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101 Guide To Digital Painting Hardware: #3 The Display

(Originally published 11/20/2014)

In the previous sections of this series, I covered the heart of your investment, the input devices that are critical for any serious digital artist and the workstation which allows you to do strokes without a lag.

Even if these devices mentioned above are the more important aspects to worry about, the display is mission critical as it is not only responsible for picking the right colors and with that the outcome of your work perceived by others, it also decides if you will have a strain on the eyes over a timeframe of 8-12 hours a day – and as a result health issues over the timespan of years.

While the other articles are rather broad in terms of research and information, I will keep the overview in this article rather short. The reason is that I can only speak from my own experience and give advice based on that experience. And since I don´t get paid to test monitors this advice is subjective but honest.

To start with, I mention my display of choice here first and go on about pros and cons of alternatives.
The main monitor I use is a NEC Multisync LCD2690 WUXI.
Once you work with such a great device, you won´t go with anything cheap, really.

nec_home
The NEC Multisync product image

 

 

This display is in duty for around 8 years now and it still does so with grace, do I need to say more?
Well, let’s start with the bad things first; the only thing to bother is that it is only 25,5″ big. And yes, the other reason to nitpick is the price tag of  900-1.250 Euros. It also is not usable for playing games.

desktop-screen-g13
The NEC display in use with my multi-monitor setup

 

And that´s it – nothing more to bother. You can read the review on trustedreview or on PRAD here, you will not find anything better for digital painting. It also may be cheaper right now but even then I recommend getting the 30″ NEC PA302W-BK for as low as 1800 Euro if you have the space on your desk. That would be my next choice if I ever have to replace my beloved 26″ NEC.

In displays, you will not be able to get an allrounder. Especially if you are looking to have something for gaming and digital painting – simply forget it. You either have a professional display that is a pleasure for the eyes – that is expensive. Or you have a cheap gaming device that will only be used 2-5 hours a day without a pain.

The same rules that apply for graphics cards, as mentioned in the hardware article #2 apply to monitors – the more you use it for gaming the more power it CAN consume and the less reliable the hardware has to be.

If you work in a professional environment you want to save energy, reliability and don´t want a strain on the eyes after a few hours.

And that´s it – nothing more to bother. You can read the review on trustedreview or on PRAD here, you will not find anything better for digital painting. It also may be cheaper right now but even then I recommend getting the 30″ NEC PA302W-BK for as low as 1800 Euro if you have the space on your desk. That would be my next choice if I ever have to replace my beloved 26″ NEC.

In displays, you will not be able to get an allrounder. Especially if you are looking to have something for gaming and digital painting – simply forget it. You either have a professional display that is a pleasure for the eyes – that is expensive. Or you have a cheap gaming device that will only be used 2-5 hours a day without a pain.

The same rules that apply for graphics cards, as mentioned in the hardware article #2 apply to monitors – the more you use it for gaming the more power it CAN consume and the less reliable the hardware has to be.

If you work in a professional environment you want to save energy, reliability and don´t want a strain on the eyes after a few hours.

Save energy, prevent eye strain and give yourself the best canvas possible!

Below is a list of things you need to consider when looking for a CG/imaging & professional monitor setup, regardless if you want a single or multidisplay setup, there you go:

  • LUT – Look Up Table (at least 12 Bit per channel)
  • Ex-Factory Hardware Calibration
  • IPS Panels (Preferrable IPS, AH-IPS or S-IPS)
  • A minimum of 90% of Adobe´s 98 RGB Color Space
  • Pivot Funktion (optional)
  • Pixel density
  • Resolution

There are even more critical points to address than these, but when you look for reviews or products that feature these points you are in the professional alley. If you look for a NEC, EIZO, Quato or LaCie you are surely on the rather expensive side but reviews of these monitors speak volumes.

What´s up with Apple´s Thunderbolt displays?
There are thousands of options but there are a few things that come to mind and since Apple is a company that has developed workstations for designers in the last century but unfortunately not anymore…, it comes to mind that the Displays could be any good.

Wrong.

The first reason is the power consumption: 250 Watts for a 27″ TB display is way too much, without eco-mode turned on, the NEC does have a consumption of 75 Watt and that is a number to go by.
Another reason is that the hardware is not calibrated and has no LUT. It also uses Thunderbolt which makes it nearly unusable with Windows/PC,
It is manufactured with an LG display that is rather budget. And if you think you would do something good with an old Cinema dsiplay 30″ that has Display Port think twice, that one does consume up to 300 Watt – no joke! There is a reason why it isn´t produced anymore.

What about Wacom´s Cintiq devices, especially the 24″?
The same that can be said about the budget displays of apple can be said about Wacom. Sure, you think you shell out around 3000 bucks for a 24″ Pen Display, then it should be possible to double use it as a monitor right?
Right but only if it has not to be color-sensitive, lets say for print.
Wacom also don´t use hardware-color-calibration let alone color profiling. The Wacom H-IPS Panels  (also produced by LG) are able to reproduce sRGB to a good extent which is great for creating content, but not for color sensitive reproduction. So in my opinion it is good for you to have a reference monitor to check colors and contrasts on color-critical artworks. For this you can also use a 19″ or 20″ professional display to save some bucks, but do yourself a favor and rather sepend 400 bucks for a NEC or EIZO opposed to a bigger budget Display that only does look good.
The only thing good about the Wacom displays is that they use good IPS panels that don´t hurt on the eyes when working longer episodes.

The new 27QHD device from Wacom lives up to some standards which means 97% of Adobe´s RGB and more accuarcy with a colorimeter which has to be obtained separately, but at least they´ve listened. Way to go with hardware calibration and 4k.

What´s up with HDTV or Ultra-HDTV that was recomennded to me?
Aaron Rutten posted some useful information regarding the setup for digital painting workstations back in March 2013, in general this information is useful still to date. However the recommendation of the HDTV is sketchy. I get that it is useful for getting a grasp of both worlds, what the end user will see and the screen real estate, however, these consume power in the range of 250 – up to 700 Watt. Nice for an hour of entertainment, but I won´t pay that powerbill when a 50″ panel runs for 10 hours a day.

What else is there?

Color calibration
As a photographer you have a lot more trouble with colors so a color spectrophotometer is in order. However, when working directly in Photoshop or the likes, you create content directly on the monitor, so the monitor is your canvas that is the reason I recommend nothing less than a professional device. I don´t say you don´t need a hardware calibration tool when you own such a display, but as a digital painter or illustrator you won´t need it that much – the reason for this is more explained in depth in the upcoming part of this article/series; printing. Your canvas has not to be perfect as output material, whether digital or print, isn´t perfect as well, on web you have rgb/srgb and in print your color space will be reduced to 4 colors or less. So my suggestion is to go with an ex factory hardware calibration and to do a manual calibration with your printer or a variety of other displays for web use on a regular base.

Here´s some good resources on calibrating your monitor or rather to see if your monitor is good enough, especially the grayscale banding test shows if your monitor is average or great:
Monitor calibration
Monitor grayscale test for banding
Monitor test sheet
Eizo Monitor test

The future
With the rise of 4k and 8k television that is pushed by Intel, I see 4k displays that are affordable coming up in the near future. That is the reason I want to keep my beloved NEC as long as possible so that the next investment is a 4k 30″ NEC Display, who knows.

About the Author Oliver Wetter

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