Budget Monitors for Artists and Designers 2014/2015

Here's a buying guide for budget monitors for graphics and design work.

Budget can a relative term for people with different spending power. The monitors listed are below USD $300

And I limited to monitors with resolutions close to 1920 by 1080 and not beyond as they would get more expensive.

Factors to consider when buying a monitor for graphics work

For artists or designers, colour accuracy is important. Your artwork should appear to your audience in the exact way that you've coloured, whether in print or online.

E.g. You don't want to paint the perfect skin tone only to realise that on your friend's computer, it appears either more yellowish or magenta. That can happen on if you don't get the correct monitor and there are monitors you'll want to avoid.

My philosophy for choosing a monitor is to get one with the output in mind. For artworks going to high quality printers, such as magazine printers, one should get a high end monitor that's able to match as close as possible to the printout. For newsprint, the monitor doesn't have to be that high-end. But again, I must stress that you choose according to your work environment.

Here are several things to look out for when buying a monitor.

Panel type
There are two types of LCD monitor technologies out there, IPS and TN.

Always get a monitor that uses an IPS panel, or a variant of the IPS sub-types. Avoid TN panels. Most manufacturers have that information in their specifications.

IPS panels have wide viewing angles, usually up to 178 degrees for horizontal and vertical viewing angles. This is important because you want the colours to appear in the same shade regardless of where your eye level is, or where you're viewing your monitor from. You can be sitting down and showing your work to your supervisor who's standing behind and both will be looking at the same colour. For non-IPS monitors, your grey can turn to some other shades when you tilt the screen. No kidding.

Avoid glossy screen because you'll be looking at your own reflection. The reflection impairs the colours you see.

Colour Gamut
Another thing IPS characteristics is its wider colour gamut. A colour gamut is the range of colours that your monitor can produce. Ideally, the best monitor should reach close to 100% range on the sRGB and Adobe RGB colour gamut, however those are expensive, and out of budget range.

Just for reference, a wide colour gamut IPS monitor like the Dell U2413 has a colour depth of 1 billion colours and has a gamut of Adobe RGB 99% and sRGB 100%. A non-wide colour gamut IPS monitor still has very respectable gamut of 16.7 million colours.

In my opinion, for artists and designers, you do not need that 1 billion colours because you're mostly using representation colours, e.g. colours you create from the colour palette.

Ultra wide colour gamut is for those who work frequently with observational colours captured from photos or videos. So if you do a lot of photo manipulation, or output to a very good printer such as magazine printers, then you should consider an ultra wide colour gamut monitor.

You can read more about colour gamut at http://www.eizoglobal.com/library/basics/lcd_monitor_color_gamut/

Resolution
Get at least 1920x1080 or 1920x1200. These are monitors that are generally in the 20 to 24 inch category.

1920x1080 resolutions are common nowadays. 1920x1200 are rare. If price does not differ much, that extra 120 vertical pixels is quite helpful to fit in more drawing space.

At this resolution, you'll have a decent amount of working space for your artwork and space for the extra stuff like palettes, menus and other controls.

Size
The next step up in resolution is usually 2560 by 1440 pixels and monitors with that are usually around 27-inch, and hence more expensive. For budget monitors, nowadays it's probably good to stay between 20-inch and 24-inch.

Connection
Make sure your computer has the right ports. Most monitors come with DVI or HDMI ports, and increasingly DisplayPorts (especially for Apple computers).

Recommended monitors

My personal favourites are monitors from Dell. Over the years, I've used various IPS monitors from them and have always been impressed by their quality, colour production and price.

If you want to skip all the comparisons below, my top choices would be the Dell U2415 24-inch and ASUS PA248Q 24.1-inch. I choose them because they are the rare breed of monitors that still support the 16:10 aspect ratio with 1920x1200 resolution, comes with stand that can be adjusted for height and tilt, has USB3 ports inbuilt, great viewing angles, great colours and lastly they have lots of favorable reviews on Amazon. And they are a good deal for the money.

EIZO produces some fantastic graphic monitors but they are too expensive. HP monitors are alright but they offer only 1 year warranty while other brands usually offer 3 years.

Dell

After filtering out the touchscreens, glossy screen and more expensive models, we're left with the UZ2215H 21.5-inch and U2415 24-inch.

Product UZ2215H 21.5-inch U2415 24-inch
Resolution 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1200
Contrast 1000:1 1000:1
Brightness 250 cd/m2 300 cd/m2
Colour Support 16.77m colours 16.77m colours
Connection HDMI, DisplayPort, USB3 HDMI, DisplayPort, mini DisplayPort, USB3
Price

The U2415 24-inch is a much better monitor but it cost US $100+ more. However, for the extra money, you get a larger screen, 120 rows of vertical pixels in resolution, USB 3 ports, stand with adjustable height.

Dell offers 3 years warranty. If you buy the monitor from their website, you have the option to extend the warranty to a total of 5 years, but the base price of monitors sold there is also slightly higher than Amazon.

The Dell U2412M is worth noting too because it's the predecessor to the U2415. The main difference is the USB ports are USB 2, and it's also cheaper. So if you don't need USB 2, then the U241M is going to be a better buy. The resolution is also 1920 x 1200. Great.

ASUS


ASUS offers a lot of monitors. Two suitable ones for graphic work are the VS24AHL 24.1-inch and PA248Q 24.1-inch.

The difference between the two aren't much, except that the PA248Q has inbuilt USB3 ports which is very convenient. PA248Q also supports more connection with HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI-D and D-Sub. If the USB port on your computer is easily accessible, then you may not need the USB3 ports on the monitor.

Monitor stand for both support height and tilt adjustments.

Best of all they are quite price competitive with 3 years warranty.

Product VS24AHL 24.1-inch PA248Q 24.1-inch
Resolution 1920 x 1200 1920 x 1200
Dynamic Contrast 80,000,000:1 80,000,000:1
Brightness 300 cd/m2 300 cd/m2
Colour Support 16.77m colours 16.77m colours
Connection HDMI , D-Sub, DVI-D HDMI , D-Sub, DisplayPort, DVI-D, USB 3
Price

NEC

NEC's monitors are popular for graphics work as well. The three monitors to check out are 224WI-BK 22-Inch, A234WMI-BK 23-Inch and E243WMI-BK 24-Inch.

Main difference between the three are the screen size. They all have stands that can be adjusted for height and tilt.

For NEC, my choice goes to NEC A234WMI-BK 23-Inch because it's larger than the 22-inch (actual 21.5) and has USB2 ports compared to the 24-inch. If you're on budget, the 22-inch should do just fine. Nowadays, if there are USB ports provided, I would expect at least USB3 and so my overall choice would still be either Dell or ASUS.

NEC offers 3 years warranty.

Product 224WI-BK 22-Inch A234WMI-BK 23-Inch E243WMI-BK 24-Inch
Resolution 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080
Contrast 1000:1 1000:1 1000:1
Brightness 250 cd/m2 250 cd/m2 300 cd/m2
Colour Support 16.7m colours 16.7m colours 16.7m colours
Connection DisplayPort, DVI-D, VGA 15-pin D-sub DisplayPort, DVI-D, HDMI, VGA 15-pin D-sub, USB 2 DisplayPort, DVI-D, VGA 15-pin D-sub
Price

Samsung

Only one monitor caught my eye and that's the Samsung SD590 Series S24D590PL 23.6-Inch Screen LED-lit Monitor. Their other monitors are either too expensive or the viewing angles aren't that good.

The S24D590PL supports 1920x1080 resolution, 178 degrees vertical and horizontal viewing angles, 16.7 million colours. The inputs it supports are HDMI and D-Sub.

The design of the monitor stand isn't very functional. The stand has no height adjustments and only limited tilt adjustments. It's a very bare monitor with no other features like USB3 or other connections.

Samsung provides 3 years warranty for their monitors.

Conclusion

As mentioned, my top two choices are the Dell U2415 24-inch and ASUS PA248Q 24.1-inch.

Happy shopping.

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