The purpose of this study was to compare the radiologist`s performance in detecting small low-contrast objects with hardcopy and softcopy reading of digital mammograms. 12 images of a contrast-detail (CD) phantom without and with 25.4 mm, 50.8 mm, and 76.2 mm additional polymethylmetacrylate (PMMA) attenuation were acquired with a caesium iodid/amorphous silicon flat panel detector under standard exposure conditions. The phantom images were read by three independent observers, by conducting a four-alternative forced-choice experiment. Reading of the hardcopy was done on a mammography viewbox under standardized reading conditions. For soft copy reading, a dedicated workstation with two 2K monitors was used. CD-curves and image quality figure (IQF) values were calculated from the correct detection rates of randomly located gold disks in the phantom. The figures were compared for both reading conditions and for different PMMA layers. For all types of exposures, soft copy reading resulted in significantly better contrast-detail characteristics and IQF values, as compared to hard copy reading of laser printouts. (p< 0.01). The authors conclude that the threshold contrast characteristics of digital mammograms displayed on high-resolution monitors are sufficient to make soft copy reading of digital mammograms feasible.