How to choose the best monitor for graphic design

Barin Cristian Doru

Would you design with your shades on? How about creating something while wearing 3D glasses? It sounds ridiculous to distort your perspective while designing. That’s what happens when you work on a monitor that isn’t fit for the job.

When choosing a monitor for design, you have to know what to look for, and you’d be surprised how many designers buy their computers for the wrong reasons:

  • Design: never choose a monitor because it looks cooler than the rest. A very slim bezel looks nice, but that’s as far as it goes.
  • Bloated features: TV Tuner, built-in speakers, USB ports, etc. You might like some of them. Hell, I do, but those aren’t what matters the most in a high quality monitor.
  • Response time: 2, 5, 8 ms? The truth is if you’re a professional designer and not a professional gamer it really doesn’t matter that much.

Here is my take on what you should look for in a monitor:

1. Choose a high quality panel


The panel determines how good your monitor is.

TN panels (Twisted Nematic) are the cheapest ones and the most widely spread because of their affordable prices. Sure, they have fast response time but that isn’t the highest priority for a designer while working. The colors and viewing angles are quite poor on this panel which will distort your perspective on your designs.

VA panels (Vertical Alignment) are the midrange choice though they aren’t very popular. Price-wise they are significantly more expensive than the TN ones, but when it comes to their performance, they aren’t good enough to justify their price. Sure, they are way better than TN panels but their price point is usually close to the next type of panel – the IPS.

IPS monitors (In-Plane Switching) are your best choice when it comes to price versus performance. They are usually a bit more expensive than VA panels but the difference in performance justifies it. You’ll get accurate color rendition, great viewing angles and when you compare a TN to an IPS you will understand what a difference it makes.

Super IPS panels are the newest and latest thing. The idea is to get a faster response time and better color rendition while keeping everything at a low price. Currently, there are only a few options but in the months to come we’ll be hearing more about this type of panel.

2. Choose an appropriate size


Bigger isn’t always better. Don’t sacrifice your display’s performance for a slightly larger one. If you want to watch movies or play games on a large monitor you’re better off buying a TV. A device that’s good at everything is usually mediocre at performing all of those things.

For example, if you have to choose between a 22” IPS monitor and a 27” TN one with a built-in TV tuner and speakers you should choose the first one (if you’re serious about your design career).

3. Check what connectors it needs


You wouldn’t think connectivity should be an issue nowadays yet from store to store, from brand to brand, from model to model things vary drastically. Consider the following:

  • Do you plan on adding a second monitor to the mix?
  • Are you going to use an integrated graphics card or a dedicated one?
  • What input slots does your card have?
  • Does the monitor come with the cables included or do you have to buy them separately?
  • Will you need an adapter? E.g. from DVI to VGA, from HDMI to microHDMI, etc.

Answer these questions, before you buy anything.

4. Calibrate your monitor


Calibrating is the last step in this list, but not because it’s the least important. Far from it. Calibrating your monitor properly can make a huge difference and can save loads of money. High-end monitors usually come calibrated though that’s not a rule by any means. Some come with a calibration tool like Spyder4Express which will help you achieve the best colors possible from your display.

Also see: How to choose the best computer for graphic design

What type of monitor do you use while designing?

Related articles:
Tech update: monitor calibration
8 common mistakes when working with color and how to fix them
PPI vs. DPI: what’s the difference?
Workspaces of the 99designs community

The author

Barin Cristian Doru
Barin Cristian Doru

Barin Cristian Doru aka 'thislooksgreat' is an experienced web designer and proud member of the 99designs community: Besides creating awesome website designs, he is also an entrepreneur, an Android App Developer and a content creator. His work ranges from freebie PSD files to small tips & tricks in Photoshop, all the way to a premium 16 hour long course on how to succeed on 99designs.

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