Which monitor to buy

This page last updated: October 2021

There’s no need to spend more than you can afford

The top-of-the-range professional monitors are amazing quality, with a price tag to match. I’d love to own a huge Eizo ColorEdge monitor, but it’s hard to justify all those thousands of dollars, you know?

If you are lucky enough to have plenty of money, you should head straight for the Eizo and NEC websites. These two brands are widely regarded as the best available.

Most of us have to settle for a monitor that suits our needs, at a price we can afford. Fortunately, this is quite easy – there are more good screens, cheaper, on the market every day. The trouble is, you have to interpret and ignore a lot of marketing hype when looking at specifications.

Budget constraints – Size versus quality

If you have a budget in mind, whether it’s $200 or $1200, you’ll invariably face a choice: big monitor of average quality, or smaller monitor of better quality.

I would encourage you to choose the latter. Better to have a smaller monitor which produces good results, than a magnificent big monitor which shows different colours every time you move your head.

In my office, I have two small screens – one good expensive one, and a regular cheap one below it. I edit on the good one, and have my email and windows and stuff on the cheap one. This way, I have lots of screen space, without undue expense. This might be something for you to consider too.

Anyway, let’s talk about specs …

Panel type: IPS ("in-plane switching")

Commonly, there are two broad types of screens – TN and IPS ("Twisted Nematic" and "In-Plane Switching".)

TN panels are the common kind – the ones that most people have in their homes and offices. They’re cheap, and shiny, and not very good for digital imaging, because of their poor viewing angles. They look lighter or darker depending on where your head is. This makes photographic work a bit difficult and frustrating.

IPS screens are the bee’s knees. Their viewing angles are fantastic, and their colour reproduction is almost always better.

For a while, IPS panels were rare and expensive, but in the last few years many manufacturers have joined the IPS market, and there are some excellent monitors available at great prices. Yes, they’re more expensive than TNs, but that gap is closing, and they’re certainly worth it. There is really no excuse for an imaging enthusiast not to have an IPS screen nowadays.

Even better, it’s becoming increasingly common to be able to buy an IPS screen off the shelf of your local computer store. But the range might be limited, so you’ll likely have a broader range of options if you go online.

There shouldn’t be any ambiguity – if it’s an IPS screen, it will probably say so very proudly in the specs, or even in the title. Alternatively, look for "178 degree viewing angle" in the description.

Gloss vs Matte

If at all possible, you should buy a matte screen. Shiny gloss screens look sexy, but the reflections will drive you crazy.

It might not be called "matte". It might be called "non-reflective" or "anti-glare" or something like that.

Sadly, I’ve found that this simple piece of information can be darned hard to find. Sometimes you have to search the product reviews very diligently to discover whether a screen is glossy or matte.

Wide-gamut monitors

As you go up in the price range, you’ll find some wide-gamut monitors. This means that they are capable of showing more vivid colours than the average monitor.

If you’re comparing two monitors that are the same size, and seem to be the same specs, and you can’t figure out why they’re quite different in price, check the gamut. The more expensive one will probably boast "Adobe RGB gamut", or "110% gamut", or words to that effect.

If you can afford one of these, go for it! But I encourage you to read this article so you’re fully aware of the considerations.

Resolution, or "Pixel pitch"

Pixels are getting smaller and smaller and smaller. It’s only a few years since a 19" screen used to be 1024 or 1280 pixels across; now they’re up to 1920, or even more. You’ll see terms like "4K" and "5K" proudly advertised. And 8K screens are just around the corner.

The first impression might be that more pixels must be better, but I don’t necessarily agree with this. Call me old, but I don’t mind bigger pixels; and in my line of work it’s really important for me to be able to see pixels, you know?

When you’re browsing monitor specs, pixel size is called "Pixel Pitch". It’s usually between 0.2 and 0.3mm. I strongly advise you to calculate the pixel pitch of the screen you’re using now (instructions at the end of this article) then decide how much smaller you’re willing to go with a new screen. Smaller pixels might not necessarily be your friend.

Reminder: The importance of calibration

No matter what monitor you get, it’s likely to be too bright and too blue when you first turn it on.

If you are serious enough about your images to be reading this article, you’re surely serious enough to get your monitor calibrated. You’ll find general information about monitor calibration here, and buying tips here.

Some suggested models

If you’ve read this far down the page, you should be armed with enough information to shop intelligently for your next screen. Remember, only look for the ones that have IPS panels, and non-glossy surfaces. Below are some search links for brands which are reputable.

Important disclosure: I am an Amazon Associate. Therefore, many links in this section are to Amazon pages. While I am immensely grateful to anyone who purchases via my links, I urge you not to abandon normal shopping prudence. If you find an item cheaper elsewhere, definitely go for it.