School and cooperate environments usually uses very cheap LCD screens with abysmal contrast and color reproduction. I'm currently required to design for these types of screens, and often find that designs which look acceptable on my mid-range LCD monitor would look considerably more washed out, with certain details indistinguishable on these screens.

Is there a way, either through hardware or software, to simulate a low contrast environment without buying the actual monitor?

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Most monitors let you decrease the contrast through an OSD menu or buttons built into the display itself. Additionally, different video cards come with drivers that also allow you to change the picture quality of the display (contrast included). Also, Windows and most other OSes allow you to adjust the contrast of your display through system settings, e.g. http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/Adjust-your-monitors-brightness-and-contrast.

Oh, and if you don't want to constantly adjust between regular and low contrast on your hardware/software settings (though many monitors/drivers let you save profiles that you can easily switch between), you could just use a contrast/brightness adjustment layer in Photoshop. You'll need to check the "Use Legacy" box for it to work properly though.

Edit: Another more laborious, though more realistic, test might be to take a laptop outside and view it under the sun.

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