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How to Choose a Monitor for Graphics Design or Photo Editing

Find out what to look for when buying a monitor for graphic design or photo editing and how to find the best one for your setup.

Two Dell monitors on a desk Cafer Mert Ceyhan / Unsplash

Last Updated: January 24, 2022

Written by Brandon Jones

When choosing a monitor for graphic design or photo editing, there are some essential features to look out for to improve your experience and quality. In this article, I'll go over which characteristics and qualities are good to focus on to help get the best monitor for your setup.

I also include my recommended monitors for graphic design and photo editing below to help further.

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Resolution

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Since you'll need a lot of detail in the images you design or edit, a high resolution for a monitor is necessary. A higher resolution will help see every detail in a picture and make it the most lifelike, so you'll know how the image will be printed or shared.

The clarity is based on the resolution and screen size. For example, 4K resolution on a 24-inch monitor is crisper than 4K on a 50 inch TV. The pixel density is higher for the small monitor than the TV since the same amount of pixels fit in a smaller area. The higher pixel density makes it a lot clearer and crisp, so it's good to keep this in mind when choosing the resolution and size of a monitor.

For the best experience, especially for graphic design and photo editing, a 4K resolution is best because that's the highest resolution noticeable for monitor-size displays.

Monitor Resolution Comparison Monitor Resolution Comparison Brandon Jones / TechReviewer

Size

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Choosing the size of a monitor for design and editing depends on how far away you want to sit from your monitor and what level of clarity you want.

If you want to sit farther away from the monitor, you'll probably want to get a larger one to see all of the details.

Smaller monitors have the advantage of having a higher pixel density, making them more precise and crisp.

Larger monitors can allow space for other apps and windows on the screen if you need them while having enough space for working on your projects.

Other Usage

A larger screen size will be beneficial if you plan to use your monitor for other computer apps, such as browsing websites or multitasking (having multiple windows open side-by-side).

If you don't scale the UI (user interface) on your operating system, text and buttons will be smaller at high resolutions. Scaling the UI won't affect the actual resolution, so everything can still be the same size as a low-resolution monitor but has greater detail.

Color Accuracy

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Color Gamut

Color Gamut is the color range that is produced on a display. The higher/wider the color gamut, the more colors the monitor can display.

Determining which one is most important when choosing a monitor depends on which color space (CMYK, sRGB, DCI-P3, or Adobe RGB) you usually use. It's best to select a monitor with a wide range of colors; the higher percentage, the better.

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Bit Depth

Bit Depth (Color Depth) refers to the amount of color info stored in an image. Most monitors and TVs have a bit depth of 8-bit, but some displays can display higher amounts. The higher the bit depth, the more colors stored in an image.

Since graphic design and photo editing depend on the accuracy of colors, a higher bit depth helps expand the amount of color visible to you. Monitors usually either have 8-bit or 10-bit support, but higher is better.

Panel Type

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The display panels inside monitors can use a variety of different technologies. Common LCD panel types include TN, VA, and IPS. Non-LCD panel types include OLED.

Note that LED and QLED are types of backlight technologies and are used in combination with TN, VA, and IPS panels.

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Below is a comparison of the different monitor panel types. Overall, IPS panels are my personal favorite because they provide the best qualities for the price.

I also include OLED TVs since they can be used as monitors due to their excellent motion handling, colors, and contrast.

See my recommended monitors in the other section below.

Monitor Panel Types
TNVAIPSOLED
Response Time Excellent Good Very Good Excellent
Refresh Rate Excellent Excellent Very Good Excellent
Viewing Angle Okay Very Good Excellent Excellent
Color Okay Good Excellent Excellent
Contrast Good Very Good Good Excellent
Price $ $$ $$$ $$$$$

Refresh Rate

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Refresh rates determine how well a monitor can handle motion — the higher the refresh rate, the better. You may not think a higher refresh rate is needed for graphic design and photo editing, but it can improve the overall experience. Moving windows or your images around will look a lot more smooth, which can feel better on your eyes.

You won't notice a difference in refresh rates while there's no motion on the screen. If these benefits don't matter to you, you don't have to worry about refresh rates on a monitor.

Monitors can have a refresh rate ranging from 60 to 360 Hz.

Refresh rate is the number of times a display can redraw the screen. Refresh rate is measured in hertz (Hz), defined as one cycle per second. For example, a refresh rate of 60 Hz means that the screen will redraw 60 times each second.

A reasonable refresh rate is around 120 Hz to 165 Hz or above. Refresh rates in this range will reduce motion blur and make animations smoother.

Response Time

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Response time also determines how well a monitor can handle motion — the lower the response time, the better. A lower response time can improve the smoothness and clarity of text while scrolling through files or moving images around.

If these benefits don't matter to you, you don't have to worry too much about response times on a monitor.

Response time is the time it takes a display to change from one color to another. This timing is usually determined by going back and forth between white and black. The timing is measured in milliseconds, with lower being better.

If your monitor has a higher response time, you'll notice more ghosting. When ghosting occurs, the colors or text blur together whenever there's quick movement on the screen.

Get a monitor with a 1 ms response time for best results. Monitors with a slightly higher response time (e.g., 5 ms) can still make for a great monitor if you don't mind minor ghosting during motion.

Is a Curved or Flat Monitor Best?

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Flat-panel monitors are usually best for graphic design and photo editing because it's hard to tell when lines are straight with a curved monitor. Curved monitors are also usually made with TV or VA panels which have worse color accuracy and viewing angles than IPS or OLED displays.

While there are benefits to using a curved monitor for other usages, I recommend going with a flat monitor instead, so you don't have any problems with it.

Is a Rotating Portrait Monitor Needed?

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Some monitors allow you to rotate the monitor vertically in portrait orientation and landscape orientation. It may take some time to get used to, but having the extra vertical space can be excellent! Portrait orientation allows for viewing verticle pictures for your design or editing, which can be helpful for a larger view of portrait images.

If a monitor doesn't support rotating to portrait orientation out of the box, you can use a desk or wall mount to do so (if the monitor supports mounting).

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Eizo ColorEdge CG319X

Dell UltraSharp U2720Q

ASUS ProArt PA278QV (27 Inch)