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Burn-in (LCD & OLED): What You Need to Know

by Newhaven Staff
Published: Last Updated on 442 views

Image burn-in on LCD & OLED display screens

What you need to know about burn-in and image retention

Chances are you’ve encountered image burn-in and image retention before, but you didn’t know which one you were seeing. They both have the same visual effects so it’s easy to mistake them for each other, but there’s one key difference: image retention is temporary and image burn-in is permanent.

We’ve seen lots of articles, videos, and guides about “fixing” image burn-in or removing it from a display. This is misleading because burn-in is completely irreversible once it occurs on your display screen. Most of the time these guides are actually explaining how image retention works and how you can speed up its recovery process.

We want to clear up any confusion you might have about image burn-in and image retention on LCD and OLED displays. 

Here’s what you’ll learn in this post:

  • How OLED and LCD image burn-in occurs
  • The difference between burn-in and image retention
  • What you can do to protect your display from image burn-in

Image burn-in Explained

What causes burn-in, and what does it look like?

When LCD or OLED pixels stay activated in a static position, they’ll eventually become “stuck” in that position.  When this happens, you’ll notice a faded, stubborn image that persists on the screen. You’ve probably seen this on display screens that show the same image for hours or days at a time.

Think of a TV in a lobby or waiting area that’s always playing the same news channel. The news channel footer and channel logo get burned into the screen even when you change the channel.

The end result of burn-in looks the same on all screen types, but the way that it occurs on LCDs and OLEDs is slightly different.

How Burn-in Occurs in LCDs

After showing a static image for long periods, the crystals in a liquid crystal display have a harder time turning from the “ON” position to “OFF” position. When pixels fail to fully activate or deactivate, it results in faded images that won’t clear from the screen. This is common in applications using character LCDs where the alphanumeric characters are updated less frequently.

In the example to the right, you’ll notice a faded impression of the text left behind on the LCD screen.

GIF showing image burn-in on a character LCD display

How Burn-In Occurs In OLEDs

OLEDs are unique because they don’t need a backlight to light up. Each pixel on the display is a self-illuminating LED, so they generate their own light. However, the pixels inevitably lose their brightness over time. The longer an OLED pixel is illuminated, the dimmer it will appear next to lesser-used pixels.

If a static image stays on an OLED display long enough, the pixels will leave a shadow of the previous image behind, even when the display is showing something completely different.

See how the “Double Height” text is burned into the OLED in the example to the right.

GIF demonstrating image burn-in on an OLED display

Remember: There's no way to remove or reduce burn-in after it occurs. If a stubborn image persists for extended periods or even after restarting your display, then you’re likely dealing with image burn-in.

Common causes of burn-in include static messages, logos, and icons.

image retention

also known as ghosting or image persistence

In the case of image retention, you’ll notice these stubborn images fade away after a short time. This is the giveaway that you’re not dealing with burn-in. Image retention doesn’t require any intervention from the user to make it go away – it’ll do that by itself.  Retention will often occur before burn-in does on newer display technology like TFT LCDs. 

Image retention will fade away on its own but there are some tips you can use to speed up the process. Simple actions like using a screen saver, cycling various graphics on the screen to exercise the pixels, and powering off the display whenever possible will help clear the image retention on your display.

These are the same tricks that you’ll see advertised as a “cure” for image burn-in, but don’t be fooled. There’s no fix for burn-in, only ways to prolong it from happening. Before you assume your screen has burn-in damage, try these tips and wait to see if it’s actually just image retention. Image retention is a harmless and common occurrence on many screens.

Key Takeaways

What to remember about burn-in and image retention

Even the most advanced displays will experience burn-in at some point, but there are some simple actions you can take to extend your screen’s lifespan before burn-in occurs. With the right practices, you can get years of great performance from your display without any burn-in effects.

This is what you should do to delay burn-in from occurring on your screens: 

Power off the display

We know that in some instances you will require an "always-ON" display, or your display will need to stay ON for extended periods. If you ever get the opportunity, run a full power cycle on your display. This will reset pixels and help avoid burn-in.  If a power cycle isn't an option, you can use the Display ON/OFF command to turn off the display. Alternatively, you can put the display into sleep mode while retaining the display data in RAM.

Use a Screensaver

If you can't turn your display off then a screensaver is a good alternative. For displays that don't need to be ON at all times, it's helpful to let the screen rest when not in use. A screensaver or sleep mode allows for a quick startup compared to fully powering the device OFF and ON again.

Exercise the Pixels

Get those pixels moving! The longer a pixel stays activated in a static position, the closer it gets to being burned in. You can exercise your screen's pixels with scrolling text, moving images, or changing colors. This technique is a lot like rotating the tires on your car. The goal is to evenly distribute the wear across the entire display. 

That’s everything you need to know about protecting your LCD and OLED displays from image burn-in. For more of the best display maintenance practices, read our 5 Maintenance Tips from Display Engineers.  

Watch: How to avoid image burn-in (OLED & LCD)

This video shows you real examples of image burn-in, image retention, and our tips to prevent image burn-in. 

Find more helpful videos like this on our YouTube channel.

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