Why a shadow remains on the screen of phones and monitors: what the “burn-in” effect is and how to avoid it

Have you ever seen the “shadow” of the keyboard or Google Maps icons imprinted on your phone screen? Well, if you answered in the affirmative you were a victim of the so-called burn-in effect (also known as image retention, image permanence, residual image or ghost image), which essentially consists in the impression on the screen of static graphic elements, such as the letters on the keyboard or the navigation instructions!

The phenomenon occurs mainly on OLED displays (on LCD ones it is less frequent and, in the event that it occurs, it is usually transitory) and is caused by the fact that the static images “burn” the pixels of the panel: not it is randomly called burn-in because it derives from the term burn, “to burn” in English. To mitigate the problem you need to pay attention to do not let the screens remain “still” for too long.

What is “burn-in” on the screen

To understand this we need to understand how the OLED screens of our smartphones are made. Basically, OLED panels do not require backlighting to work: each individual pixel is a Self-illuminating LED. Since pixels tend to have a physiological loss of brightness over time over time, the longer they are illuminated the darker they will appear compared to a neighboring pixel that has been “exploited” less over time.

Modern OLED displays are much more resistant to burn-in than those produced in the past, but they are still subject to this phenomenon. It should also be noted that burn-in concerns not only mobile phone screens, but is a hardware problem that can affect any technological product equipped with an OLED screen, including tablets and TVs, especially devices that are of a certain age and so they used the screen a lot.

Example of screen burn–in: “Double Height” does not disappear completely when the screen is changed. Credits: NewHavenDisplay.

How to avoid the “burn-in” effect

As you can imagine, screen burn-in can be a rather annoying problem, as it prevents you from having a clear view of the interface that is shown on the affected device. To avoid ruining the smartphone display e minimize the possibility of running into this problemfollow these tips:

  1. Keep your phone's display brightness levels at medium-low levels, never keeping it at maximum brightness for extended periods.
  2. On Android it might be a case of deactivating the permanent navigation keys and learning to use gestures (if available on your smartphone model) to avoid having static graphic elements that are almost omnipresent in the navigation bar.
  3. As much as possible, enable the dark theme, which reduces the amount of light the pixels have to produce.
  4. Avoid using apps with a static interface for prolonged periods of time and if the ambient temperature is high.
  5. Do not deactivate the available screen saver settings that may be available on your smartphone (some manufacturers, in fact, use tricks to minimize screen burn-in problems, such as moving the interface elements by a few pixels in order not to “stress” always the same areas of the screen).