How to Test and Adjust a Monitor's Settings

Get the most out of your monitor by calibrating the settings

Picture of an Acer R240HY bidx 23.8-Inch IPS HDMI DVI VGA Widescreen Monitor
Acer R240HY 23.8-Inch Widescreen Monitor. © Acer via Amazon
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Most monitors, if they're new or in decent shape, will not give off any glaring problems in terms of color or tint. However, as they become more sophisticated, larger, and useful in a diverse number of applications, tweaking them for performance has become more important.

If you're a graphic designer, video editor, or someone who just watches lots of videos, you'll probably start to notice the need for a little tweaking.

Using our suggestions below, you'll find yourself well on your way to a dazzling video experience.

There are a few different things you can do to evaluate your monitor's performance, ranging from the simple and subjective to the professional and complex. We'll break them down into two categories.

Note: Remember that a monitor's quality is not just defined by its age or condition of the physical screen but also by the display technology. For example, the maximum screen quality differs in various areas when you're dealing with an IPS LCD, TFT LCD, and CRT.

Easy "Real World" Monitor Testing

The best thing to do to make sure your computer screen isn't too dark, too bright, or otherwise imbalanced, is to simply test it out - look at different material and adjust your monitor to your personal tastes as you go along.

This might be high quality images with lots of color, high definition videos you can find on YouTube, your own media files, or anything at all that can test out the color of the monitor.

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. You can usually adjust the primary settings like the brightness and contrast, using a dedicated button, but consult your owner's manual for precise instructions.

Tip: If you're not sure what some of the monitor's settings mean, see the section at the bottom of this page for an explanation of some of the more important terms.

There's also often a menu button on the monitor where you can access those settings and more, like Skin Tone or Color Temperature, depending on your specific monitor.

Note: Text size, dual monitor setup, orientation, and other settings can be controlled within Windows via Control Panel.

Advanced Monitor Testing Techniques

People who want to use their monitor for professional purposes or who are simply really picky when it comes to their video and image quality, might want something more reliable than their own preference to make sure their monitors are giving them the best picture.

Several websites and programs exist to help you tweak your settings from objective source material like color diagrams and test patterns. You'll have to adjust your monitor's settings manually if any test doesn't turn out like they say that it should.

Free Online Monitor Calibration

There are a number of free monitor testing materials at Lagom.nl. Just choose a test and read the instructions to learn how the images should appear so that you know what needs calibrated.

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.

There's both an online test where you can access these monitor testing tools online and an offline one that you can download and use on a computer that doesn't have an internet connection.

EIZO Monitor Test is another online monitor test that's similar to Lagom.nl.

Professional Monitor Calibration Tools

One of the best known monitor testing programs include Passmark's MonitorTest software that gives you a full screen view of various tests.

It works with all resolutions and multiple monitor setups, and supports looped testing and over 30 different pattern tests.

Use the question mark button on any test for help understanding what you should be looking for with MonitorTest. The program is only free during the 30-day trial.

Another (non-free) monitor testing program is DisplayMate. Other monitor testers come with some video card drivers as free software, like NVIDIA's GeForce.

Common Monitor Terms Explained

Some terms monitors use in their settings menu can be confusing or redundant. Here's a quick explanation of common settings for adjusting your monitor.

  • Color: This means just what it says: do you want more or less color on your monitor? Increasing or decreasing the color setting will affect the color saturation of your monitor, meaning how deep and bold the colors are. Turn it up all the way to see how there can be such a thing as "too much color."
  • Tint: The tint setting is one of the more flexible settings in terms of definition, and what it does to your monitor really can vary based on the manufacturer. Sometimes it seems like a more temperamental brightness setting. On other displays, it can affect the color as well as the dimness. Generally, we're talking about color hue, and you'll know when you've got it right because the picture will be as "realistic" as possible.
  • Brightness: This is the only setting more self-explanatory than color. Changing this will make your screen darker and brighter, and it really is a matter of personal preference. Most people tend to find comfort in the 75% range. Try it when your surroundings are both dark and well-lit to make sure both work.
  • Sharpness: There is some vagueness to how much your monitor's settings can actually help with sharpness. So much of it depends on the resolution and the quality of the material you're looking at (e.g. a high-definition movie vs a SD YouTube video, or a professional photo vs one your phone took). Generally, this will make the edges of your picture darker and more defined. Having this set too low results in a soft, hazy picture.