When looking for the best laptop for graphic design there’s a lot we have to consider: color accuracy, display types, graphics cards, CPUs, RAM, storage and more.
A lot of computer jargon to learn: sGRB, matte and glossy displays, TNF vs IPS panels, etc.
Plus let’s not forget there’s a whole range of software being used for designing and depending on the concentrations you work with ( Motion Graphics , Print Design , Web Design , User Interface Design , Photo and Video Editing, etc), your laptop can either be a simple and cheap machine or end up being very expensive and complex.
The good part is….
Whatever field of graphic design you are involved for your studies or work. This article will make sure you choose the best laptop for it.
This article is divided in two parts. A guide where we’ll go through the software, different concentrations, Operating Systems and every feature (especially display and performance) to make sure you know what you are buying and a short list of the best laptops for graphic design as of 2017.
- The Top 5 Best Laptops for Graphics Design
- How To Buy The Best Laptop For Graphic Design
- Hardware Recommendations For Graphic Design
The Top 5 Best Laptops for Graphics Design
Whatever the type of design you do is, who your target audience is or what your current budget is; you should find out what’s the best laptop for graphic design is for you this list. Keep in mind the type of work you do and the software you wish to run when shopping for laptops. If you aren’t quite sure what’s needed for the type of work yo do or you aren’t that computer savvy you could always refer back to the guide I’ve compiled below for any doubts.
Best Apple Laptop For Graphic Design
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|3.5-4.5 pounds||9 hours||15” Glossy
|AMD Radeon R9 M370X 2GB||i7 HQ 16GB RAM
512GB PCIe SSD
Beautiful, high-quality, ultra high-resolution display (2880×1800, 220 ppi).
Relatively lightweight, especially for its size.
By now most of you are probably tired of hearing the MacBook Pro as being the best laptop for graphic design. But what can you do, it is what it is: one of the best (if not the best) choices graphic designers have available today.
The main reasons is the high quality user experience it offers to most graphic designers with the software they use, its high quality display along with its performance.
The retina display has color gamut coverage (~86%) which is improved by its IPS panel technology to give you extremely accurate color reproduction for any type of image editing(Photo Editing, UI Design, etc). The high resolution(2880×1800) also comes in handy to make sure your design reaches a larger audience who may have users with higher resolutions than full HD ( Web and UI designers ).
For performance it uses one of the latest SSD technologies , PCIe-based Flash Storage and has 16GB for RAM. Both specs will make sure you load up your design apps insanely fast and multitask between them without any issues.
The storage capacity can be configured from 256GB-512GB. Be sure to check out the Pro that comes with the 512GB otherwise your output files and editing software will quickly deplete all of your memory.
Lastly, this 15” model comes with one of the latest graphics cards: AMD Radeon R9 M370X, which is essential should your work involve any 3D design or motion graphics or you just happen to jump into those fields later in your career. However if your work revolves around 2D Designs (web, print, UI design or photo editing) then you have the option to buy one without it.
If you’re sure you won’t be using 3D or motion graphics applications, then you might want to consider purchasing the MacBook Pro 13” or the MacBook Pro 15” without GPU instead. You still get all the perks of having a MacBook but will avoid the unnecessary burden on your wallet.
Best Convertible Laptop For Graphic Design
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|1.7 pounds||6 hours||12.3″
2736 x 1824
||i5 8GB RAM
Sharp and vivid images
The Surface Pro has been touted by Microsoft as the “tablet that can replace a laptop”. But can it be considered the best laptop for graphic design ? It all depends on you. Whatever you consider the Pro to be, it’s getting more and more popular among graphic designers looking for something ultraportable.
The other reason being is the fact that its specially designed to make drawings, diagrams and designing on it feel as realistic as possible.
So you should consider buying the Surface Pro only if you plan to directly design on it by using the digital pen. Painting digitally in PhotoShop and Illustrator should be of no issues but it might be getting some time getting used to. If you’re not interested in drawing on or painting with it, then I advise you to be consider the other options below.
Aside from that, the Surface Pro is also highly configurable to fit the need of every type of designer out there. It goes from a m3 core processor with only 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD for storage all the way up to an i7 core processor with 16GB and 1TB SSD for storage..
Generally all graphic designers interested in it should aim for the 16GB RAM to make sure you can smoothly run several editing programs at once (otherwise they’ll quickly deplete your RAM and start to slow down your system) and the largest storage size you can afford: 512GB if possible.
Don’t be thrown off by the display, the latest version has a 2,736×1924 resolution (more than the MacBook Pro) with near perfect color accuracy while simply weighting 1.8 pounds and no more than 2.4 pounds with its type cover.
However if you’re into 3D Animation and motion graphics that is not sufficient. You should consider the Surface Book which has the added bonus of a discrete graphics card. Those into Print Design, Web Design , UI Design and Photo Editing shouldn’t need anything more than the graphics card that comes along with the Surface Pro, the Intel Iris option is a nice bonus but not required.
The only issue that all graphic designers in general face with the surface pro it’s probably the screen size however remember that most laptops or ultrabooks do not come with a 15” display and most of the time you’ll have to use an external display to finish off any project you start with your portable device anyways.
The Surface Pro comes with a docking station just designed for that, which is a must to buy if you go for it as well.
Best Budget Laptop For Graphic Design
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|4.4 pounds||5 hours||15” Full HD
|NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M||i7 core 8GB RAM
512 GB SSD
Best Laptop For Graphic Design and Multimedia
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|5.3 pounds||4 hours||15” Full HD
|NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB||i7 HQ 16GB RAM
256GB + 1TB
Good Coolin Technology
Portable for its performance
|Although this is labeled as a gaming laptop. It does meet all the specifications needed to satisfy every type of graphics design software you’ll encounter. It does so marvelously as you can see by many reviews outside on amazon.
Why? it has a more powerful GPU: Nvidia GTX 1060 which will give you a better performance should be dealing with 3D Animation and Motion Graphics. That’s not all, unlike the Asus K501UW it has a quad core i7 processor, which is more ideal for 3D Rendering.
On top of that it has a hybrid set up for storage: SSD and a Spinning HDD, the best and most useful configuration to run your design software fast (stored within SSD) and to store large amount of files and even a library of elements on it (1TB HDD) .
Another salient feature is the cooling technology, it won’t melt your skin when trying to use it on your lap for long periods of time and will protect your laptop from those long sessions of intensive applications or heavy rendering which will in turn aid to increase the lifespan of your laptop.
It also has a very accurate color representation along with a full wide range of connectivity which includes a DVD-CD Driver. However it’s not that portable at 5.1 pounds but this is expected from most high performance machines.
Among all of the non-workstations laptops presented here, it is the one with the greatest performance for all types of graphic design indeed.
Best Windows Laptop For Graphic Design
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|4.4 pounds||8 hours||15.6” IPS Display
|Nvidia Quadro M1000M
||i7 HQ 32GB RAM
512GB SSD NvmE
How To Buy The Best Laptop For Graphic Design
This guide is meant for those who are not quite sure how the type of graphic design they do related to the specifications they need from a computer or a laptop. After going through it you should be much more informed on how to shop for laptops yourself without relying much on articles or search engines!
Your Concentration: 3D Design or Not?
Let’s start with the most important question: Is the type of work you do in any shape or form in 3D dimensions?
Virtually everyone would benefit from the beefiest and most powerful laptop on the planet but if the type of work you do is limited to 2D design, you may not need to go that far or even walk out of the room if you already have a decent laptop.
Someone involved with Photo, Web or UI design will obviously not need the same laptop as someone focusing on 3D modeling or motion graphics.
Here’s a quick break down for those just dwelling into graphics design.
Software: As a web designer the most intensive applications you will have to take into account when buying a laptop are those that involve the design of your site Photoshop for building wire-frames and Illustrator to make your own images. Web development only requires a programming software of your choice.
Key Requirements: The features to consider are mainly CPU, RAM and Storage in that order for the best performance with Photoshop & Illustrator. Web development or programming doesn’t need any special features other than a nice resolution and a bigger display to make coding much more productive.
Software: Mostly Photosop, InDesign and Illustrator.
Key Requirements: A key feature to take into account besides (CPU, RAM & Storage) as you’ll see later in more detail is : display. Most specifically, color accuracy and how other factors from a laptop can have an affect on it.
Software: Illutrator, inDesign, PhotoShop and Sketch.
Key Requirements: RAM , CPU and Display (especially resolution).
Software: Mainly limited to Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.
Key Requirements: You’ll also need high end CPU, RAM, Storage and most importantly the best display you can afford.
3D Animation/Video Editing
Those involved with motion graphics, heavy video editing and 3D design are the ones who will need the most powerful features they can get their hands on, the graphics card especially has to be dedicated and one of the latest.
Software : 3DS Max, Maya, Rhinoceros, Unity, Blender and rendering software or plug-ins ( KeyShot + V-ray) .
Key Requirements: Dedicated graphics card.
Hardware Recommendations For Graphic Design
Regardless of what your concentration is, here’s what you need to look out for when looking for the best laptop for graphic design :
Obviously, this is the most important feature for graphic designers as it will impact the performance of your final work. But how far you need to go really depends on what kind of design are you doing and how you like to design as well.
Regardless of what kind of design you are into (3D, 2D, Web Design, Print Design,etc). Try to stick with at least a 13” inch laptop with 15” being the recommended size. The larger the screen the better it is as you’ll be able to see more details and you’ll find it much easier to deal with the software you’re using.
Although 15” laptops are recommended, as a designers you’ll find even that to be limiting. Most opt to do the real design back home using a huge external display with adjustable height.
Try and stick with both, preferably a 13-15” inch laptop to do some work on the go and an external display for more productivity and to give your work the final touch ups.
Avoid 17” laptops, they are difficult to carry around and they’re still no near as good as an external display or a full desktop machine. Not worth it.
A minimum of 1080p resolution will come in handy to have enough space for the plethora of menus, palettes and tools by the program you are using, otherwise there may be little space left for you to design.
Although there are plenty of screens with far better and higher resolutions, your software might not support such high resolutions meaning that text boxes, tools, palettes will not show up properly and can be too small and out of position. Reverting back to a lower resolution setting will usually take care of the problem.
Don’t forget color accuracy, you want a laptop that can display your design as realistic as possible. Especially if you are into anything related to image editing.
The MacBookPro Retina/DELL XPS 15 are good examples(both covering nearly 100% of the sGRB). Not many laptops have this feature so do proper research on what their color gamut is.
The colors from the images you’ll be working on won’t be distorted regardless of the angle your screen is set up, all colors will look the same. However, an IPS monitor itself will offer better color accuracy compared to other monitors even if stare at them without tilting them back and forth.
Glossy vs Matte Displays
We could write an entire article on this but at the end it’s a matter of individual preference . I’ll just list a few things for you to consider:
Glossy: Better Colors but…
A Glossy display has a smooth surface which lets most of the light reach your eyes without being distorted or bent. This results in high contrast and brightness as well as more vibrant colors. But the display is more prone to reflections from outside light sources leading up to glares and the distracting reflections on top of your design. Constantly dealing with glares can also cause eye strain and even pain.
Glossy panels will do fine if your work environment has lights that aren’t very reflective. Also it might be a better choice if the type of work you do is mostly for home screen displays and glossy photos print.
Matte: Less Reflections but….
Matte displays have a “rough” surface which diffuses light in all directions, this in turn eliminates reflections. Diffusing light in all directions of course will reduce contrast and produce less vivid colors because the light coming from your screen also has to go through the same layer.
In general matte displays will offer less color pollution should you be working in a highly reflective environment.
Matte displays are beneficial for printed media, cinema and matte photos.
Regardless of what kind of design you do, you want to max out on RAM (as much as the laptop of your choices allows). RAM is cheap and always useful for all graphic designers. Even if you are not into 3D Animation and motion graphics, you’ll be dealing with large Adobe files all of them requiring a lot of RAM plus you’ll be multitasking between them too. Rest assured you’ll be running out of RAM pretty fast.
If you can, aim for 16GB. Do note that it is difficult to upgrade RAM by yourself if you buy certain laptops (Macs and 13” laptops). If you decide for a Mac or a 13” inch laptop, maxed it out at the time of purchase not later.
On the other hand, the files of your designs will take most of your storage device pretty fast. Not to mention the software you’ll be dealing with can take up around 10GB.
For the future
I don’t know if you have noticed this but the data file size from any computer program pretty much increase at the same rate more storage space becomes available on the market. Needless to say, you also want to max your storage capacity as much as you can for the incoming years where file sizes can get even bigger this is especially true for multimedia files where they can get even more and more accurate (more pixels = more data = more storage).
So what’s the ideal size? 128GB and 256 GB might not be enough. 512 GB or more is recommended. If you can’t afford it, you can just buy an external hard drive. You’ll probably buy one anyways.
Professionals working on Photoshop have large libraries of elements for their work , they need extra storage anyways. Try to go with a 1TB for your external hard drive, otherwise your library and files are going to deplete your laptop’s storage in no time.
Solid State Drivers
Get an SSD no questions asked. You’re going to need it. It’ll speed up your workflow by loading your applications and files (as well as saving or moving them) much faster.
RAM vs. Storage
If you have to choose between extra RAM or extra Hard Drive at the time of purchase, choose RAM. If your device happens to be locked for upgrades after purchase you can always roll with an external Hard Drive but there’s not such thing as “external RAM” as far as I’m concerned.
We’re all aware the better the CPU, the higher the speed and performance of your workflow. An i7 quad core processor can be way too much for someone not focused on 3D Animation or Rendering. If you plan on doing that, a quad core processor is a MUST, especially for rendering.
Web Designers, Photo Editors and the rest of graphics designers do not need the latest processor available on the market. Adobe Creative Cloud doesn’t require that much CPU power. You can do just fine with any i5 processor or an i7 processor. But overall it’s the clock speed you should be looking at rather than the technology (or number of cores) behind it.
Buying a laptop or a desktop or anything with a dedicated graphics card can be very expensive and unnecessary for most of you as. The details are long and more technical which I discuss in one of my other articles. Bottom line is, it doesn’t help much unless you are using 3D Software for animation,video editing or dealing with rendering apps.
But Get it if you can
If you have the cash and the laptop of your choice offers a dedicated GPU as an option, by all means buy it, you might need it later on as you broaden your expertise and explore new areas that require 3D work. Do note that the addition of a dedicated graphics card usually translates to high performance laptops with less portability and most of all less battery life.
If you are into 3D Animation and using rendering software for it there’s not much to say: a dedicated graphics card is a MUST.
It’s probably a good time to go over rendering in general for those interested in it and do not know much about it. Especially how it relates to a laptop’s features such as CPU,RAM and GPU.
2D vs 3D
Regardless of what type of design you are working with (2D or 3D) both the CPU and RAM are important and you want to max them out for your desktop or laptop as much as you can afford. For CPUs, the greater the number of cores the better. Do not settle for “virtual cores”, they don’t compare to physical cores when it comes to rendering.
But if you are dealing with 3D rendering, although CPU AND RAM are still the top choices to go with the addition of a dedicated GPU will improve rendering times. A lot of 3D software (Ex: 3DS Max) do take advantage of a dedicated GPU.
Note: If you plan on rendering 3D Designs consistently then a laptop might not be ideal, a workstation laptop or a desktop is better suited to deal with all of that.
My current laptop has a dedicated GPU, QuadCore processor and 16GB RAM. But honestly I would never render anything heavy on on it (3D Work that could quite some time). With the features it has I could but I rather use a desktop or a machine better suited and save my laptop from all that beating.
What about a Touchscreen?
I still have to meet or hear about a designer , whatever their field is, using a touchscreen on a laptop for whatever purpose. You’ll be exhausted after using it for a minute or two.
Touchscreen on laptops are pretty much useless for most designers unless their laptop is a hybrid one and can turn into a tablet for note taking and even drawing on it with a digital pen.
If you do like the touchscreen feature (one without a digital pen), go ahead and get it. I could see myself using it a few times a day just for fun but by no means would I use it for any type of work.
If you are interested however in using a touchscreen feature for your designs. I’d recommend you to take a look and even buy a touch tablet such as this one: Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Tabletalong to use along with your laptop or desktop. It’s the most popular one used by designers out there.
This is such a long and controversial topic but it’s interesting too. It probably deserves its own article. Long story short the graphic design industry , which includes universities and your workplace, is dominated by Apple’s Devices. A few of the reasons are (at least what a your department or any firm will tell you):
- The ability of all apple devices to seemlessly synch together and easily share information between them : just imagine designing the user interface of an application on your mac, then testing it on your ipad and finally present it to your class with Apple TV. Not saying you can’t do this on Windows but it is definitely optimized and better with Apple’s devices, after all it’s all the same company.
- The software and hardware compatibility for graphics design tools offered by Apple: Apple has the advantage when it comes to optimize the user experience for graphic design and media arts in general. The reason is simple, they produce and design both the hardware and software which we can’t really say about windows.
- Adobe Photoshop and Other Graphic Design Software have better use experience on a Mac.
Although there is some truth to the above points, they might sound as if I’m giving you three reasons to buy a Mac(there might be more). But that’s what you will most likely tell you from people who prefer a Mac over Windows.
The preference however is due to historical reasons and the fact that most departments/firms already roll with Apple devices(nobody wants to change their infrastructure all over again).
Contrary to popular belief, you will not be looked down upon when using Windows by all employers. Actually some firms will look up to you if you have the skills to also use a Windows Machine for your work.
Unfortunately you can’t really run a Mac on a Windows device, so you’ll have to stick with an Apple Machine should your department, software or firm require you to use one. However if you have the choice to roll with either, go with whichever you feel more comfortable with: “Productivity is always best when you know your tools well”.
As you may have noticed, there’s a a wide variety of options for a graphic designer. Of course one could avoid all of this information and just buy the best performance laptop out there to make sure it covers everything you might need during your studies or work as a graphic designer. However taking that measure will increase the price significantly and decrease portability as well.
At the end it all really comes down to the software you’re going to be dealing with. Each software will require different hardware requirements. I have listed on top of this article the most popular laptops for graphic designers today divided into two categories. Mainly those laptops with a dedicated gpu (much less portability but greater performance in 3D software and video editing) and those without one (which should be fine for photo editing, web design and inprint design, etc). Hopefully this short guide will give you a better idea on how to choose specific features such as CPU, RAM, color accuracy, glossy or matte display, etc, for the type of work you do.
If you have any questions or something is not really “color accurate”, let us know in the comments below. It would help all designers in general to get more information and suggestions.