Published Jun 10, 2022 11:00 AM
Just as every great design contains a gestalt of rhythm, harmony, color, and form, the best monitors for graphic design unify disparate qualities and features, that sum up to become a perfectly honed tool for creation. In one day a modern graphic designer might tweak a web icon in Illustrator, adjust a RAW photo’s color palette in Photoshop, prepare a brochure for CMYK print in Indesign, and add type to a 3D animated TV advert. It might be surprising to the uninitiated, but these different tasks will often demand different color spaces and screen specializations, some of which most regular computer monitors wouldn’t be able to touch: queue graphic design monitors.
Top monitors for graphic design do a great job with accurate colors in a wide color space so that you don’t have to speculate as to how a T-shirt will look when it comes back from the printer. Their screens get bright enough so that lighter colors will pop and darker colors will recede into true blacks while lighting up uniformly without flicker. Great monitors for graphic design will also be highly detailed, with resolutions above HD, so that you can’t distinguish individual pixels with the naked eye. Most design monitors are also large, with generous accuracy across viewing angles, and good connectivity.
If you’re looking for an impeccable monitor for graphic design, it’s all about control. The best monitors for graphic design are well-honed tools that give you the control to take mastery over your vision, and these are our picks:
How we chose the best monitors for graphic design
As a digital artist and graphic designer myself, I love it when large projects take me into the weeds. Whether I’m matching a color from Photoshop swatches to a Sherwin Williams color book to determine what color we should paint an exhibit wall or I’m restoring photographs to incorporate into slides, it always comes down to the details. When I bought my last laptop, I spent about a month scouring the internet comparing screen quality, so when writing this list I wanted to make sure that I did the topic justice. I researched numerous monitors from leading manufacturers, taking into consideration professional reviews, peer suggestions, and user impressions, and then comparing the specs to classics and brand new models alike. I outlined some of the criteria I looked for below:
Color accuracy is the central issue in a good monitor for graphic design. Mastery of any art form requires strong intuition phrased against precise sensitivity and, much as a chef with a bad thermometer could undercook the roast duck, a digital designer that’s using a monitor with bad color accuracy will get imprecise prints. Color accuracy is affected by lots of variables, including consistency, gamut, and bit depth. But one of the first metrics to find when assessing a screen is its Delta E metric (ΔE <X), which measures the difference between two colors in a quantified color space—generally, the CIEDE2000. This metric measures accuracy in mathematically quantified color space used in color science. Smaller scores signify less space between an input and standard. A Delta E score of under 1 is generally considered unperceivable, while a score of under 3 is generally unperceivable to most laymen. Monitors with very low Delta E scores, such as ΔE <2, or ΔE <1, are highly accurate for color-critical work.
Color gamut measures the breadth of the color space that can be rendered on a monitor. Some color spaces do better with greens and teals, while others do better with reds, russets, and browns. Certain color standards are useful for specific scenarios. For example, sRGB is the most “basic” color space of the digital age, as it contains the standard colors used on the web, and most commonly used in web-based digital media. DCI-P3, meanwhile, is a cinema-focused color space standardized by the Digital Cinema Initiatives group. DCI-P3 offers better coverage of reds and is used in high-end HDR displays. AdobeRGB is a wider RGB space than sRGB, which extends into the more saturated greens, blues, and teals that are available on higher-end photo printers. Most great monitors for graphic design are capable of covering most of the sRGB space and usually extend into a wider Adobe RGB or DCI-P3 space.
Bit depth measures the millions or billions of possible colors displayed on a monitor. The standards you’ll want to look for are 8-Bit and 10-Bit monitors, which cover all of the colors usually available in SDR—or more (in the case of 10-Bit). For most of us, 8-Bit is good enough, but 10-Bit can be worth it in the right application.
Consistency measures how well the whole screen keeps colors accurate. Generally, monitors using IPS (In-Plane Switching) displays do a good job with consistency across the whole screen, while other options, like TN (Twisted Nematic) models, might display colors differently in the bottom and top of the screen.
Brightness and HDR compatibility go hand in hand. Brighter screens are easier to see in brighter settings. Importantly, brighter screens create more of a difference between lighter and darker colors, which is crucial for high dynamic range (HDR). The other crucial factor for HDR is a screen’s capacity for displaying very dark shades. The best HDR monitors use local dimming on dark areas, which makes for superb contrast next to super-bright areas.
Detail is the other important feature beyond color accuracy. A monitor’s resolution describes how many pixels it can display, with more pixels equaling richer detail and clarity. 4K, or 3840×2160, is fast becoming the standard for monitors for graphic design, supplanting the old HD standard of 1920×1080. 4K monitors provide enough detail that the human eye cannot make out individual pixels. 2560×1440 or WQHD is another popular standard. Some monitors now go well above 4K as well. I use 4K and love it, so where possible I picked 4K monitors or above.
Things to consider before buying one of the best monitors for graphic design
There’s a lot that goes into picking a monitor, and it’s not all just specs. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
As with most technology that is purpose-built for a specific niche task, the best monitors for graphic design get expensive quickly. While you shop, it’s important to consider your budget alongside the specs you want. While a leading design studio that works in color-critical animated type for Hollywood will need a true best-in-class reference monitor, a designer working with web-based icons won’t need a monitor with a veritable V10 engine. It’s a good idea to set a budget goal before you wade into the market.
Most great monitors for graphic design aren’t also purpose-built for gaming. Yet most of them will still do a decent job with it. Most good gaming monitors have a quick screen refresh rate above 60Hz (Hertz)—a common screen refresh rate for the IPS monitors that excel at color accuracy. If games are for you, look for a monitor with at least 60Hz, but probably more. Some monitors also have nice features like adaptive sync, which syncs your screen refresh rate to your graphics card, to reduce tearing and stutters.
In the modern era, it’s all about connections. The connectivity of your monitor and laptop will play an important role in your monitor’s performance. If you want to work on 4K video with zero lag on a 4K monitor, it will be important that the hardware and ports you use to connect that monitor are top quality as well. Many monitors are capable of connecting over HDMI or USB-C. If you’ll be using USB-C, consider checking whether your computer has a Thunderbolt port or one of the newest USB-C standards. Some will also want extra ports on their monitor, or the potential to daisy-chain other devices, consider these needs before you buy.
The best monitors for graphic design: Reviews & Recommendations
Best overall: ASUS ProArt Display PA279CV
Why it made the cut: With authoritative, super-accurate coverage of the sRGB digital space, a brilliant 402 nit screen, some HDR toning, and even an adaptive-sync feature, this is a super-powered monitor for digital design.
- Resolution: 4K
- Panel Type: IPS
- Display Size: 27 inches
- Refresh Rate: 60Hz
- Color accurate ΔE <2
- 100% sRGB, Calman verified for color accuracy
- Bright with some HDR coverage and good contrast
- 4K resolution
- Not the best in DCI-P3 or AdobeRGB color spaces
- Some issues with motion graphics and ghosting in game settings
ProArt is a family of ASUS tech aimed squarely at designers and digital creators. The ASUS ProArt Display PA279CV, is one of the more affordably priced middle-grade options from the series, yet it’s that middle price point that actually makes it shine as one of the best monitors out there for most graphic designers.
This is a monitor that excels for designers working in the digital space. It offers authoritative 100% coverage of the sRGB color space used in web media, with a Delta-E score of below 2. That means that the difference between digital color on this monitor and standardized digital color is imperceptibly different to all but the color-scientist expert (and maybe even them). It has a 4K resolution that’s extremely crisp and bright, with excellent contrast, and limited HDR, with 10-Bit color. With its proprietary “flicker-free” IPS panel, it’s also noticeably consistent in brightness and color across the whole panel.
The ProArt PA279CV is a great 4K panel for anyone designing for the digital space; what it’s missing is great authority for print and film design. The panel’s color gamut falls short in the DCI-P3 color space and the AdobeRGB color space. Still, its impressive accuracy in sRGB actually outshines some more expensive monitors for those specializing in web design, where those additional color gamuts could confuse the process. With adaptive sync features that will also appeal to gamers, the moderately priced ProArt is an authoritative choice for web designers that doesn’t try to be too much.
Best professional: Apple 32-inch Pro Display
Why it made the cut: This 6K XDR (extreme dynamic range) monitor is packed with innovation, with 1600 nits peak-brightness and dark local-dimming, exceptional contrast, and an extra-wide color gamut, this is a true pro-grade monitor.
- Resolution: 6K
- Panel Type: IPS
- Display Size: 28.3 inches (32-inch diagonal)
- Refresh Rate: 60Hz
- Extremely high resolution
- Extremely high brightness and contrast
- Excellent local dimming for deep black
- Extra-wide color gamut in DCI-P3 and AdobeRGB with a Delta-E score below 1
- Less than 95% of sRGB color gamut coverage
- Very expensive
- Stand and adapter are sold separately (and very expensive)
Dazzling is the word when it comes to the Apple 32-inch Pro Display. This true professional-grade monitor doesn’t shy away from extraordinary. With a price tag that puts it out of most people’s reach, it’s still a great choice for design studios that want an authoritative display that will do a good job with pretty much anything you throw at it. (I mean, if you’re already dropping thousands on Apple’s new Mac Studio desktop for creatives, what’s a few thousand more?)
Looking at the Pro Display, you’ll immediately notice the monitor’s jaw-dropping vibrance and detail. With a 6K screen, this monitor is incredibly pixel rich, sporting a resolution that would have sounded like fiction a few years ago. That resolution is put to good use, with exceptional brightness and precise local dimming, for one of the highest contrast HDR experiences around (Apple likes to call it XDR). This gorgeous contrast supplements a deep propensity for color. The display clocks nearly 99% coverage of the DCI-P3 color space and nearly 97% of AdobeRGB. Its Delta-E score is below 1, meaning that this vast color book is also authoritatively accurate.
While the Pro Display is a feat of engineering and one of the best monitors around, it’s not … shall we say … a populist’s monitor. It’s hard not to use the word exceptional when describing the Pro Display, and the hefty price tag is no different. The monitor’s comically expensive Pro Stand doesn’t exactly sweeten the deal, costing you around $1,000 more for tilting. The monitor also has a limited sub-95% coverage of the sRGB color space, which isn’t as important for some professional tasks but does come into play when you’re designing for the web. All in all, the Pro Display is worth it if you have the budget and if you need exceptional color accuracy for print and film.
Best for gaming and graphic design: GIGABYTE M27Q 27
Why it made the cut: At a value price, this fast gaming monitor is also an impressive beast for graphic design, with deep contrast and the best AdobeRGB coverage of any monitor at its price point.
- Resolution: WQHD (2560×1440)
- Panel Type: IPS
- Display Size: 28.94 inches
- Refresh Rate: 170Hz
- Extra-wide color gamut with 95% AdobeRGB
- Good contrast
- Super-fast screen refresh rate and free sync capable of high frame rates gaming
- Flicker-free tech
Unleash a volley of favicons with this crossover graphic design and gaming monitor from GIGABYTE. If you moonlight as Zagreus, perpetually trying to break out of the underworld, while spending your day detailing kernings in Adobe Illustrator, this screen is made for you.
With this monitor, GIGABYTE has done an amazing job of blending good things. Its extra-wide color gamut hits about 95% of AdobeRGB, while its 350 nit brightness and 8-Bit color handle HDR-level contrast with some confidence, even if it doesn’t have perks like local darkening. Simultaneously its IPS panel revs to the tune of 170Hz with AMD FreeSync Premium, delivering a blistering screen refresh time that will outpace anything else on this list in terms of frames per second.
The M27Q doesn’t have a lot of drawbacks. Some might be turned off by its WQHD resolution, which seems like a faltering step now that the market has largely moved from HD to 4K, but the resolution is still pixel-rich enough to produce a great image. On a 27-inch monitor, most people won’t notice individual pixels. Otherwise, with its high delivery of AdobeRGB and super-quick refresh time, this is the best gaming monitor for graphic design out there.
Best reference: Eizo ColorEdge CG319X
Why it made the cut: With a gamut that covers 99% of AdobeRGB and 98% of DCI-P3, a generous 31-inch 4K IPS panel, true deep blacks, and a few pro features, this is an exceptional reference monitor that excels for all types of graphic design.
- Resolution: 4K (4096×2160)
- Panel Type: IPS
- Display Size: 28.94 inches
- Refresh Rate: 60Hz
- Exceptional clarity and color coverage with true blacks
- Self-calibrate monitor’s color settings with built-in sensor
- ColorNavigator network sets the color profile across the company network
- Accurate reproduction of multiple color spaces, including CMYK, ISO-coated, Rec.2020, DCI-P3, and AdobeRGB
- Very expensive
- Not as bright as some
Behind the “Stranger Things” intro sequence, behind the Geico logo’s surprise appearance after the advert punchline, there’s most likely a reference monitor. The Eizo ColorEdge CG319X is a pro-level reference monitor that’s precise enough to rely on when color grading is of the utmost importance. Designed for video editing and CGI, this monitor is also an excellent pro-grade tool for graphic design.
The ColorEdge offers a lot of colors. With an extra-wide color gamut, it delivers 99% AdobeRGB, 98% of the DCI-P3, and Rec.2020, while also doing a stellar job with the majority of what can be represented in print CMYK and ISO-coated printing. It easily cycles between different color profiles and can even be calibrated across a network, so big studios using Eizos can be sure that their projects are consistent, even when bouncing results from multiple computers. The monitor even comes with a physical sensor that automatically monitors its color profile. Its contrast ratio is 1500:1, segueing with 10-Bit color to produce deep blacks and radiant lights in over a billion hues.
The Eizo ColorEdge puts a premium on reliability. With exceptional color delivery across multiple color spaces, this reference monitor is worth it for studios working on complex color-grading, national print campaigns, or animating an intro sequence for a movie. Where accuracy counts, the monitor’s sensor and calibration distinguish it. It doesn’t have the HDR range or the 6K resolution that’s found in the Apple 32-inch Pro Display; rather, it’s an investment in reliability. If HDR is what you’re after, Eizo does make an HDR reference monitor, which is held to the same standards of perfectionism as this monitor but its price point of around $30,000 makes it unaffordable to all but Hollywood.
Best budget: SAMSUNG U28E590D
Why it made the cut: With a 4K resolution, solid 10-Bit color, adaptive free-sync, and a 1ms response time, the relatively affordable U28E590D is a great crossover monitor for digital designers that spend their evenings streaming shows or playing games.
- Resolution: 4K
- Panel Type: TN UHD (Twisted Nematic)
- Display Size: 28 inches
- Refresh Rate: 60Hz
- Good contrast with rich darks
- Excellent color for a TN panel
- Free-sync with a quick TN response time and good motion graphics
- Great detailed resolution
- Issues with color accuracy in different parts of the screen and viewing angles
- No HDCP 2.2 means some movies won’t play
Often touted by reviewers as possibly the best affordable monitor for graphic design around, the SAMSUNG U28E590D is a mixed bag. While the monitor is a solid choice for graphic designers who stick to internet-based content, it isn’t the best choice for more expansive projects that bleed into print, instead, it’s a great crossover monitor that does a solid job for both digital design, media, and gaming.
There’s no doubt that this monitor is an impressively good buy for most users. It totes a 4K screen, with close to 400 nits of brightness, and sports a 10-Bit color palette that does an especially good job for a Twisted Nematic (TN) screen, even if it doesn’t beat out a good IPS. That TN panel also means this monitor gets the free-throw every time gaming, with a free-sync enabled 60Hz screen and a better-than-average pixel response. But that TN panel also creates some issues: It has limited viewing angles and suffers from imprecise color at different points on the screen.
All in all, the U28E590D is a strong choice for anyone who works in digital design but wants a strong monitor for watching movies and playing games. While its color space is somewhat inaccurate compared to others on this list, especially as it renders on different parts of the screen, it does a decent job with sRGB, even if it doesn’t offer much more. Its crossover potential is huge, though; with FreeSync and good pixel response, it takes advantage of its 60Hz refresh rate, while its vibrant and detailed screen will be appreciated in any task.
Q: How much do monitors for graphic designers cost?
Monitors for graphic design vary in price considerably. A budget graphic design monitor might cost around $300, while a state-of-the-art reference monitor could cost a design studio $30,000.
Q: Are curved monitors good for designers?
Since curved monitors allow you to easily spread files out without having to use multiple screens, they can be of great use to graphic designers. Whether a curved monitor is right for you is your choice alone. The ViewSonic Color Pro is a great curved monitor for graphic design.
Q: Do I need a 4K monitor for graphic design?
4K monitors offer four times the pixel count of HD (1920×1080), this can achieve greater detail and smoother images than HD can, especially on bigger screens. While this can translate to greater detail and control, it isn’t necessarily needed for graphic design. People were achieving great design before HD was even around. Still, 4K screens offer impressive resolution that’s smooth and detailed, it’s certainly recommended.
Q: How do I calibrate my monitor for graphic design?
Windows comes with a calibration tool which can be found in the control panel under display. However, for best results, you’ll want to pick up a monitor calibration tool, such as the Datacolor SpyderX Pro, which senses the color on your monitor through a lens and helps you properly calibrate it. Some high-end reference monitors have color calibration sensors built in.
Q: What is the ideal monitor size for graphic design?
The ideal size monitor is the one that feels right to you, but we recommend 28-inch monitors as a good base. This size is roomy enough to feel impressive if you’re moving over from a laptop screen and will allow you to keep multiple windows open at once, yet won’t feel too big for most desks.
Final thoughts on the best monitors for graphic design
A good monitor is the window through which you can control your digital world. If you’re someone who takes digital design seriously, whether a professional, a hobbyist, or somewhere in between, you’ll want the truest color and richest screen there is. The best monitors for graphic design are tools that are precise enough to rely on—whether you’re designing for a digital brand’s stylebook, branding printed packaging for groceries, or working on the title sequence for a movie.
If you’re a pro-level designer investing in a statement piece for your new office, the Apple 32-inch Pro Display is one of the most advanced screens out there and delivers most of the tools and precision you’d find in a $30,000 reference monitor like the Eizo Prominence. If you want a solid design monitor for print that will also supply your nightly gaming habit, check out the GIGABYTE M27Q 27, which sports a 170Hz refresh rate with 95% Adobe RGB. Finally, I recommend the ASUS ProArt PA279CV as the best monitor for the majority of digital designers working on the web because of its excellent color accuracy and authoritative coverage of the sRGB color space used in web content.