The search for the best monitor for retouching can be hard. Having just completed my own search for a new monitor I know firsthand just how frustrating and confusing it can be. We get bogged down in the technical specifications — often resulting in a million google Chrome tabs open just to keep it all straight.
Basing the list on what a professional or semi-professional retoucher should consider in their monitor needs, I’ve compiled a list of the best monitors for three levels of shoppers. This allows you to have options depending on where you are professionally and in business!
When shopping for a monitor as a retoucher, there are a few things to consider. It’s important to be paying attention to the right specifications so you don’t get a monitor that doesn’t meet your needs. So what are the ‘right’ specifications to consider?
In the land of color for retouching, there are two winners: sRGB and Adobe RGB 1998. sRGB is the standard color gamut for the web. Adobe RGB is the closest color gamut we have to CMYK. Having a 100% (or 99%) color coverage of sRGB is an absolute bare minimum requirement for any display you retouch on.
The best-case scenario for your monitor will be to have complete sRGB coverage and no less than 80% Adobe RGB coverage. This will be important should you find yourself with files outputting to both print and web.
There are three main types of panel technologies for monitors: IPS, VA, and TN. Each of these panels offers different benefits, but only one type is truly the best pick for a monitor for photo editing.
While TN (twisted nematic) panels have the fastest refresh rates, minimal motion blur, and are perfect for gaming or video, they are not a good choice for color.
VA (vertical alignment) panels are some of the oldest technology and are the type most commonly used in ‘general-use’ displays. While they sport the best contrast and image depth, they lack high response times and good viewing angles.
The best monitor for photo editing will ideally be IPS. IPS is a type of LED/LCD panel that allows for the greatest viewing angles and best color — the gold standard in the world of displays. While they are the most expensive, the benefits for color, viewing angles, and decent performance make them the optimal choice for retouching monitors.
Color calibrated monitors are a must and so when looking for the best monitor for photo editing there is only one display shape optimal for photo editing: flat. Curved displays will do little good for retouchers. This is because their curved shape prevents a color calibrator from laying flat on the surface — keeping it from making a correct calibration.
You’re more than welcome to get a curved monitor if the monitor has built-in color calibration (some do)! It simply means you’ll be color calibrating by hand — manually — which could result in a less accurate calibration.
Your display’s resolution is how clearly the image on the screen is presented. The higher your monitor’s resolution, the clearer the display — this is because of pixel density. A full HD resolution sits at 1920x1080, a QHD (Quad HD) is 2560 x 1440, and a 4k resolution at 3840 x 2160.
We can throw the 1080p monitors right out the window in our quest for the best monitor for photo editing. Images and text aren’t nearly as sharp, there’s less workspace, and there’s plenty of affordable QHD and 4k displays out there to choose 1080p on price.
4k presents its own set of pros and cons. While 4k allows for far more detail, the scaling on a 4k monitor can be a pain. Cursors are often too tiny, the custom scaling reveals blurred buttons and text, and if you need to scale you’re losing the biggest benefit to a larger screen - more space to work!
QHD happens to be my favorite sweet spot. Displays that are too large to get overwhelming because of where I sit in relation to my monitors. Too small and I can’t work. On A QHD I can get crystal clear images with great detail.
Since QHD is sort of a niche market, it means that these screens often align with high color accuracy, large viewing angles, and I can dedicate more graphic card space to running Photoshop or Lightroom.
The size of your screen will ultimately depend on your own personal preference and workflow. However, I recommend that you go no smaller than 21” and no bigger than 32” for most desktop setups. My personal preference is two 27” displays — big enough for me to have a proper look at the images on my screen but not so big as to be overwhelming when I pull up Netflix.
The contrast ratio of your monitor for photo editing is important and not to be overlooked. There are two types of ratios, static and dynamic. For our purposes, we want to focus on the static contrast ratio. The static contrast ratio is the ratio of the brightest white luminance to the blackest black the system can produce.
The higher the contrast ratio, the more gradations between the tones. Any photo editing monitor that has a static ratio above 800:1 would meet the bare minimum. Here is another area in which the higher the number, the better off you are. Most photo editing monitor manufacturers like BenQ and Eizo offer contrast ratios well above the bare minimum.
There are two types of screen finish to be aware of. Matte finish displays cut down on unwanted reflections and glare. This benefit does have some negatives: there is a reduction in contrast and color vibrancy as well as a slight reduction in sharpness.
Glossy screens hold better vibrancy and contrast— and they are sharper — but are extremely reflective. Any strong ambient or direct light falling on the monitor can cause bad reflections.
So what’s the best monitor for photo editing? Let’s get right down to it.
For our list, we removed any curved displays. Color calibrating by hand is tricky and often less accurate than software (such as Spyder or XRite) and so for ease of use, we kept it simplified. It’s also important to note that while Dell Ultrasharp monitors have long had an excellent reputation, they’ve failed to keep the competition at bay - allowing competitors like BenQ to take several of the top spots in the market.
When searching for the best photo editing monitors, price is definitely a consideration. However, with low prices come some compromises. These displays often lack anything more than 8bit color depth and often don’t support anything other than an sRGB color space. Here are our top three monitors for photo editing at a $300 price point - or less!
If you have the budget, buy it. This BenQ PD2700Q sits solidly at the top of our Low-Budget list for a few reasons. It boasts the longest hold time for color calibration than any of the other monitors in this section, as well as the most color gamut, color bit depth, and pixels per inch. This means you’re getting the most out of your on-screen images.
This bad boy clocks in at 29” and has thin bezels on three of its four sides in order to maximize the experience. The aspect ratio on this is 21:9 — making it easy to have multiple programs and documents open at the same time. In addition, the LG 29WK600-W comes with speakers - a rare thing to find these days!
This HP Z23n 23” display is great for small workspaces and meets our bare minimum criteria for photo editing. It has decent coverage in the sRGB spectrum and its IPS panel technology means wide viewing angles. It’s also color calibrated at the factory, so results should be good right out of the box. However, you should calibrate at least once a month when doing colorwork.
For $600 or less, we firmly believe that you should be getting complete sRGB coverage and no less than 80% AdobeRBG coverage, so in this section, we’ve included only two monitors to maximize the best bang for your buck.
Just like in our low-budget options, BenQ takes the winner’s crown again with BenQ SW2700PT. With a hard to match color gamut range and consistent color accuracy, this monitor is one of the greatest additions you can make to your workflow.
This Lenovo ThinkVision P27u display is the all-in-one package. It has slim bezels for uninterrupted viewing and sports a single USB-C cable for less desk clutter. Like the BenQ or Ezio monitors, this Lenovo comes pre-calibrated and provides the calibration report in the package. The only downside is that Lenovo has yet to disclose the bit depth of this monitor but that doesn’t seem to stop consumers from loving it.
When you have the money what monitors do you spend it on? Look no further than the following for the very best monitors for photo editing. These monitors will boast the most color gamut coverage, hold their color accuracy longer, and will give you the best bang for your (major) dollars.
This BenQ SW271 sports one of the best color gamut ranges a monitor can have for photo editing. This monitor also includes a hardware calibrator, allowing you to adjust the image processing chip inside the monitor itself, separate from the graphics processor.
Dell strikes again in the high-end monitor world with the Dell Ultrasharp UP3017. This bad boy is not only a huge 30”, but also sports the most amount of color gamuts — handy if you’re retouching not only for print and web but also do video editing. It also includes an Anti-Glare coating on the display’s surface.
At this point, you’re paying for size and a higher contrast ratio but a BenQ monitor never disappoints. This BenQ SW321C monitor will hold its color consistently, has a 16bit LUT table for better RGB blending and rendering, and features a great anti-glare panel coating.
The choice for the best monitors for photo editing is up to you, but we do hope this helps. Consider your workflow, the outputs you retouch for, and your budget, and you can’t go wrong off this list.
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