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How to Connect a Monitor to a Laptop for Web Design

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By Matt Smith

A laptop’s display size isn’t the most convenient option, but finding the best laptops for web designers may also mean connecting to an external monitor for enabling extended periods of work.

While laptops’ portability is essential to any web developer, you can still use extra space, more visibility, or a multi-monitor setup for enhanced productivity and getting more work done. 

That’s why you should always be prepared with an external monitor for a more comfortable web design experience, and here’s how to connect it to your laptop.

Step 1: Picking the Right Connectivity Options

Whatever your laptop’s make is, there’s most probably one port (minimally) that enables you to connect an external monitor. However, bear in mind that different types of ports will give you different qualities, so you should make this decision without haste.


HDMI connectivity is one of the best options you can opt for, besides DisplayPort. Through one cable, you’ll be able to send and receive signals, which means less cable clutter. However, it’s worth mentioning that you should buy a Premium High-Speed HDMI certified cable if you’re opting for HDMI to pair with a 4K monitor.


DisplayPort is as convenient as HDMI and even trumps it because it enables you to connect multiple monitors to one laptop. Not to mention, if you’re a web developer that also loves gaming, you’ll appreciate the fact that you can get top-notch graphics cards, be it NVIDIA with G-Sync technology or AMD with FreeSync.


You can find USB-C ports on some laptops that double as video-out connectors. However, your laptop’s specs should state positive compatibility with DisplayPort for you to actually get the performance you’re looking for.


If your laptop uses VGA, you’re better off replacing it with something more modern. Still, you can use your VGA port to support a monitor of 640 x 480p resolution, but with no audio. This means that if your web development process needs any audio checks, you’ll have to connect a pair of headphones, which makes the whole process less convenient.


Like VGA, DVI is a little outdated but still good for people who don’t need audio (at least not frequently) and want to enjoy a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080p.

Tip: If you’re using an older laptop and the external monitor supports only HDMI or DisplayPort, you can use an HDMI/DisplayPort-VGA/DVI adapter. However, you’ll be limited to their standard resolutions of 640 x 480p or 1920 x 1080p, respectively.

Step 2: Connecting the External Monitor

The next step is connecting the laptop and monitor with a cable and then turning on the monitor. A laptop that runs on Windows operating system should be able to detect the monitor and send signals to the screen.

However, in the case that this doesn’t happen automatically, make sure you have the monitor set to the appropriate input. Scroll through the input options to find HDMI, DisplayPort, or whatever connector you’re opting for.

If the issue persists, you can go to Windows Display Setting. Click “Start,” then go to “Settings,” then press “System,” and choose “Display.” Once you get there, click on “Detect” to catalyze the recognition process.

On the other hand, if you’re using macOS and want to detect the monitor, you’ll have to click the Apple icon on the upper-left of the screen to get a drop-down menu, from which you should pick “System Preferences…”

After that, choose “Displays” from the window that opens, then hold down the “Options” button on your keyboard until the “Detect Displays” appears in the lower-right corner of the Displays window.

Step 3: Adjusting Visibility

Once your monitor is connected, you can choose what you see and on which screen. You may choose to extend the screen on both displays, limit it to the first, or limit it to the second.

The default setting on Windows would be “Duplicate these displays.” This means that you’ll see both screens on either display and whatever you input into one screen from mouse movements would be duplicated exactly on the second. 

If your graphics card isn’t robust enough to send the highest resolution to both displays, you won’t be able to get the full resolution.

In the case that you want to use the external monitor exclusively, opt for the “Show only on 2” option. This spares you the need to keep your laptop’s screen on and send the full resolution to the external monitor for the best settings.

However, if you activate this setting, you’ll need to make sure your laptop doesn’t activate sleep mode when you close the lid. For this, you should go to “Start,” then “Settings,” and click on “System,” navigate to “Power & Sleep,” and choose “Additional Power Settings.”

When the new window opens, in “Choose what closing the lid does,” and select “Do nothing” from the drop-down menu next to the “When I close the lid:” option.

Finally, you can choose to extend the screen on both your laptop and external monitor displays by clicking “Extend these displays.” Choosing this mode enables you to move your cursor from the edge of one screen and onto the other, which is incredible for multi-tasking purposes. It enables you to have plenty of windows open next to each other.

If you want to extend the screen while using macOS, you can go to the “Arrangement” tab that you’ll find at the top of the windows and remove the check beside the “Mirror Displays” box. Additionally, you can click and drag the white rectangle at the top to change the menu bar’s position.

Perhaps, this mode is the most useful for web developers, as we all know how much we need StackOverflow open in the background as we go about our code. 

So, instead of switching between the IDE window and the browser’s every half a dozen minutes, you can have them both open simultaneously and next to each other.

Step 4: Optimizing the Display Settings

This is probably the most critical part for a web developer as it allows you to set the size of your app icons and text. If your images and text look too small on the larger external monitor, this means that you should make changes to them to suit your web design process and minimize any out-of-place designs. You can also calibrate your monitor for optimum settings.

And while the default is Windows recommending you a setting that ranges from 150% to 250%, you can fiddle with these settings to find out the ones that suit your monitor the most through a trial-and-error process.

If you’re using macOS, click “System Preferences…” from the drop-down menu that appears when you click the upper-left Apple icon. Then, click “Displays,” then choose “Display” in the upper-left corner. In this window, you’ll be able to change the monitor’s resolution, scale, and more.

And if your screen appears too big or small on the external monitor, you can slide the cursor in the “Underscan” section to scale it.

Final Thoughts

Many people don’t find a multi-monitor setup that important, and they might be right in the fact that it’s not essential. Still, it’s definitely a guaranteed method to enhance your productivity and web design process. 

No one tried a multi-monitor setup and chose to go back to the old ways of a single monitor. So, find a monitor with convenient connectivity options, extend your screen, optimize your display settings, and get more productive!