The Best Screen for Design, Photography and Art: how to choose and what to look for
In this professional guide, we explain how to choose to the best monitor for design, photography, art, animation and VFX. We teach you everything you need to know to find the perfect monitor for your needs.
Much as we’re now all living our lives on phones and tablets, for true creative work you really need a monitor on your desk. Designers, artists, photographers, animators and video editors alike spend long hours, every day, in front of a big desktop display.
But it can’t just be any old monitor. Anyone working with high-resolution, colour-critical imagery and video – whether that’s for digital, UX and graphic design; branding and advertising; photography; 3D art and animation, digital art and illustration; or video post-production and visual effects – needs a professional display.
Just do an online search for ‘pro monitor’ though and you’ll quickly be overwhelmed with terms like IPS or AMVA, sRGB and QHD. So to guide you successfully through the world of professional panels and displays, we’ve produced this guide, with help from monitor manufacturer BenQ.
Monitors these days are based on flat panel TFT technology, and can either be LCD or LED based. There are further technology options within these subcategories, such as IPS, which produces LCD panels which display consistent, accurate colour from all viewing angles, and AMVA, which produces panels that offer an extra-high contrast ratio, and less colour washout than earlier technologies.
Panel sizes are easy enough to understand. Anything between a 24-inch to a 27-inch monitor is great for design, and 32-inch is even better, but you can rest assured that with their slim bezels and form factor, landscape aspect and lower energy demands, today’s professional displays won’t dominate a desktop or the electricity bill.
A 32-inch widescreen monitor can offer creatives working with video and VFX a true cinematic aspect ratio, for more accurate editing or compositing. Graphic, UX and web designers will benefit from being able to compare project or page iterations side by side. On some BenQ monitors, such as the BL3201PT Designer Monitor, the unique Dual Aspect Ratio feature takes this further, able to divide the 32 inch widescreen into two virtual 19-inch displays with 4:3 or 5:4 viewing areas.
Bit depth of panels is also worth knowing. A 10-bit panel can create more than one billion colours- 64 times the amount of colour available on an 8-bit panel. Such a panel will guarantee silky smooth colour gradation in your design work.
Other screen technology includes BenQ’s ‘colour-shift free’ which it ships with its AMVA+ monitors. This reduces the visibility of colour washout, or colour shift, delivering consistent colour uniformity and true colour definition from left, right, above and below. Other innovations, such as Flicker-Free and Low Blue Light, are dedicated to reducing eye fatigue.
Resolution is key in any monitor decision, but it’s another opportunity for acronym-based confusion. As a graphics professional, you’re likely to be looking at a screen with at least 1,920 x 1,080 (Full HD) native resolution, or better still a Quad HD (QHD) screen, which is four times HD resolution at 2,560x1,440 pixels.
Moving from a standard computer monitor to Full HD or QHD also means greater pixel density – more pixels per inch – for much improved detail, and more open working environments. WQHD monitors combine QHD with widescreen aspects, for even greater screen real estate.
For really high-end design applications though, and you’re looking for a monitor that is future proof, maybe 4K Ultra HD is what you’re after.
4K UHD resolution (3840x2160) is becoming a popular choice for video professionals, given the growth in UHD content being made for streaming TV channels. Working at a native resolution on 4K content on a screen with a cinematic aspect ratio will really enhance your workflow. Even if you’re more focused on still images, such a leap in resolution is worth it for even higher pixel density during picture editing and review.
Colour management is another key deciding factor, and again workflow has a part to play in that decision. Monitors are rated by colour gamut, the range of colours and brightness they can display, while colour spaces are standard profiles that work with all the different devices in the design chain. The default display standard for photography, graphic design and web design is sRGB, but other colour spaces for designers and photographers, such as Adobe RGB, are able to map a wider range of colours. For colour-faithful photo-editing, a monitor fully supporting such colour spaces, such as BenQ SW2700PT, should be on the shopping list.
If you’re working with broadcast television, you’ll be looking for a monitor that is designed to support the Rec. 709 colour space. This is the industry standard for HDTV, and will ensure that every colour in your project is faithfully represented with optimal precision. If you want to start editing for HDR however, you’ll need to look for a display that supports Rec. 2020, the next standard for wide colour gamut devices.
Contrast ratios, the ratio of the luminance of the brightest colour (white) to that of the darkest colour (black) that the display is capable of producing, is another colour concern; it determines how well you can distinguish between colours, and so the higher the ratio the better.
Some monitors, such as those in BenQ’s Colour Management Monitor range mentioned above, also come with a screen hood. While at first this may seem like a style accessory, there are sound reasons for shading. Ambient light and glare can often affect your ability to perceive colour on the monitor display. The SW Series includes a detachable shading hood made specifically for glare reduction in environments where it’s hard to control ambient light. So if your work is colour critical it’s worth making sure nothing upsets the balance.
The best monitor for design and art - and how to choose it
So which monitor is the right one for your particular strand of digital creativity? First you need to assemble a quick checklist based on your own workflow.
Creatives working with high quality design for print have yet another colour space to concern them when it comes to output, in the form of CMYK. The PG2401PT (below), the first product in BenQ Pro Graphics Series, supports 100% of this colour space for printing, as well as 99% of Adobe RGB. It also features a 14-bit 3D Look Up Table (LUT) which improves colour and greyscale reproduction with these colour spaces. BenQ PG series monitors are Printing-Industry Colour Certified (G7/Fogra) according to international ISO standards.
We’ve already mentioned the SW2700PT (below), which is BenQ’s dedicated 27-inch wide QHD display for photographers. It features IPS technology and a pixel density of 109ppi at its native 2560x1440 resolution. It offers 99% coverage of Adobe RGB, as well as sRGB, and features a 14-bit 3D LUT for RGB colour blending accuracy. Unique features such as a one-click mode with which preview colour photos in black-and-white before adding effects, and a shading hood add to the package.
A web/UX designer won’t normally require Adobe RGB, so if your monitor supports 100% sRGB like the BenQ BL2711U does, that’s all you’ll ever need. Video editors working on HD broadcasting should also look at selecting this 2K QHD model as it fully supports the Rec. 709 colour space. Are you likely to be demonstrating work on screen to a number of clients? If yes, then you need the wide viewing angle that the IPS technology of this monitor will provide.
The expansive 178° viewing angle of the BenQ BL3200PT Designer Monitor is similarly ideal for on-screen reviewing with multiple people in the room, and with its 32-inch 2K QHD 10-bit IPS display, is a great workhorse for a wide variety of artists. It has dedicated modes for CAD/CAM and animation that enhance aspects of the models and objects you are working on for greater detail. It offers 100% coverage of the sRGB colour space, while for video teams, it has the support required for Rec. 709.
If you want to go bigger and wider, choose a 4K BenQ monitor, such as the BL3201PT (below) or the PD3200U, as the higher native resolution makes it easier to work in multiple editing windows or on multiple applications at one time. The latter Designer Monitor also offers Darkroom Mode, which creates the optimal setting for work in darker post-processing environments; it adjusts the brightness and contrast of images, giving clarity and sharpness to details.
For the ultimate in post production, consider the PV3200PT (below). This monitor features 32-inch 4K UHD IPS technology and 100% Rec. 709 colour space for photo and video editing. It is Technicolor Color certified and features a 14-bit 3d LUT, ensuring you’ll being working with the most accurate colours possible, while an on-site verification process guarantees the performance of the monitor in terms of brightness uniformity, Delta-E and Gamma curves.