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The best monitors for photo editing in 2020: we explain size, resolution and color

Best monitors for photo editing
(Image credit: Future)

Choosing the best monitors for photo editing is important. It's not just about your own viewing comfort and satisfaction. It's essential that you get a proper rendition of the detail, color and contrast in your photos. When you're editing image, you only have what you see on the screen to go by – and if your monitor isn't up to the job, you can easily end up correcting the monitor's faults when your photos are perfectly fine.

In this guide we've picked some of the best monitors on the market that prioritize resolution, color accuracy, brightness consistency and contrast to display your photos properly.

We appreciate that not every photographer wants to spend hundreds or thousands on a high-end display, so we've split our guide into two parts:

1. Affordable upgrades for photographers who want to replace an older monitor with one that's usefully better but without spending a fortune.

2. High-end, high-performance monitors designed for more demanding work and aimed at enthusiasts, artists and professionals.

Monitor basics

Here are the key specifications and technologies you need to look for in a monitor you're going to use for photo editing.

• Screen size: Bigger is better, but a 27-inch screen is about as far as we'd go. It's a good compromise between screen space and a comfortable working distance, but a 24-inch display is fine if you work quite close to the screen, or even the 21.5-inch display of a smaller iMac model.

• Resolution: Cheaper screens tend to max out at full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution. That's fine in a smaller screen, but at larger sizes (20-inch and above). You'll start to see the dots. If you can, look for high resolution 4K or Mac 'Retina' screens is that you don't see the pixels. Photos look beautiful and you don't have to zoom in to see if they're sharp.

• Aspect ratio: Most modern screens have a 'widescreen' 16:9 aspect ratio. This corresponds to current video standards and also gives a little space at the side of the screen for tools and palettes when you're editing regular still images. Once you've used a 16:9 screen, you won't go back to an old 'narrow' 4:3 display.

• IPS screen technology: IPS (in-plane switching) screens have much better colour and contrast consistency than older, cheaper, older TN (twisted nematic) panels. All the screens in our premium list use IPS technology. 

• Graphics card: When buying a high-end display, it’s important to make sure your computer’s graphics are up to the task of displaying 4K resolution smoothly. Most recent PCs or Macs should have the necessary firepower to run Photoshop on a 4K screen, but older computers may not.

• Color gamut: The base level standard for all displays and devices is sRGB. You can’t go wrong with this because every device will support it. However, in commercial publishing, where the demands are higher, they like to use the larger Adobe RGB color space. High-end photographic monitors can display most/nearly all of the Adobe RGB gamut.

• USB-C connection: this makes it easy to hook up your monitor to a computer with USB-C output. We have a separate guide to the best USB-C monitors for photo editing

Affordable upgrades

If your current display is a few years old, there's a good chance you can upgrade it usefully to a bigger, higher-resolution screen with better contrast and color, without spending a fortune. You won't get some of the more advanced features of premium monitors for photographers, but you will almost certainly get a screen a lot better than the one you're replacing.

Best monitors for photographers: Dell UltraSharp U2414H

(Image credit: Dell/Adorama)

1. Dell UltraSharp U2414H

This inexpensive 24-inch Full HD monitor might be all you need

Screen size: 23.8 inches | Resolution: 1920 x 1080 | Aspect ratio: 16:9 | HDMI inputs: 2 | Display ports: 1

Affordable
IPS display
Generous direction adjustments
FHD in a 24inch screen is marginal

If you want a useful step up in specifications from our old monitor and the reassurance of a well known brand, you've found it. The Dell UltraSharp U2414H is not the cheapest 24-inch monitor you can buy, but there is such a thing as false economy, and this Dell does give photographers a good combination of performance and value. The Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution is about as low as we'd want to go in a 24-inch monitor, but if you can accept a little visible pixellation if you look hard enough, the Dell's IPS image quality, wide viewing angles and affordable price point might win you over.

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2. LG 27UD88-W 27-inch 4K USB-C monitor

The best 'affordable' monitor for photo-editing, though still not cheap

USB-C: Yes | Screen size: 27 inches | Resolution: 3840 x 2160 | Aspect ratio: 16:9 | HDMI inputs: 2 | Display ports: 1 | Release date: 2018

FreeSync
Crisp display
Affordable
One-year warranty

The excellent 27-inch LG 27UD88-W might look expensive compared to what you see in a computer store, but if you can afford the extra it's worth it. The 4K resolution is ideal for photographers, and the Color Calibration Pro tool boosts the colour accuracy of the monitor, which is essential for anyone who is looking for high-end photography capabilities but at a competitive price. Thanks to the USB-C port you can easily hook up your laptop and charge it as well, all with one cable.

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3. Acer H277HU 27-inch USB-C monitor

A top-class USB-C monitor for photographers

USB-C: Yes | Screen size: 27 inches | Resolution: 2560 x 1440 | Aspect ratio: 16:9 | HDMI inputs: 1 | Display ports: 1 | Release date: 2016

Affordable
Looks good
Not 4K
Not for professionals

The Acer H277HU is another very good budget USB-C for photographers and image editing. Our only issue with this screen is that for all its 27-inch size, it has a relatively modest 2560 x 1440 resolution, so if you look hard enough you'll see it's a bit more 'dotty' than a genuine 4K screen. But it's a great choice if you want a bigger display, while still keeping the price down. It also comes with a HDMI and DisplayPort, plus that all-important USB-C port for connecting your laptop.

Premium monitors for photographers

(Image credit: Benq)

4. BenQ SW271

A monitor that's hard to fault - it's our go-to screen for photo editing

Size: 27in | Ratio: 16x9 | Resolution: 3840x2160 | Brightness: 350cd/m2 | Contrast ratio: 1000:1 | sRGB gamut (claimed): 100% | Adobe RGB gamut (claimed): 99%

Rigid stand
Shading hood included
Excellent performance
Slight green cast before calibration

This BenQ screen has a 27-inch panel size with a 4K UHD native resolution of 3840x2160 pixels. It also boasts the usual 10-bit color depth, equivalent to more than a billion colours. It’s well built with a sturdy case and a particularly rigid stand, which keeps the monitor wobble-free throughout the range of its tilt, swivel, height and pivot adjustments.

Factory preset sRGB and Adobe RGB modes are available, along with an HDR mode. BenQ claims 100% coverage of the sRGB range and an impressive 99% for Adobe RGB. Palette Master Element calibration software comes with the monitor, to maintain optimum colour accuracy. Other supplied extras include a hotkey puck control dial for easily switching between sRGB, Adobe RGB and advanced B&W display modes.

The SW271's factory presets proved highly accurate for colour rendition, with just a very slight green colour cast. After calibration, colour rendition was close to perfect, with superb coverage of the Adobe RGB color space.

(Image credit: LG)

5. LG 27UD88-W

A sexy screen for the style-conscious, and it scores well for image quality

Size: 27in: | Ratio: 16x9: | Resolution: 3840x2160: | Brightness: 350cd/m2: | Contrast ratio: 1000:1: | sRGB gamut (claimed): 100% | Adobe RGB gamut (claimed): Unspecified

Elegant slimline design
Excellent sRGB accuracy
Only average brightness uniformity
Adobe RGB gamut less good

With a slimline design and slender crescent-shaped silver base, the LG 27UD88-W makes most desktop monitors look comparatively clunky. The only real compromise is that, while tilt, height and pivot facilities are available, there’s no swivel mechanism built into the base.

There’s a good range of input ports, including DP, dual HDMI and USB Type-C, along with a USB 3.0 hub that has two downstream ports. Instead of a row of physical or ‘virtual’ touch-sensitive buttons along the lower edge of the bezel, there’s a neat joystick-like controller under the bottom of the screen. This enables easy selection of wide-ranging display modes including sRGB, but, unfortunately, there’s no dedicated Adobe RGB preset.

In our tests, the monitor scored very highly for colour accuracy in sRGB mode, gaining virtually nothing from a custom calibration. However, gamut for the Adobe RGB colour space is a little lacking compared with some competing screens from BenQ and Eizo. Detail in very dark lowlights also tends to be slightly disappointing.

(Image credit: NEC)

6. NEC MultiSync EA271U

It’s a quality display that’s also good for business

Size: 27in: | Ratio: 16x9: | Resolution: 3840x2160 | Brightness: 350cd/m2 | Contrast ratio: 1000:1 | sRGB gamut (claimed): 100% | Adobe RGB gamut (claimed): 78.1%

Built-in speakers
Good performance potential
‘Corporate’ slant to features
Needs adjusting for best results

The NEC MultiSync EA271U monitor has a slightly corporate feel to it, supporting ‘cost-saving device management’, whereby all connected NEC devices can be controlled from a central location. There’s also a wide range of eco-friendly settings.

Standard and ‘photo’ viewing modes are accompanied by text, gaming, movie and dynamic modes, but there’s no preset for the Adobe RGB colour space. Connection ports include DP, DVI and HDMI, along with a USB 3.0 hub. Unusually, the MultiSync EA271U also features built-in speakers, though with an output of only 2W each, they're of limited aural appeal. Touch-sensitive virtual control buttons are easily accessible on the lower bezel.

Used in its sRGB preset, the NEC proved disappointingly inaccurate for colour rendition, with a noticeably red colour cast. Switch to the default viewing mode, however, and this monitor really shifts gear, producing spectacularly accurate colours. Brightness uniformity is boosted by a dedicated uniformity-enhancing mode. Gamut for the Adobe RGB colour space is good, but not great.

(Image credit: Dell)

7. Dell UltraSharp U2718Q

A value-packed monitor that's great if you're on a tighter budget

Size: 27-inch | Ratio: 16x9 | Resolution: 3840x2160 | Brightness: 350cd/m2 | Contrast ratio: 1300:1 | sRGB gamut (claimed): 100% | Adobe RGB gamut (claimed): Unspecified

Good specs for the money
1300:1 contrast ratio
Patchy brightness uniformity
Average color accuracy

An attractively-priced panel compared to equivalent screens from the likes of Eizo and NEC, the Dell UltraSharp still packs full 4K UHD resolution, 10-bit color depth and some neat extras, all inside a smart case with an ‘InfinityEdge’ ultra-thin bezel. There’s no preset Adobe RGB mode, but the standard viewing mode is accompanied by game, movie, custom color and several additional presets, which include an HDR mode.

Video ports include HDMI, DP and mDP, and there’s also a built-in USB 3.0 hub with two downstream connectors at the bottom left hand side of the case. Control buttons on the underside of the case have a tactile feel and work well with the intuitive menu system. The maximum contrast ratio is higher than many rivals, rated at 1300:1

However, image quality is good rather than great, especially in terms of outright color accuracy. One plus point is that there’s very little bleed from the backlight, making for good, strong blacks, although detail can be lost in very dark lowlights.

(Image credit: Viewsonic)

8. ViewSonic VP3268-4K

A solid choice if you need maximum space for image editing

Size: 31.5in | Ratio: 16x9 | Resolution: 3840x2160 | Brightness: 350cd/m2 | Contrast ratio: 1300:1 | sRGB gamut (claimed): 100% | Adobe RGB gamut (claimed): 77%

Big 31.5in screen
1300:1 contrast ratio
Below-par brightness uniformity
Only 77% Adobe RGB coverage

This 31.5-inch screen is notably larger than a 27-inch model, yet the ultra-thin bezel keeps the overall size from being too intimidating, while the 4K UHD resolution maintains pin-sharp image quality despite the pixels being spread a little thinner than on a 27-inch 4K screen.

Around the back, there are Display Port, Mini DP and dual HDMI inputs, as well as the practically ubiquitous USB 3.0 hub. The 350cd/m2 maximum brightness rating is typical for an LED-backlit panel, while 5ms response time (grey-to-grey) and 178-degree horizontal and vertical viewing angles are respectable.

Distinctive features include an HDR mode and a 1300:1 contrast ratio. On the negative side, there’s no preset Adobe RGB mode and ViewSonic only claims 77% coverage of the full Adobe RGB gamut.

Image quality looks a little dull when using the sRGB preset, which locks out any brightness adjustment. Colour accuracy is good but gamut is a little lacking for the Adobe RGB colour space and brightness uniformity could be better.

Overall, however, image quality is very satisfying, and once you step up to a screen of this scale, you might wonder how you managed with anything smaller!

(Image credit: Eizo)

9. Eizo ColorEdge CS2730

If you can do without 4K, this monitor is the colour purist's choice

Size: 27in | Ratio: 16x9 | Resolution: 2560x1440 | Brightness: 350cd/m2 | Contrast ratio: 1000:1 | sRGB gamut (claimed): 100% | Adobe RGB gamut (claimed): 99%

Spot-on color
Excellent brightness uniformity
Easy-access color space presets
Resolution lower at 2540x1440

Read more:
The best photo editing tools and accessories 
The best cameras you can buy right now
The best monitor calibrators
The best photo editing software