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How to Choose the Best Computer Monitor for Digital Imaging

written by: Steve Graham•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

Not all monitors are created equal. Here are some of the questions to consider when buying a computer monitor for digital imaging.

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    A small, portable laptop may be handy for emailing at the coffee shop, but not as great for touching up digital photos. Thankfully, there's an easy and possibly inexpensive solution. Most laptops (and all desktops, of course) can be plugged into an external monitor. Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help you to pick the best computer monitor for digital imaging.

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    CRT or LCD?

    This question is almost irrelevant since Liquid Crystal Displays now dominate the monitor industry. Cathode Ray Tubes (even the name sounds old) are being phased out. Still, like vinyl records, many experts still swear by CRT monitors for digital imaging. They still offer higher contrast and an infinite range of colors. Take care not to go too old-school, though. CRTs can fade over time.

    Other folks are switching to LCDs because they are brighter, bigger and lighter than CRT monitors for basically the same price.

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    Did I look at every inch of this from every angle?

    The other big advantage to CRT is seeing the same image from any angle. LCDs tend to look distorted and discolored from various angles, though the technology is rapidly improving. Be sure to look at a detailed, colorful picture from various angles when shopping for monitors.

    Then pull up a blank white page (type about:blank in the browser) and look all over the screen for tiny black spots. Those are dead pixels (assuming you made sure it's not dust), and you don't want very many of those.

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    Does size matter?

    That depends. A 15-inch display is probably not a big enough monitor for digital imaging, but only a serious professional photographer needs to spend $1,000 on a 30-inch monitor. A related spec is the aspect ratio. With so much movie viewing on computer monitors, widescreen aspect ratios are becoming more popular. But you'll actually sacrifice overall screen area with a 19-inch widescreen instead of a 19-inch monitor with standard proportions.

    Resolution is the other question. It's hard to get into too much detail without listing specs for every monitor size, but generally you want the highest resolution you can afford for your screen size. It's the two big numbers (i.e., 1300X1020) that add up to the single most important consideration.

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    What can I ignore?

    You don't need lots of connection options and fast pixel response times in a monitor for digital imaging. These are mostly factors for gamers and movie fans who don't believe in TVs.

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    Is my monitor going bad?

    Finally, after the purchase, if your colors start to look "off" after a month, don't take back the monitor. It may just need calibration. Some experts suggest calibrating every two weeks or so. Here's an article that explains how to calibrate a monitor.