How to Choose the Best Monitor for CAD – 10 Things to Consider

By | November 26, 2020

If you are a professional that uses CAD software like SolidWorks, Autodesk Inventor or Revit regularly, you know that the monitor is one of the most important parts of your CAD workstation.

CAD-related professions require monitors that aid design work, improve workflow, and boost productivity, and simply choosing a big monitor won't be enough to provide all of those benefits.

To truly get the most out of your purchase, you must be informed about the features and options that will be useful to you.

While we are lucky to have many more options for CAD-friendly monitors than in the past, this can also make the shopping experience cumbersome.

Some of the most important factors include

  • 1. Screen Size - Bigger the better
  • 2. Resolution - More the better
  • 3. Pixel Density - Higher the better
  • 4. Aspect ratio - dual monitor vs ultrawide or super wide displays
  • 5. Height Adjustable
  • 6. Video connectors

So of the less important factors are:

  • 1. Refresh rates
  • 2. Response times - Important only if you are making graphics for 3d animations or games
  • 3. Color Accuracy - Important for graphics designers and 3d animations

Since refresh rates and response times are not critical factors the only recommended display panel type is IPS for best viewing angles and color accuracy.

We help you make the most optimal purchase by going over every single feature that you need in a CAD monitor. There are 10 fundamental points to look out for and here we’ll discuss each one in detail:

1. Screen Size

The screen size of your monitor is one of the most important features that affect your workflow and productivity when working with CAD software. A bigger display means you will be able to see more details on a CAD drawing, which is crucial for any type of design work.

It also helps you use more applications simultaneously without giving up screen space, meaning you can view work notes and check emails while working.

monitor size

Monitor Size

Standard Monitor Sizes include:

  • 21.5"
  • 23.8"
  • 27"
  • 29"
  • 30"
  • 31.5"

As a rule of thumb, try going for a monitor that’s at least 27” to get these benefits. Most of the monitors created for designers are between 27” to 45”, so the bigger you choose, the more it will benefit your design work in general.

When selecting a larger monitor an important consideration is the aspect ratio which can be standard 16:9 or ultrawide at 21:9 or super wide at 32:9.

2. Aspect Ratio

Although the size of your screen matters a lot, two monitors with the same screen size but a different aspect ratio can look and function very differently from each other.

Most monitors nowadays are either in 16:9 or 16:10, but the ultrawide options like 21:9 and 32:9 are also getting popular as alternatives to multiple monitor setups.

aspect ratio

aspect ratio

This often depends on personal preference. If you think you need even more screen space than a regular monitor, you can go for an ultrawide monitor instead of purchasing two separate monitors. As a plus, setting up and using ultrawide monitors is much easier than dual monitor setups.

If you want more screen space beyond what a 27" (16:9) monitor has to offer, you could go for 29" (or higher) with 21:9 aspect ratio which is ultrawide.

With ultrawide monitors keep in mind 3 important things:

1. Using ultrawide monitors have a much wide view angle and it does involve moving your head sideways more than standard monitors. This might not be comfortable for everyone.

2. With ultrawide monitors the resolutions are usually higher than 2560x1440, so you would need a capable graphics card to process and handle display data. Keeping in mind that CAD applications are already graphics intensive they use 3d rendering functions, so higher resolutions will demand even more powerful displays.

3. Ultrawide monitors will affect the budget on 2 fronts. First is the monitor itself, and second is the graphics card.

3. Resolution

A big screen is not very helpful if your resolution doesn’t match the size. A higher resolution means a clearer, sharper, and more precise display, which is great for every purpose but benefits technical designers even more.

With high-resolution monitors, you will be able to make out details much easier and make fewer errors while working with CAD software.

Resolution

Resolution

The best resolution readily available today is 4K (3840 x 2160), which has 4 times more pixels than a 1920 x 1080 monitor. Since 4K monitor prices have also been dropping lately, they are slowly becoming the industry standard for designers.

This is also backed by the fact that almost all of the monitors created for designers are 4K. Nevertheless, 4K monitors are still not cheap, so if your budget doesn’t allow it, you can go for a 2560 x 1440 monitor and still get a decent image quality for your work.

Again keep in mind that higher resolution implies more pixel data to process for your graphics card, so you would need a more powerful graphics card that is capable of high resolution displays.

4. Pixel Density

Measured by PPI (pixels per inch), pixel density is simply the combination of your screen size and resolution. Since it directly indicates the clarity and sharpness of the screen, the higher it is, the better. For a clean image from a moderate distance, aim for a PPI of at least 100.

For example, a 1440p 32” monitor will have a significantly lower PPI than a 4K 27” monitor So while looking at the resolution and size of a monitor, always interpret both of them together.

How to Find High PPI (DPI) Monitors and Choose the Right One

5. Viewing Angles

The viewing angles of a monitor determine how far to the sides you can go before the display's colors and visibility diminishes greatly. If you work alone, this doesn’t matter that much since you will always be directly facing the monitor.

But if you work in an office, you will naturally participate in group projects, and while multiple people are looking at the same monitor, viewing angles become very important to the group's productivity.

Viewing angle depend on a number of factors like:

  • Monitor Size
  • Flat or Curved
  • Panel Type

If the monitor is larger than 27 inches, you might see noticeable difference in display quality when viewing the corners and edges of the screen, because the viewing angle is considerably larger. This is specially the case with ultrawide and superwide displays.

In case of ultrawide displays you might want to go with curved displays if you feel comfortable.

Viewing Angle

Viewing Angle

Coming to display panel type, IPS panels have the best viewing angles in terms of color accuracy compared to TN. You should avoid TN display panels since they have poor color accuracy when viewed from side.

6. Color Range and Accuracy

Color range is not particularly a very important factor when considering CAD applications. Professionals working on graphics and photos that need very accurate color reproduction on screen and in print need to be more concerned about this.

The color profile of most modern monitors covers a wide range of RGB color space which is sufficient for CAD applications.

Color Range and Accuracy

Color Range and Accuracy

Working on a monitor with wide sRGB color space is important in photo processing and graphics designing projects if you are planning to render and print your designs. You will want to make sure that the design on the screen matches the project on the printer.

To achieve this, look for monitors that cover at least 99% of Adobe RGB color space with a LUT (look-up table) of more than 12-bit. As a general rule of thumb, IPS panels are much better at displaying accurate colors in a wide range than TN panels.

7. Response Time

Often confused with input lag, response time is the measurement of the time it takes a pixel to transition from one color to another. If your monitor has a long response time, moving images will appear to be blurry as pixels won’t be able to transition between colors fast enough.

Response time is not a critical factor if you are designing engineering stuff inside CAD like with SolidWorks or Autodesk Inventor. A standard response time of 15ms or lower would suffice.

Response Time

Response Time

Response time is more important in applications like Autodesk 3D Studio Max where 3d animation is involved like animation movies, or games. For such applications the response time may be important in situations when fast moving or changing graphics is being displayed on screen.

In general, response time lower than 8ms should be sufficient.

Larger monitors with higher resolutions will tend to have slower response times compared to smaller monitors. Simply put, faster response time is more expensive. So if you are looking for a monitor that is large in size and also has fast response time, then it could be costly.

While most monitors nowadays have fast enough response times, a few large monitors are still behind with 10ms+ response times, so look out for those.

8. Designer-specific Features

Since many monitor manufacturers create products aimed towards designers, it is not rare to see them implement special features to make designers' work easier.

For example, BenQ PD3200Q has "CAD/CAM mode", which highlights very small details by boosting the contrast on lines and shapes of illustrations.

If you worked out all the other features and are looking for more, these features can further make your design work easier and more productive.

CAD/CAM Mode

CAD/CAM Mode

9. Interfaces and Connectivity Options

Always make sure that the monitor you are planning to buy has the appropriate ports and inputs that your system uses.

HDMI and DisplayPort are currently the most common ports as VGA and DVI are slowly being phased out.

If you are looking to use a 4K monitor, make sure that your GPU supports at least DisplayPort 1.2 or 2 HDMI ports. Most high end graphics card only have HDMI and DisplayPort. So your monitor should have the option for either or both.

Ideally, a monitor should give you a variety of options, like a DisplayPort 1.4, multiple HDMI 2.0 ports, or at least one dual-link DVI.

Connectivity Options

Connectivity Options

10. Height Adjust-ability and Ergonomics

During design work, you will spend multiple hours looking at your monitor in one sitting. To make sure that you stay as comfortable and healthy as possible while working, your monitor should be adjustable.

Make sure the monitor's stand has height and tilt adjustments at the least. Swivel adjustments are also a plus while being able to pivot a monitor 90 degrees into portrait mode can help you read long documents easily.

Ergonomic Design

Ergonomic Design

Most budget monitors are limited to only tilt adjustability, but as a CAD user or professional you should look for height adjustment feature.

Another feature is swivel which allows the rotate the monitor into a vertical orientation. Sometimes you might be designing something that is more tall and wide, and then having a vertical oriented display might be more comfortable.

Conclusion

Since display technologies evolve constantly, trying to make the most optimal monitor purchase can be a daunting task. This is especially true for professionals that work with CAD software as they spend days and nights in front of their monitors. With this guide, though, you will find the best monitor suited for you as long as you know what you are looking for.

About Silver Moon

A Tech Enthusiast, Blogger, Linux Fan and a Software Developer. Writes about Computer hardware, Linux and Open Source software and coding in Python, Php and Javascript. He can be reached at [email protected].

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