Promo University

Why Do Monitors Display Colors Differently?

Alyssa Mertes

Published: July 23rd, 2020

Have you ever bought a shirt online that you thought was going to be your new favorite fall flannel, but when it arrived, it was more reminiscent of the tablecloth you donated to Goodwill?

The good news is that it probably wasn't the store trying to pull the wool (or flannel) over your eyes; the bad news is that you were probably a victim of Monitor Color Display Difference.

Color My World (The Same?)

If you've ever received an online order like a sweater or piece of art that shows up looking drastically different than what you saw on the screen when you ordered, the fault usually lies with the monitor or screen. While we wish all monitors showed colors in the same way and as true to life as possible, different monitors display colors differently. But thanks to advances in modern science, we know why this happens and how to stop this terrible disorder from spreading.

Shirt screen box

But First, What is Color?

We promise this isn't as existential as it sounds. The way color appears on a monitor is a "bit" tricky and that's because the color is measured in bits. A monitor screen is made up of pixels (short for "picture element," but really just meaning small little techno dots), and the overall "display resolution" of a screen is the number of pixels wide by the number of pixels high - 1024 — 768 means the width is 1024 pixels and the height is 768 pixels.

phone printing pink


Each pixel reads a certain number of "bits" to display color. The number of bits each pixel can read (or describe into color) is called bit depth. For instance, with 24-bit bit depth, eight bits are dedicated to three colors -- red, green, and blue. This is also called "true color" because it can produce the 10,000,000 colors perceptible to the human eye.

Bubbles paintbrush

So what is color when it comes to a computer monitor or TV screen? Well, color is mostly how your screen reads code. The more pixels a screen has combined with the bit depth reading capabilities, the more color combinations can be displayed.

pixel count

Reasons for color differences

This doesn't just happen because someone has been playing with the settings (although check that first). Multiple factors can affect color display. Like these:

Grey new

Age: Brand new monitors sometimes cast a blueish tint over the screen, making lighter blue shades appear white and red shades appear purple when compared to another monitor or printout.

Grey graphics card

Graphics or video card: The same monitor can display different colors when connected to two different computers running with two different graphics cards. A graphics card is a circuit board that has a processor and memory built into it. This is the piece of hardware that translates computer's internal code and communicates color to the screen. Making the interpretive calculations from code to color is a busy job to display color correctly for some games, the graphics card has to process 60 calculations a second. Graphics cards vary in how much processing speed and memory they offer, and cards with more of both display richer colors and load images more quickly.

grey monitor

LCD vs. CRT monitors: Flat screen (LCD) and tube-style (CRT) monitors use different technology to display colors. An LCD display uses electrical currents that cause the liquid crystal molecules inside to align, letting light pass through the glass and create colors. LCD monitors also have a native resolution based on their size, which keeps images crisp and correctly formatted no matter what size screen they're viewed on. CRT monitors have phosphor dots that glow when struck by an electron beam that travels across the screen to create colors or images. These different display technologies can create color variances from screen to screen.

What Color Affects (or Why You Should Care About Color Display)

When surfing the web, reading the news, or looking up song lyrics, the resolution and color display of your monitor are probably not on your mind if it's bright and clear enough to read your emails, you're probably not worried about it.

But when it comes to determining if the red dress you have your eye on is really red or more of a magenta, color display matters. In fact, when you're buying just about anything on the Internet that will be delivered to you, your friends, or your customers, you probably want to make sure the color on your screen will be what shows up on your porch.

When it comes to promotional products, you want be sure that the order proof for the custom travel mugs you're ordering is true to the color product you want representing your brand at a trade show or event.

screen mug

How to Calibrate

To get true-to-life color display from your monitor, you need to calibrate your screen. Calibration is a way to ensure accurate color representation. Calibration techniques will vary slightly from monitor to monitor, but manual calibration usually involves the menu or options buttons along the side or bottom of your monitor screen. These buttons allow you to set your screen to the correct brightness, color, or tint. Your computer's manual (or a quick Google search) will be able to tell you what your screen settings should be for optimal viewing and truest color.

There's also software out there, like Calibrize, that will automatically analyze the way colors appear on a screen and reconfigure settings to match a predetermined standard. This information is saved so that colors are adjusted for the monitor every time the computer is restarted. You can also find out automatically find out what resolution your current monitor is displaying.

Hearts monitors
Bubbles teaching

Color is key to a great design, but it can also be a little tricky to get just right from the computer screen to the products delivered to your door. To get perfectly matched color, remember that several things affect how color shows up on screen, including the age and type of your monitor, as well as the kind of graphics card being used. When in doubt, calibrate your monitor using the setting keys or an auto-adjust tool on the Internet. It's that easy to be confident in your colors!

Between an assortment of endless imprint color options and big personalities, Quality Logo Products is definitely colorful. When you mix free proofs with knowledgeable service and add this handy how-to color calibration guide, we can help make sure your colors will look great every time.