Lines on laptop screen: how to fix image distortion issues

Any part of your laptop can fail, and that includes the screen. You may experience a single vertical line, or even a completely blank black screen. These display issues can be caused by a number of problems, and do need a bit of troubleshooting to fix. You’ll have to look into the different parts that deliver the visuals on your laptop.

In this guide, we’ll be looking at how to troubleshoot and fix different screen issues. You’ll get a better understanding of how things work, and how you can detect these issues easily.

Screen issues that you may be experiencing:

Screen distortion issues can look like a number of things. When display components start to fail, the image you see on the screen can become distorted or discoloured. The screen image may even crash completely. If some of your display components are faulty, you might experience one or a few of these errors:

  • Different coloured thin lines on laptop screen (both horizontal and vertical) — These thin lines usually indicate a screen failure.
  • Coloured bars shown on screen (both horizontal and vertical) — While quite similar to the thin lines of a screen failure, these bars are much wider. You can sometimes still see the image under the bars, as the image is just discoloured. This usually is caused by a video card failure.
  • Bleeding screen image — This one looks like a crack where the image is bleeding through. Generally happens to physically damaged laptop screens.
  • Flickering images — Another physical screen issue.
  • Fading images — Commonly a screen issue, but may also turn out to be a faulty screen cable instead.
  • Extremely dim screen on older Macbook with LCD screens — Macbook LCD screens use an inverter to control screen lighting, and a faulty inverter could dim the screen.
  • Physical cracks on the laptop screen — A pretty obvious sign of a faulty laptop screen that needs to be replaced.

Why is the image on my screen distorted?

Laptop screen failure (© Niels Heidenreich / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Flickr)

When you see distortion or discolouration on your screen, these errors usually point to issues with the parts on your laptop that work to display images on the screen. To understand why these errors appear, we should first look at how your laptop’s display works.

Just like every other process that happens on your laptop, different components work together to display images once you turn it on. This process requires the screen, screen cable, and the video card. Failure in any part in this process could lead to different kinds of visible errors that you need to tend to.

How a laptop displays images

Your computer delivers a seamless computing experience for you. With everything you do, it shows you everything almost instantly. This comes from the different parts of your laptop that work together to create the right display images on the screen.

It all begins with the video card, also known as the GPU. The GPU (and at times, the CPU too) first generates a constant digital image feed. This is fed through the screen cable and into the display output, that is the laptop screen. Every pixel on the screen is needed for this process as well. The image feed informs each pixel of the colour that it is supposed to change to. This is a nonstop process that shows you whatever you’re working on, watching, or playing.

So when any part in this process fails, it could cause all kinds of problems. One thing for sure though, it will all show up on your screen. We’ll have to do a bit of troubleshooting to find out what’s wrong with your laptop.

Differences in screen errors: broken screen or faulty video card?

What GPU failure looks like

Screen errors can look very similar but at the same time indicate some very different problems. A broken screen simply means that the image can’t be displayed properly on your laptop’s screen. But with a faulty video card, it won’t even be able to properly generate the right image feed to the screen. This means that it will show the same wonky image even on perfectly fine screens.

That’s how you can find out whether you have a screen issue or a malfunctioning video card. Use an HDMI cable to connect your laptop to an external monitor or TV. If the same distorted image shows up, then you likely have a failing video card.

For more handy tricks to test your computer on your own, read our guide “6 easy tools and tricks to test and diagnose your laptop“. We cover some tools and testing solutions to detect computer issues easily.

Can you fix display issues by yourself?

For both video card and screen problems, failing hardware can only be fixed by replacing it entirely. This usually involves taking apart your laptop and putting in new hardware. It can be quite a complicated process, depending on the model and design of your laptop.

Video card repairs

nvidia video card GPU on motherboard

On most laptops these days, video cards are embedded on the motherboard. This means that it is a built-in part of the motherboard and cannot be removed on its own. It certainly makes it a lot harder to repair the video card.

There are a few exceptions though. Certain models of gaming laptops have detachable video cards that you can take out on its own for replacements or upgrades.

For regular laptops, you’ll either need to get the entire motherboard replaced, or get professional help from component-level repair technicians. These are both rather complex repair jobs that most computer users don’t have the experience and tech know-how to do by themselves.

Curious about motherboard repairs and why they’re so hard to do? Read our guide “Why motherboard failures are so hard to test and repair“.

Laptop screen repairs

Laptop screens are also fairly tricky to deal with. A lot of laptops these days are generally put together as one part. Parts of the laptop screen are usually glued together, where no screws are used at all. This is why we can’t replace the screen panel, or glass panel on its own.

Parts of a laptop screen

A laptop screen might look like a single piece of hardware that you can just unhinge and fit back on, but it’s not that simple. They do require a fair bit of assembly and involve many different parts. Let’s take a look inside:

  • Screen — You see things on here. Usually LED or LCD displays for older laptop models.
  • Back cover — Where the screen is seated, acts as protection as well. Also the top of your laptop when closed.
  • Backlight — Used to light up the screen.
  • Inverter — Controls the light for the screen for LCD displays. Discontinued for newer Macbook Air and Pro models with LED screens (uses the logic board to light up the screen).
  • Screen hinge — Provides smooth opening and closing of the laptop lid. Made of solid metal.
  • Webcam — The camera that you never look at because you’re looking at yourself on the screen.
  • Wifi / Bluetooth antenna — Connects your laptop to the wifi. Seated on the back cover, doesn’t get much attention.

These parts are very delicate and take a great deal of care. Specific models that have touchscreen panels or high quality displays will typically be harder to navigate around. If you are keen on DIY and are pretty skilled at it, we of course encourage you to do so. If not, you might want to take your laptop to a repair shop instead.

Laptop screen repairs at Safemode Computer Service

Got a busted laptop screen or a faulty video card? We can help. Laptop screen damage may not be covered by your warranty or accidental damage cover, so you’ll need a third-party repair service for this.

At Safemode Computer Service, we offer free quotes after testing your computer in store (Ts & Cs apply). As a trusted service in Inner West Sydney, we are also among the top 3 best rated computer repair services in Sydney. Our experienced technicians can help with any computer issue and provide the right advice and solutions. Call us or come by our Inner West Sydney store today!