As you might understand, though, HDR should be a useless term, since monitors should offer a wide range of brightness, contrast, colors, and luminance. And professional-level monitors do. So, you won’t find it in many pro-level offerings, except those that offer a significantly more extensive range of brightness and luminance – but which, could be argued, steer away from a realistic display.
Should I care about refresh rates? I’m not (usually) gaming.
Nope. At worst, you’ll have some ghosting/afterimages when scrolling around the screen. Design, sketching, painting, and anything related, are mostly static affairs. You don’t pan around the workspace continuously. And that’s why most professional monitors rely on IPS panels.
Even if you’re not gaming, though, if you spend over half your day watching kitten videos on YouTube, look into VA panels as an alternative option. Because videos “have motion,” too.
If you can afford them, many visual professionals agree that nothing beats Eizo’s offerings. They’re considered “reference level material,” and other monitor manufacturers use them as the example to beat.
I want to find myself someday among those professionals, but my current income – and half-eaten noodles next to my keyboard – crash me back to reality. Yes, I’d like an Eizo or, lo and behold, even something excessive like Dell’s 8K display, but then I’d have to hide from my landlord at the end of the month. For artists living commission to commission, an over-$1000 monitor is a dream for sometime in the not too distant future.
For now, though, I’ll have to keep my spending in check. Yes, I do need a professional-level monitor, but, at the same time, I can’t currently justify an over a thousand dollars purchase. Especially when there’s also a RAM upgrade looming in the horizon.
Thus, ViewSonic’s VP3268-4K is precisely what I’m looking for – and, I’m sure, the best option for others in the same position. It’s accurate “enough,” capable “enough,” and offers the customizability you need to sit in front of it for hours until You Get The Sketch Right in an anatomically-friendly way.
Realistically, VP3268-4K is a tad more expensive than I’d be comfortable with, but pro-level equipment comes with pro-level pricing. And it is one of the most affordable but truly pro-level options out there. I believe I’ll be OK in the long run, though. I’ve got enough noodles for the whole month.
Are you planning to upgrade soon to a new monitor, and if yes, which one’s stuck in your mind? What monitor are you currently using? You are reading this on a monitor, aren’t you?
Drop me your answers in the comments. Especially if the answer to the third one’s “no!”