Monitor Arms Or Desk Shelves? Choose Wisely

Monitor arms and monitor stands – they both do pretty similar things. They support your monitor, give you more desk space, and both can improve aesthetics. Their similarities can make it unclear which one is right for you. 

So which one should you choose?

In this article, we’re going to talk about the clear advantages and disadvantages each monitor solution has. They are certainly not created equal. 

By the end of this article, you should have a crystal clear idea of which is better for your specific workspace. Just a heads up, we will be using the terms “monitor shelf” and “monitor stand” interchangeably. 

Key Takeaways

  • Both monitor arms and monitor shelves share the benefits of lifting your monitor to an ergonomic height and giving you some more space in one way or another. 
  • Monitor arms are a simpler and sleeker solution, but the installation process and monitor requirements are more restrictive. 
  • Monitor shelves on the other hand can hold more aesthetic weight and are the simpler solution if you have an appropriate desk depth. 
  • There are more nuances that we dive into below. 

Monitors Arms vs Monitor Stands

Both monitor arms and monitor stands get a few things right. They both are able to raise your monitor to an ergonomic viewing height. This is important if your factory stand does not go high enough. 

Ideally, your eye level should be level with the top half of your monitor. Both a monitor arm and a shelf will accomplish this. 

They both also give you more room. Monitor arms let you get rid of your factory monitor stand and instead use a small clamping area. This way you have more desk space available. 

Monitor stands on the other hand give you space a little differently. When you use a stand or shelf for your monitor, you basically create a concealed area under your monitor. You can store a lot of things here with easy access. 

Let’s go in-depth on each of these solutions. 

Monitor Arm Key Features

More Desk Space

The biggest advantage of a monitor arm is ditching the factory monitor stand. The factory stands usually take up a ton of room. A monitor arm simply uses a small desk clamp or a grommet hole to mount. 

A decent footprint is now freed up space that you can actually use. 

Dual monitor desk setup

Fully Adjustable

Monitor arms come in a variety of styles. There are static height versions and gas spring versions. 

If you want to adjust the height of a static height version, you need a tool to loosen a bolt and adjust the height. The gas spring versions can change height on the fly by just pushing your monitor up or down. 

Besides that height caveat, monitor arms are fully adjustable in almost every other way. You can tilt your monitor up and down, turn it right or left, and you can even rotate your monitor vertically if you’re into that! 

Unobtrusive Design

When you reduce the bulky factory monitor stand with a desk clamp monitor arm, you really get a minimalist support system. The design is super unobtrusive and out of the way. 

It’s a very sleek way to mount your monitor. All you see under your monitor is just a small clamp. Very clean. 

Lower Cost

Monitor arms can be found very affordably, starting around $20 – $30. Here is an example of a very simple one that can support a wide range of monitors. It costs $24 at the time of writing. 

VIVO Single Monitor Desk Mount Arm

This single-arm mount fits monitors on the market between 13” and 32”, that weigh up to 22 lbs with VESA mounting. It offers adjustable height, tilt, and rotation for flexible viewing angles and integrated cable management for a clean setup.

Check Price on Amazon

You can get more expensive ones of higher quality, but the lower-end products get the job done well. I purchased my original monitor arm for around this price and it served me well for a long time. 

Monitor arm with 27 inch 4k monitor

Involved Installation

Installation is a bit of a process with these monitor arms. Some manufacturers make this easy by giving you one piece to attach to your monitor, and that simply slides onto the mount. 

Other arms require two people, one to hold up the monitor, and one to fasten the screws.

Also, if you have a heavy desk up against a wall, you have to get behind that desk to install your monitor arm clamp. It can be a pretty long and laborious process. 

34 inch ultrawide monitor gas spring mount

Not to mention nice monitor cable management becomes a bit tricky. We have a guide on hiding monitor cables specifically if you are having trouble. 

You also need to make sure you have a strong enough desk to support a small clamping area. We talk about how to mount monitor arms to thin desks here

Monitor Stand/Shelf Key Features

Creates Concealed Storage

Monitor shelves give you more space in a different way. Instead of swapping out that factory stand, you simply elevate that factory stand on a shelf. 

The space you get here is from the room underneath the shelf. It’s not just any “space”, it’s concealed space. That gives you a few more opportunities. 

If you have electronic desk accessories like a clock, wireless charger, docking station, etc, a monitor shelf makes easy work of concealing those cables. They simply disappear under your monitor shelf. 

It’s also a convenient location for frequently used items, like your planner or your current book.  

Simple & Stable

Unlike a monitor arm that has an involved installation process, a monitor shelf is as simple as it gets. You simply move your monitor out of the way, place the shelf, and place your monitor on top. Easy peasy. 

Laptop with monitor shelf behind it

The other benefit of a monitor shelf being so simple is that it’s often a sturdier support system for a monitor compared to a monitor arm. If you shake your table with a monitor mount, your monitor will likely shake around too. 

A monitor on a stand however will be a lot more stable. 

Larger Impact To Aesthetics

A monitor shelf impacts the overall look of your desk more dramatically than a monitor arm. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. 

If you have a shelf that doesn’t match or has any negative qualities, it becomes a central part of your desk. It’s staring at you all day long, so it will definitely bother you if it has a look you don’t like.

A really nice desk shelf on the other hand can elevate the look of your desk too. There are many beautiful wood top desk shelves that make a desk look so much better and more “full” than before. 

A monitor arm doesn’t usually have this kind of influence on your desk aesthetics. It can give it a boost by minimizing the factory stand, but that’s it. 

No VESA Requirements

Monitor arms require a hole pattern behind the monitor to make them mountable. Most modern monitors come with this VESA hole pattern, but not all do. 

There are ways to adapt your monitor to be VESA compatible as we discuss in this article. But it’s not an ideal setup. 

A monitor stand does not require any VESA holes, as you can still use the factory stand. 

Fixed Height

A monitor shelf will not be as flexible as a monitor arm. You will be pretty restricted especially if your monitor has a fixed height on its factory stand. We talk about the importance of dialing in the proper monitor height here. . 

This means you have to measure out what height monitor stand would actually place your monitor at an ergonomic height. Monitor arms don’t have this restriction as you can adjust the height in one way or another. 

Takes Up Desk Space

Another drawback of monitor stands is that they do need space, which means they take some of your table space away from you. 

If you have a pretty deep desk around 30 inches or so, you won’t have a big issue here. But if you have a pretty shallow desk, this could be an annoyance. 

You might find that your keyboard and mouse are getting a little too close to the edge of your table. If your wrists are starting to become unsupported, you may want to rethink if a desk shelf is right for your desk setup. 


Desk shelves can get very expensive if you want a high-quality one. Especially if you are looking for larger ones that have a specific wood surface. 

Some of the generic Amazon brands can be a good solution, but high-end versions from Grovemade, Oakywood, and HumanCentric can start breaking the bank. 

Here is a large and somewhat affordable alternative wood desk shelf.

Aothia Large Dual Monitor Desk Shelf
  • Comes in three wood grain colors
  • Made with real poplar wood
  • Supports up to 100 lbs.
  • 43 inch by 9.4 inch surface
  • Affordable compared to other wood desk shelves of the same size
  • Cork legs are not the prettiest
Check Price On Amazon

Who Benefits From Monitor Arms?

If you want a very clean and low impact monitor mount, a monitor arm is definitely the way to go. You can save money going this route, and have a bunch of freed up desk space. 

Here are the strong points for monitor arms. Go with monitor arms if these points are important to you.

  • More affordable
  • More flexible
  • More desk space
  • Sleek & minimal
  • Works best with strong table tops

Who Benefits From Monitor Stands?

Monitor stands and shelves are for those who want an area to store items concealed right in front of them. It’s a great place to store items that need convenience and can also conceal cables. 

Here are the strong points for monitor stands. Go for a monitor stand if these are more important to you. 

  • Convenient concealed storage
  • Easy cable management
  • Easy setup process
  • No VESA mounting required
  • Works best with deeper desks

Can You Use Both A Monitor Arm & Shelf?

The classic question: why not both?! 

This is definitely an alternative that people choose and as a result have very aesthetically pleasing and functional desk setups. Here are a few examples of desk setups that have both and look fantastic! 

Desk Setup 1

Desk Setup 2

Of course, you will be spending more to get both, so prepare your wallet for that. 

Photo of author


I'm a big time workspace enthusiast who is constantly experimenting with my setup. Sharing along the way to help people make their own desk setups more functional and inviting, whether it be for productivity or play!