What is a Monochrome Monitor?

Malcolm Tatum

Also known as monochromatic monitors, monochrome monitors are computer monitors that display a single color against a solid background. Used extensively during the middle to latter part of the 20th century, the monochrome monitor was at one time utilized with just about any type of computing system that included some sort of digital display. The first desktop computers developed in the latter part of the 1970s made use of this type of monitor. The monochrome monitor continued to be a staple in many office settings as late as the early 1990s, when it was finally eclipsed by the more feature-rich color monitor.

Monochrome monitors used to be a staple in classrooms and offices.
Monochrome monitors used to be a staple in classrooms and offices.

The effect of a monochrome monitor is somewhat like that of a black and white television set. The earliest designs called for a simple black background, with white text appearing on the screen. Some models reversed the process, using a white background to display black text. While somewhat plain, the use of a single phosphor to generate the single color in each pixel makes it possible for the monitor to provide a very clear and crisp looking display.

Monochrome monitors are similar to black and white television sets.
Monochrome monitors are similar to black and white television sets.

One of the drawbacks of the monochrome monitor is the potential for what is known as screen burn. This phenomenon is caused by the relatively high intensity generated by the single phosphor. When text is left displayed for long periods of time, it can actually leave an impression on the screen even after the user moves on to view other stored data. Because the pixels that make up the display on a color monitor are composed of multiple phosphors, the potential for screen burn with contemporary monitors is greatly reduced, especially with the use of automatic screen savers.

Over time, some variations in the monochrome monitor came into being, although the use of a single phosphor for the text display remained constant. For example, some manufacturers would offer monitors that would display black lettering on a light green background, or orange lettering on a black background. Later designs included equipment that would allow the user to adjust the brightness setting on the device, which could help enhance the visibility to some degree.

Since the 1990s, the monochrome monitor has been replaced with full color monitors that offer a wider range of color selections for text, image and graphics. Just about all desktop systems today make use of a color monitor. There are still some devices that make use of monochrome technology, such as cash registers with electronic display, and various other types of point-of-sale systems where there is no need for a lot of color or the display of detailed graphics.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including EasyTechJunkie, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@Vincenzo -- plus, graphics usually looked just fine on monochrome monitors. You didn't get color (of course) but you did get various "shades" of the monitors primary color (kind of like a black and white photo, only with green or amber depending on the monitor you had).

Also, a lot of color monitors rendered text virtually unreadable when the resolution was increased from the then standard 40 columns to 80 columns. In other words, people were limited by color monitors to what they could do, but that problem wasn't much of a factor when it came to monochrome ones -- you could still play "Lode Runner" (or whatever) when you wanted and do word processing or spread sheets without a distracting bunch of fringes, too.


Back in the 1970s and 1980s, you even had some computers that were bought with gaming and mind purchased along with a monochrome monitor. The problem was that graphics cards in some computers -- most notably the Apple 2 line -- displayed text that was marked by odd colored fringes. A letter that was supposed to be white, for example, would have strange tints of pink and green on the edges. Trying to do word processing or read text in, say, an adventure game that was marred by fringes was distracting to some people. The fringes were removed on monochrome monitors.

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