I've worked with single and dual monitor setups in different situations in the past, but it's been a while since I last had two. Right now, I'm using a single Dell 24" that seems enough to handle adobe and web developing programs (I got used to just alt-tabbing my way through them), but I'm wondering if I should grab one of the smaller spare monitors in the office and add it to my workspace.

Last time I had two, I only used the second one as support, for displaying complementary information (mostly thumbnails and previews). The main disadvantage for me was that both of them were inevitably positioned in a diagonal, something that I found quite annoying.

To those who use dual monitors, are there advantages regarding efficiency (I've freelanced for most of my life so my work process is kind of... personal) that I might be missing? Or is it just a question of preference?

  • I think quite a few mac users find that they don't need multiple screens due to the Spaces feature. Which is about as close as you can get to having multiple monitors without actallu having multiple monitors. Also, youtube.com/watch?v=YU3YOQQu6y4&sns=em || Oh, and in mac you can set applications to open in a specific space or all spaces. Very useful.
    – Joonas
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 22:13
  • 1
    You might like these: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/24939/… and skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/1700/… Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 23:14
  • Thank you all for the answers. I'll give a second monitor a chance and see how it goes. According to your information, my type of work doesn't necessarily require the extra space, but would be a good addition for panels, previews and reference.
    – Yisela
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 23:44
  • Another consideration if you do web work: I have one quality screen, that I work on and use Mac Spaces on, and one small s****y screen with terrible contrast, low resolution, low pixel density etc, that I use for email and (most importantly) testing everything designed for web on since it's closer to what most end users will actually be using... Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 14:25

5 Answers 5


There's actual studies on this:


There's lots of reasons why having more screens can be a benefit to people. Brendan included several.

One not mentioned is that the monitors that you can change the orientation to vertical (portrait) are great for email or web research.

If you have an iPad handy, you can even use that as a second monitor:


UPDATE: FYI, I actually decided to try the iPad option last night. I could not get the Xdisplay option working (mentioned in the arstechnica article) with my MacBook, however, Air Display works surprisingly well. It's a tad laggy, so you're not going to be editing video on it, but for email, palettes, etc, its really nice. Big bonus is that a) it's portable and b) self powered, so makes it a perfect second monitor option for mobile workers.

  • kills the battery on the iPad real fast though :)
    – Scott
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 16:02
  • that's what that plug slot on the bottom is for. :) Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 1:59
  • Actually, at least on the iPad 3, the battery seems no worse for the wear running Air Display. I'm hooked.
    – DA01
    Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 3:04

I use three 17s at work and a single 22 at home (laptop is usually closed under the desk). I'm not sure what you're running, but I find that in most cases a bigger monitor with Spaces on the Mac is just as good as a multiple monitor setup. Your eye can really only look at one monitor anyways, and having Ctrl + left and right as options is only a touch slower than moving your eyes from screen to screen.

It is nice to have the real estate, though. Here are some situations where I find multiple monitors useful:

  • Panel overflow. I keep most of my programs in the middle and let the panels all flow off to the left and right. More undistracted space in front of me, more room for all the mess off to the sides. This is probably the strongest advantage.
  • Getting to the desktop. I keep clutter there and there's usually a bit of it peeking out with multiple screens.
  • E-mail gets its own space off to the side. I don't get enough e-mails for this to be a bad idea, so I keep it visible off to the side and when I get an e-mail I can see it right away.
  • Multitask with a video or music. Sometimes at home I'll have the laptop screen off to the left or right with the main screen in the middle. If I'm doing something tedious, I can throw on "The Daily Show" or something like that off to the side. It's there, my eye can go there, but I'm still focused on the main screen.
  • Previews, like you said. Code front and center, refresh off to the side.

In all of my uses, though, I have a screen that's right in front of me. Let your secondary be your secondary and don't let yourself be looking at a crooked screen all day.

  • Spaces in mac are definitely awesome. I have noticed that even with a 27" screen I feel that I don't have enough space when I open up the browsers developer tools ( If I actually want to see something in it ), so I put it in another screen. It really helps if you're able to work the console or something and see the browser window on another screen. That is something that you can't do with spaces. yisela: Your secondary screen doesn't have to be top of the line in a lot of cases. At work I actively use two 27" screens with 3 spaces.
    – Joonas
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 7:51
  • 1
    3 x 15" seems a bit strange - don't you get frustrated by the lack of vertical pixels?
    – e100
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 11:36
  • Only occasionally. I believe the res on my 22" at home is 1680 x 1050 and the ones here are 1280 x 1024, so it's really not all that different.
    – Brendan
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 12:53
  • True enough, my home 23" 1920x1080 only has about 5% more vertical pixels than the 15" 1280 x 1024 CRT I had about 15 years ago...
    – e100
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 13:26
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    Another benefit of Mac spaces - you can have it controlled by a graphics tablet without needing to spread the tablet across multiple screens or toggle the display it controls (very useful if you're using something like a cintiq - damn shame it's not an option on Windows slate PCs). Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 14:21

I could not manage without a second monitor. I do a lot of production work, and I am constantly flipping between the Adobe and Microsquish suites, with email in the corner. One screen slows me down painfully.

But it's a matter of workflow. If your screen is large enough to fit everything comfortably, or you don't mind tabbing, you're fine.

  • 1
    And if you have so much RAM that you never have to wait for any of your constantly-open apps to swap back in from the hard drive. :) Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 18:49
  • True, but if you have enough money for second and third monitors, one would think you'd be upgrading your RAM first anyway. Or upgrading your machine to one with a faster processor. Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 10:21
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    Somebody -- I think it's ASUS -- has come out with a portable 14" monitor, complete with protective cover, that's USB-powered and designed to fit in the case with a laptop. That one has my attention, because I always feel like I'm working through a keyhole when I'm in [random hotel room] trying to finish a layout. I've tried all the tablet-as-second-monitor solutions, but they are more frustrating than useful at current bandwidths and processor speeds. Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 23:26

I would love to have 2 monitors at work. I don't do any coding but I do lots of stock images, have to look back and forth at either an e-mail or a company's website when doing an advertisement, look in our database of contact information. A lot of times I end up printing stuff out just so I can see it all while doing the design.

Then when we lay books out it sure would be nice if I could have Bridge and the last year's directory on one monitor and then the current directory on the other monitor to speed up the workflow.

Unfortunately I'm lucky I got one of the 17 inchers at work, only me and my boss have those while everyone else (non-designers) have 15 inchers.

  • 15" or 17" screens - are you working on a laptop?
    – e100
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 11:37
  • Nope, just in a shitty office! At one point the 17" died and I had to use a 15". My boss claimed it was fine until he had to do something on it and realized it was terrible so snagged the only remaining 17" that worked from a salesperson and swapped them for me. Its a HP L1706.
    – Ryan
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 12:45
  • Last company I worked for had me on a 23" iMac... of course they didn't do nearly the volume to afford that which is why they don't exist anymore.
    – Ryan
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 12:47
  • I feel for you, I thought I had it tough on a 19"!
    – e100
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 13:20
  • Oh don't worry any "worst" comp I'm sure this place can win. I'm also using Windows XP with IE 8. I can't even get to the Meta part of the site unless I type it in the URL manually because most websites don't function properly. :(
    – Ryan
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 15:03

I use 3 monitors (2-30" and 1-27"). I've become so accustomed to this configuration that trying to work on anything less can actually be a hinderance. Although, it's not crippling by any means. I simply work slower with two monitors and even slower still with a single screen. I'm a Mac user, and I do not use the application frame Adobe implemented in recent versions. So I can view my desktop behind any window and merely click to switch applications.

How I use them....

Right monitor holds panels. Every necessary panel for any application is open and available on the right monitor. I spend very little time looking for anything in terms of panel use or commands. I've grown accustomed to my workspaces and immediately know where to go to use something.

Center monitor is the work area. This is where all documents open and the actual clicking dragging and painting take place.

This is how I would also utilize two monitors. Panels on the right, work area directly in front of me. With a two monitor configuration, I find placing the primary screen directly in front of you, as it it were the only screen, is best. Then place the secondary monitor off to the left or right side depending upon if you are left or right handed.

My third monitor on the left is used for viewing or reference. A client sends me something I need to view while I work in a document. An example would be a PDF with corrections commented in it. I open the PDF on the left monitor and the actual document in the center monitor. This allows me to see the comment while I work.

As Brenden pointed out, the multiple monitors is very helpful with web design as well. Code front and center, browser windows left and right and refreshed as needed.

I also run Parallels on the Mac for Windows as well. I can place a Windows running virtual machine on the left monitor while I continue to do Mac-oriented tasks on the other two monitors. This gives be one screen for a completely different OS when needed.

There's a huge ease advantage when you can see all the panels in any application (especially the Adobe apps) since often while working you're switching from panel to panel to complete something. Seeing all your tools simply makes it very easy to grab the one you need.

I can not imagine a work area with less than two screens given how panel-centric the Adobe apps are anymore. Even using a single 30" monitor I find I really want more real estate to push the less important items out of the way and focus on the working document.

  • It certainly sounds appealing to have 3 monitors, I'll start with two and evaluate it. I hadn't thought about the panels and the virtual machine, excellent points.
    – Yisela
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 23:46

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