How to Test and Adjust a Monitor's Settings

Get the most out of your monitor by calibrating the settings

Code on a PC screen.
  Maskot / Getty Images 

If you're a graphic designer, video editor, or someone who watches lots of videos on your computer, then you may want to adjust your monitor's settings. Here's how to conduct a monitor test to make sure your display is properly calibrated.

Information in this article applies broadly to different types of PC monitors. Consult your device's manual or the manufacturer's website for further guidance.

Different Types of Monitors

A monitor's quality is not just defined by its age or the condition of the physical screen, but also by the display technology. For example, the maximum screen quality differs for CRT and LCD displays. There's also a noticeable quality difference between IPS LCD and TFT LCD monitors. Familiarize yourself with the capabilities and limitations of your device before you start making adjustments.

Manual Monitor Testing

The best way to make sure your computer screen isn't too dark, too bright, or otherwise imbalanced is to view different material and adjust your monitor as you go. Look for high-quality images with lots of colors, high definition (HD) videos, and games with 3D graphics while calibrating your display.

On most desktops, you can adjust your screen's color and brightness settings by playing around with the physical buttons on the face or side of the monitor. Some displays also have a menu button that brings up more options on the screen. Laptops often have buttons on the keyboard for controlling brightness and contrast.

On Windows PCs, you can control the screen orientation, default text size, dual monitor setup, and other settings in the Control Panel.

Free Online Monitor Calibration Tools

People who use their monitor for professional purposes may be more picky when it comes to video and image quality. Several websites and programs exist to help you tweak your settings from objective source material like color diagrams and test patterns.

There are a number of free monitor testing tools at Lagom.nl. Choose a test and read the instructions to learn how the images should appear so that you know what needs calibrating. You can test the contrast, display setting, clock and phase, sharpness, gamma calibration, black level, white saturation, gradient, inversion, response time, viewing angle, contrast ratio, and subpixel layout. EIZO Monitor Test is another free online monitor test that's similar to Lagom.nl.

All of the tools at Lagom.nl are available for download so that you can use them when you don't have an internet connection.

Professional Monitor Calibration Tools

There are also professional monitor testing programs, and many of them offer a free trial version. For example, Passmark's MonitorTest software gives you a full-screen view of various tests. MonitorTest works with all resolutions and multiple monitor setups. It also supports looped testing and over 30 different pattern tests. A similar (non-free) program is DisplayMate. Other monitor testers, like NVIDIA's GeForce, come packaged with certain video card drivers.

Common Monitor Terms Explained

Some terms monitors use in their settings menu can be confusing or redundant. Here's an explanation of common monitor settings:

  • Color: Increasing or decreasing the color setting will affect the color saturation, or how deep and bold the colors appear. Turn it up all the way to see how there can be such a thing as "too much color."
  • Brightness: Changing the brightness will make your screen darker or lighter. Try it when your surroundings are dark and well-lit to make sure the screen is optimized for both conditions.
  • Sharpness: Increasing sharpness will make the edges of your picture darker and more defined. Having this set too low results in a soft, hazy picture.
  • Tint: The tint setting varies based on the manufacturer. On some displays, it can affect the color as well as the dimness.