In this article we'll cover the features to look for in a monitor for graphic design and digital art work. I'll also provide my recommendations from the budget to higher end (larger size and higher resolution) monitors.
Features to look for
Colour accuracy is important for artists and designers.
Ideally, you'll want to get a monitor that's able to show you the colours where your work will be displayed. So choose the monitor based on the work you create. If your work is mostly going to appear on screen, then a sRGB monitor should suffice. If you're working with print, a wider colour gamut monitor like an AdobeRGB is more appropriate. More on the sRGB and AdobeRGB jargon later.
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. Most manufacturers have that information in their specifications.
IPS panels usually have wide viewing angles, usually up to 178 degrees for horizontal and vertical viewing angles. This means no matter from which angle you're looking at the display, the colours will look the same. Colours on monitors with lousy viewing angles will shift/change depending on the angle you're looking from. This can be problematic on large monitors because the angle when looking straight vs to the side is different. So for example, you can have a screen filled with gray, but when viewed straight on, it will be gray, and when you look to the side, it can be another shade of gray.
Avoid glossy screen because you'll be looking at your own reflection. The reflection impairs the colours you see.
I want to tell you to avoid TN panels but it's actually not uncommon to see TN panels with wide viewing angles nowadays too.
Colour gamut is the range of colours a monitor can produce. The two most common colour gamut or colour support is sRGB and Adobe RGB so they are often being advertised on spec sheets. You may also see NTSC and increasingly DCI-P3 being mentioned -- Apple calls it Display P3 when advertising their Macbooks.
sRGB is the most common colour space for monitors and the internet. So if your work is for display online, you can get an sRGB monitor.
AdobeRGB colour space has a wider colour range compared to sRGB and is able to simulate print colours. So if you work work print, and need to compare printed proofs against your screen, get an AdobeRGB monitor. An AdobeRGB display will give you an accurate representation and expectation of how your work will eventually appear in print.
NTSC is used for TV.
DCI-P3 is introduced by Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) to cover the color range of cinema. The colour space is around 25-39% larger than sRGB. This is great for video editors.
These colour spaces are just a subset of all the possible colours our eyes can see. So the monitor to choose should depend on the work you do. There's no point spending extra money on an AdobeRGB monitor if your work is only going to be viewed online.
Just for reference, a 100% AdobeRGB monitor can display up to 1 billion colours while a 100% sRGB monitor typically displays up to 16.7 million colours.
A good AdobeRGB monitor is a 10-bit monitor vs sRGB which is typically an 8-bit monitor. Some monitors may use FRC technology to dither 8-bit to simulate 10-bit colours but those aren't true 10-bit colours and those will not be true AdobeRGB monitors. Anyway, for a true 10-bit colour workflow, you will need proper hardware (monitor and graphics card) and software support.
You can read more about colour gamut at https://www.eizoglobal.com/library/basics/lcd_monitor_color_gamut/
Back in the days when monitors are still expensive, I would recommend either 1920x1080 or 1920x1200 resolution monitors.
Nowadays larger and higher resolution monitors are getting more affordable. So if you have the budget, I recommend getting a 2560x1440 resolution monitor. And the best size for this resolution is 27-inches.
The more resolution the monitor has, the more content, details and desktop space you can see. Say for example you open a window to display thumbnails of your files, 4K (3840x2160) can show you more thumbnails/files than 1440P, and 1440P can show you more than 1080P.
On a higher resolution monitor, when using graphic design software, editing photos or videos, you will be able to fit more panels and tools on the desktop. You can see more and don't have to scroll as often, and don't have to close panels or palettes that block your work. Higher resolution monitors improves productivity. And this is one significant reason to get monitors with higher resolution.
Other advantages of 4K includes the ability to view 4K videos at native resolution. This is useful for video editors who edit in 4K and want to see their videos at 100% without scaling. 4K has so much pixels that everything will look sharper and more detail.
Downside of 4K is they are more expensive, sometimes significantly more so, compared to 1440P monitors.
These are the resolution and sizes I recommend.
- 1080P: 20 to 24 inch
- 1440P: 25 to 27 inch
- 4K: 32 inch
For MacOS users, it's important to get a monitor that's least 32-inch if you want 4K. MacOS does not have the appropriate scaling options to scale up user interface elements on smaller monitors with 4K resolution.
Most graphic design monitors now come with DisplayPort and/or HDMI.
Other ports to look out for would be USB ports. Look for monitors that can be used as USB hubs and have SD card readers.
If you're using any Macbooks from 2016 onwards, you may want to get a monitor that has Thunderbolt 3 support. Thunderbolt 3 allows fast data transfers, charging, display pass-through without the need for another display cable, and display daisy chain. In other words, Thunderbolt 3 is incredibly convenient if you have Thunderbolt 3 devices.
If you can get a monitor with a shading hood, go for it. Shading hood is very useful for blocking out unwanted light sources.
When I had to upgrade my monitor a few years ago, I was debating whether to get the BenQ SW2700PT or the Dell UP2716D that were selling at the same price. Both are AdobeRGB monitors but BenQ has the shading hood while Dell has thinner bezels and a somewhere nicer design. Ultimately I went for the BenQ SW2700PT because of the shading hood and it was a good choice. If I need to upgrade my monitor in the future, I will only go for monitors that come with shading hood.
My monitor recommendation
My recommendations are for sRGB and AdobeRGB monitors. The two brands I usually go with are Dell and BenQ because they are value for money compared to EIZO, NEC and other brands.
The Dell U series are the sRGB monitors and the UP series are the AdobeRGB monitors. For BenQ, their DesignVue monitors are sRGB and PhotoVue are AdobeRGB.
By the way, all links below are to Amazon so you can check the latest prices there.
20 to 24 inches
Dell U2415 is a 99% sRGB monitor that has a resolution of 1920x1200. Usually monitors around 20-24 inches have 1920x1080 resolution. The extra vertical pixels are very welcome for lower resolution monitors.
The Dell U2419H and Dell U2419HC are pretty similar to the Dell U2415 except these two monitors have the 16:9 aspect ration resolution of 1920x1080. These are better in the sense that when you watch videos, you'll have less or none of the horizontal black bars at the top and bottom of your video. Personally, I would still recommend U2415 for the extra resolution. The C in the U2419HC represents USB-C connectivity. The other monitor uses USB type A.
The sRGB offerings from Dell are fantastic. From BenQ, I would recommend BenQ SW240 for its 99% AdobeRGB colour support.
25 to 27 inches
- Dell U2518D: sRGB, 25-inch, 2560x1440, HDMI, DP, USB 3
- Dell U2719D: sRGB, 27-inch, 2560x1440, HDMI, DP, USB 3
- Dell UP2516D: AdobeRGB, 25-inch, 2560x1440, HDMI, DP, USB 3
- Dell UP2716D: AdobeRGB, 27-inch, 2560x1440, HDMI, DP, USB 3
- BenQ SW271, AdobeRGB, 27-inch, 4K, HDMI, DP, USB 3, shading hood, SD card reader
- BenQ SW270C, AdobeRGB, 27-inch, 4K, HDMI, DP, USB 3 type C, shading hood, SD card reader
- BenQ SW2700PT, AdobeRGB, 27-inch, 2560x1440, HDMI, DP, USB 3, shading hood, SD card reader
- BenQ PD2700U, sRGB, 27-inch, 4K, HDMI, DP, USB 3
- BenQ PD2700Q, sRGB, 27-inch, 2560x1440, HDMI, DP, USB 3
30 to 32 inches
- Dell U3219Q, sRGB, 31.5-inch, 4K, HDMI, DP, USB 3 type C
- Dell UP3216Q, AdobeRGB, 31.5-inch, 4K, HDMI, DP, USB 3
- Dell UP3017, AdobeRGB, 31.5-inch, 2560 x 1600, HDMI, DP, USB 3
- BenQ PD3220U, sRGB, 31.5-inch, 4K, HDMI, DP, USB 3 type C, Thunderbolt 3
- BenQ PD3200U, sRGB, 31.5-inch, 4K, HDMI, DP, USB 3, SD card reader
- BenQ PD3220U, sRGB, 31.5-inch, 2560x1440, DVI, HDMI, DP, USB 3, SD card reader
My overall recommendation are these.
For 24-inch monitors or smaller, get the Dell U2415 because of the 1920x1200 resolution which is higher than typical 1080P.
For 30-32-inch monitors, definitely go with 4K resolution. For sRGB monitors consider the Dell U3219Q. If you're using a device with Thunderbolt 3, get the BenQ PD3220U. For AdobeRGB monitors, consider Dell UP3216Q.