5 Top Monitor Features for Creative Professionals

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So, you’re in the market for a new display and find yourself surrounded by terms such as LCD, OLED, TN, IPS, 8-bit, 10-bit, calibration, HDR, lions, tigers, and bears. Oh, my! As if these seemingly cryptic phrases aren’t confusing enough, there are other considerations, such as how big of a monitor do you need? Can you still get by with 1080, or do you need a 4K or 5K display? Do you need a dual-monitor setup? Maybe you’d like a display that has peripheral connectivity. Read below to find the top features that creative content professionals should be looking for when selecting a new monitor.

Monitor Size, Display Resolution, and PPI

Don’t be fooled. When it comes to selecting a monitor for tasks such as post-processing, size matters. Given the ever-growing resolution of images, bigger is generally better, so measure your workspace to see how large of a display it can comfortably handle. If you’re going with a Full HD (1920 x 1080) display, I wouldn’t go smaller than 21.5", and for 4K, you’ll want to go a bit bigger to notice the benefits. I’d suggest a minimum 4K display size of 27", but 31.5" will really let this resolution shine. In the 4K range, both the ViewSonic VP2785-4K 27" 16:9 4K UHD IPS Monitor and VP3268-4K 32" 16:9 4K HDR IPS Monitor have an Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) resolution, while the VP3881 38" 21:9 WQHD+ 4K Curved IPS Monitor has a resolution of 3840 x 1600. Dell also makes worthy Ultra HD displays with the UP2718Q 27" 16:9 UltraSharp 4K IPS Monitor and UP3216Q 31.5" 16:9 UltraSharp 4K UHD IPS Monitor.

ViewSonic VP3268-4K 32" 16:9 4K HDR IPS Monitor

If you’re going with 5K (5120 x 2880), I’d suggest a display of 30" or larger, although something like that could be cost-prohibitive, making the LG 27MD5KB-B UltraFine 27" 16:9 5K IPS Monitor a good starting point. If you need even greater detail, look into Dell’s UP3218K 31.5" 16:9 8K IPS Monitor and its 7680 x 4320 resolution.

Dell UP3218K 31.5" 16:9 8K IPS Monitor

I will also caution you against buying a larger display than a resolution can handle. Suppose you find a 32" Full HD display and the price is just right. While it may seem like a sure thing, check its PPI (pixels per inch). At 32", the pixels of Full HD displays start to wear thin and look blocky, which is the opposite of crisp and clear. If you want a dual-monitor setup, not only will you need the physical space, you’ll also need to make sure your system and GPU can power two or more displays.

Panel Type, Viewing Angles, and LED (Light-Emitting Diode) vs. OLED (Organic LED)

When it comes to displays, there are a few unique panel types. For creative content work, I personally would not recommend TN (Twisted Nematic) panels. They have limited viewing angles (around 90°/60°) and in most cases, can’t produce the level of color accuracy creative applications require. They also generally only represent 6-bits of color and use dithering to display all colors. Thus, TN monitors only display a limited color gamut.

IPS (In-Plane Switching) displays are solid options for creative content professionals. They are true 8-bit or 10-bit (full color reproduction with no dithering), have wider viewing angles (usually 170°/170° or higher), and can reproduce a much larger color gamut. They also offer fast response times and refresh rates.

Right LED display can lead you to believe that you’re living out your dreams in Total Recall...

MVA (Multi-Domain Vertical Alignment) panels are 8-bit and quality-wise, sit between TN and IPS for viewing angles, refresh rates, brightness, and color reproduction. PVA (Patterned Vertical Alignment) displays are like MVA, but offer high contrast ratios, and S-PVA (Super PVA) displays offer good viewing angles, fast response times, and an 8-bit color gamut with good color reproduction.

Whichever panel type you select, it’ll most likely be an LED-backlit display, which is the dominant display technology by far. However, don’t be surprised if you see OLED displays slowly creeping up. OLED technology is more common on TVs, smartphones, and tablets, and will eventually show up on computer displays. In short, LED displays use a backlight to illuminate their pixels, while OLED displays produce their own light and its brightness can be controlled on a pixel-by-pixel basis.

When compared to LEDs, OLED panels generally feature more natural colors, improved black levels, contrast ratios, viewing angles, and brightness consistency (less light leaks). OLED panels are also thinner. At present, I wouldn’t say LED or OLED is a make-or-break decision. OLED availability for monitors is limited and the right LED display can lead you to believe that you’re living out your dreams in Total Recall.

8-Bit or 10-Bit, HDR, Color Gamut, Finish, Calibration

Simply put, 10-bit displays can reproduce a far greater number of colors than an 8-bit display, at 1.07 billion versus 16.7 million. If you are opting for a 10-bit display, be aware that there are true 10-bit displays and 8-bit displays that use Frame Rate Control technology to enhance the color depth by two extra bits. Suffice it to say, it is better to go with a true 10-bit display as compared to 8-bit + FRC. For even more accurate color, purchase a display with a built-in look-up table (LUT) that can store color calibration information. The ViewSonic VP2785-4K is an example of a true 10-bit display, while the the ViewSonic VP3881 has 14-bit and 3D LUTs that support a palette of up to 4.39 trillion colors, and Dell’s UP3216Q is factory-calibrated with Delta E<2, has a user-accessible hardware LUT, and includes calibration software for use with a separately sold X-Rite i1Display Pro colorimeter.

ViewSonic VP3881 38" 21:9 WQHD+ 4K Curved IPS Monitor

If your display supports High Dynamic Range (HDR), it won’t create new physical colors, but the increased brightness will enable more shades, gradients, and nuances for its 16.7 million or 1.07 billion colors. If you’re considering an HDR display, you’ll need to be familiar with the HDR technologies out there (HDR10 and Dolby Vision), and you’ll need a GPU that supports HDR, such as one from NVIDIA’s Maxwell or Pascal family, including the GTX 960, 980, 1070, and 1080. The content you’re working with must also support HDR. The ViewSonic VP3881, VP2785-4K, and VP3268-4K all support HDR10.

ViewSonic VP2785-4K 27" 16:9 4K UHD IPS Monitor

Do you need support for a specific color gamut, such as sRGB, Adobe RGB, or DCI-P3? sRGB is generally the default color space for non-critical imaging and web-based work. It is a current standard of sorts, especially for playback and online viewing, but is not the widest of color spaces for printing or video editing. If you’re printing photographs, it is best to have a monitor that can cover all the wider Adobe RGB color space, or at least 98-99% of it, to ensure accurate colors when proofing and printing. For cine applications DCI-P3 is the more common color space to aspire to, and digital cinema projectors can display this color space in its entirety, as well as iMac Retina displays 2015 and later.

ViewSonic’s VP3881, VP2785-4K, and VP3268-4K are all factory-calibrated for Delta E<2 and include a detailed calibration report for sRGB, EBU, SMPTE-C, Rec. 709, and DICOM-SIM color spaces. The Dell UP3218K supports 100% of the Adobe RGB, sRGB, and Rec. 709 color gamuts, plus 98% of DCI-P3, and LG’s 27MD5KB-B supports 99% of the DCI-P3 color spectrum. Dell’s UP3216Q 100% Rec. 709, 87% DCI-Pe, 99.5% Adobe RGB, and 100% sRGB gamuts, and the UP2718Q offers wide color coverage with 100% of the Adobe RGB, sRGB, and Rec. 709 spectrums, plus 97.7% DCI-PE and 76.9% Rec. 2020.

Dell UP3216Q 31.5" 16:9 UltraSharp 4K UHD IPS Monitor

One final question: do you want a matte/anti-glare or a glossy display? A matte display helps cut down on glare and reflections, but at the cost of reduced contrast and color intensity. While glossy screens are more prone to glare, reflections, fingerprints, and smudges, they produce a greater perceived color depth and vibrancy.

Aspect Ratio (16:9, 21:9)

Aspect ratios are straightforward. Gone are the days of 4:3 displays, so how wide do you need to go? 21:9 displays are much wider than 16:9 displays, allowing more content to fit on the screen at once. If you need to keep a greater number of windows open side-by-side, consider a 21:9 display, although 16:9 will be fine for most.

Connectivity & Accessories

If you could use some extra connectivity, think about using a display with an integrated hub, which can provide users with USB Type-A, Type-B, and Type-C, Thunderbolt™, HDMI, DisplayPort, and Mini DisplayPort connectivity. All the displays mentioned in this article feature hubs of varying configurations for USB Type-A, Type-B, Type-C, and Thunderbolt 3. The LG 27MD5KB-B UltraFine also has an integrated webcam, mic, and dual 5W stereo speakers.

LG 27MD5KB-B UltraFine 27" 16:9 5K IPS Monitor

If your creative content work is über-critical, you may want to buy a hood to help block some of the ambient light coming in from the windows, thus affecting how your display looks at different times of the day.

While this article does focus on a few displays, there are plenty more of available options to suit your needs. Do you have a preferred display for your creative content work? Feel free to comment below.

12 Comments

John-Paul, what a great article!  Have things changed in 3 years to justify writing another one?

Great reference article. 

One thing I would add about video editing: I was told that you should look for displays that support multiples of your project's framerates otherwise you will see stuttering. So while almost all monitors support 60 Hz which is good for 30 fps editing, for 24 fps editing you should use 48 or 72 Hz monitor refresh rates and for 25 fps use 50 or 75 Hz. Information about all supported refresh rates is sometimes hard to find (even in the otherwise excellent B&H description), most of the time you need to check the manual to be sure. 

Being from a non-60Hz region — most of the world is — makes this a somewhat more important problem...

Absolutely brilliant article. Sumarising the info like this definitely makes research much easier.

You've listed many excellent monitors, but I think there's one amazing monitor that's been missed from this list. The Asus PA329Q. It doesn't just hit the 32" / 2160p / 99.5% Adobe RGB / 90% DCI-P3 / 10bit (14bit LUT) mark. It's thin bezel makes it quite a bit more attractive than the competition, plus it's also slightly better priced than others in that same top-tier bracket.

Thanks so much for the review though. Definitely one of the better summaries I've seen for professional grade monitor recommendations...

Hi Clint, glad the article was helpful! Also, thanks for pointing out the Asus PA329Q. Take care!

Clint, I just wanted you to know that because of your comment I investigated the PA329Q and decided to purchase it. I am pleased with it.  I set it up in my study with an old computer and a new $90 graphics card running a continuous random display of photographs, both mine and my family's.  It brings me joy.  My calibration seemed to change the display very little so it would have been satisfactory out of the box.  

The software I'm using is Fastpictureviewer Pro.

Thank you.

Hello, are you 100% sure the VP 2785-4K is a 10 bit panel and not 8bit+FRC ?

thanks

Yes, it is a 10-Bit Panel.

Thanks!

Felix, you are correct.  The VP2785-4K is not true 10-bit.  It is 8-bit + FRC.

This is a good article on displays.  I am a bit disappointed that it did not cover how to buy a display for people who are using PC based Adobe and On1 products. These applications do not seem to support 4k display very well as most of the menu text becomes so small it is unreadable.

So it seems we are still stuck with using displays no greater than 2560 x 1600 in order to be able to read application text menus

Hi Norm, I have a 32" 4K display, but run it 2560 x 1440 mode to make the text larger. My understanding is that while it makes the text larger, everything else displays at 3840 x 2160. Do the displays you're seeking out operate in a similar fashion?

What do you think about the BenQ SW271 27" for Color Grading? I don't see any BenQ monitor recommended, why?

Hi Hernán,

I was only able to focus on a few monitors in this article, but there are plenty more available to suit your needs. As per your question, the BenQ SW271 looks suitable for color grading.

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