Image Burn-In

Image Burn-In

Image burn-in affects all screen displays, including  LCDs and OLEDs in mobile phones, monitors, wearable devices, televisions, and all electronic devices with a display screen. This article will cover everything you need to know about image burn-in and ways to mitigate it.


What is Image Burn-in?

Image burn-in, also referenced as screen burn-in or ghost image, is a permanent discoloration of sections on an electronic display caused by increasing, non-uniform use of the screen.

Image burn-in can not be fixed, repaired, or reversed; once it happens, the display screen will suffer from continual image quality degradation.

The term burn-in dates back to when old monitors using phosphor compounds that emit light to produce images lost their luminance due to severe usage in specific display areas.

Displaying a static image on a display for an extended period of time can cause the image or text to be visible even when the displayed image is changed or turned off. The residual static image or text will appear to be “burned” into the display and is still visible when other images or text is displayed on the screen.

Example of severe image burn-in when the display is turned off.
Image burn-in example.

Burn-In vs 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 many misleading articles, videos, and guides about "fixing" image burn-in or removing it from a display. Image burn-in is completely irreversible once it occurs on your display screen.

Most of the time, these guides explain 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.

Image retention

Image retention, also known as ghosting or image persistence, is the temporary effect of images remaining visible on LCDs or OLEDs for a short period, usually a few seconds.

How to tell the difference between image retention and image burn-in?

If the images fade away after a short time, you are dealing with temporary image retention. If the images stay permanently, you are dealing with image 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 our TFTs and our new IPS displays.

Related: What's an IPS Display?

Image retention will fade away, 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 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 just image retention. Image retention is a harmless and common occurrence on many screens.


What Causes Image Burn-in?

Image burn-in is caused by screen pixels that stay activated in a static position for long periods of time. Think of a TV in a lobby or waiting area that's always playing the same news channel. The news channel footer and logo get burned into the screen permanently, even when you change the channel.

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

On mobile phones for example, image burn-in can be caused by the permanent static postion of the battery, wifi and service signal icons.

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.


Burn-in on LCD and OLED Displays

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

Related: Differences between OLEDs and LCDs

How burn-in occurs in LCDs

After showing a static image for long periods of time, the crystals in a liquid crystal display become weaker to move, and have more difficulty turning from the fully "ON" position to the fully "OFF" position

When pixels fail to activate or deactivate entirely, 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 below, you'll notice a faded permanent impression of the text left behind on the LCD screen after the display is turned off.

Example of character LCD image burn-in.
Example of character LCD image burn-in when the display is on and off.

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 behind the previous image, even when the display shows something completely different.

See how the "Double Height" text is burned into the OLED in the example below.

Example of OLED screen display image burn-in.
Example of OLED image burn-in.

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


Ways to Mitigate/Avoid Image Burn-in

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 proper practices, you can get years of outstanding performance from your display without any burn-in effects.

How to avoid image burn-in

  • Power off the display when not in use
  • Use a screensaver
  • Exercise the pixels (rotate or scroll effect)
  • Lower the screen brightness or contrast

Related: How to Clean an Electronic Display

Did you know? Screensavers derive their name from their original purpose, which was an active method of attempting to mitigate screen burn-in.

Power off the display when not in use

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 complete 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

A screensaver is a good alternative if you can't turn your display off. 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 distribute the wear across the entire display evenly.

Lower the screen brightness or contrast

Decrease screen brightness whenever possible. More illumination (brightness) requires more current, which reduces LED lifespans.

For an OLED display, decreasing the contrast will lower the brightness and reduce the rate of image burn. More illumination (brightness) requires more current, which reduces OLED pixel lifespans.

For a LCD display, lowering the contrast will put less stress on the liquid crystals and will help to reduce the rate of pixels becoming weak, or sticking.


Everything About LCD and OLED Burn-in - [Video]

Find more helpful videos like this on our YouTube channel.


Conclusion

Remember that image burn-in is not reversible and can not be fixed once it happens. Whether it is a scrolling effect, rotating pixels, using a screensaver, or turning off the screen when not in use, it's essential to establish image burn-in preventive measures to help extend the lifespan of your display.

Aug 5th 2022 Newhaven Staff

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