When graphic designers look at laptops, they require specific requirements for running the programs and software inherent to their industry.
No ordinary notebook will do — these laptops need to be fast, responsive, and high definition. If you are looking for the best laptops for graphic design work, you have come to the right place.
We have organized a list of the best contenders regarding price, performance and overall value, as well as tips for finding the best graphic design laptop for your needs.
Overall Top Pick:
Microsoft Surface Book 2
We chose the Microsoft Surface Book 2 4.2 as our top pick because it comes with one of the best tablets on the market for graphic design drawing.
In addition to truly staggering battery life, the Surface Book also provides optimal running capacity for most PC video games and movies.
Instead of folding back, like most two-in-one laptop-tablet hybrids, the Microsoft Surface Book 2 4.2 entirely detaches from the keyboard for optimal creative freedom.
Overall, the Microsoft Surface Book 2 4.2 beats out most other competitors’ technical specifications with its crisp display — crisper than most Mac computers — and revolutionary PixelSense touchscreen.
The most significant benefit we can think of is the unbeatable touchscreen drawing potential. With a little practice, drawing on the Surface Book can feel as natural as sketching on a notebook.
If you know you will frequently be working with the cartoon, digital art, or logo design; this laptop is by far the best pick.
However, the long battery life, reasonable storage space, several I/O ports, and lightweight design all make the Microsoft Surface Book 2 4.2 one of the best buys laptops for graphic design.
Unfortunately, they do not include the excellent surface pen needed for graphic design drawing with the laptop, so you will need to pay extra for it.
The inner design of the Surface Book is not great either. The keyboard can become unresponsive after frequent use, and the trackpad is unreasonably small.
If you are willing to pay a little extra, you can buy the Surface Precision Mouse a must-have for managing Adobe Creative, music and video editing software.
As we mentioned before, the Surface Pen is another essential extra feature for graphic design drawers.
For artists that want an additional level of interactivity with their color palates and settings, look into the new Surface Dial.
Usually priced around $1999.00, you can save 27% by buying the Microsoft Surface Book 2 on Amazon.
You can also knock of another $200 when you buy used.
However, make sure to check out the product beforehand to make sure it is functioning correctly. A faulty touch screen or battery can be expensive to replace.
See Also: 5 Best Laptops For Hackers And Hacking
The Dell XPS9570-7996SLV-PUS is a close runner-up to the Microsoft Surface Book thanks to its faster internal components.
However, it falls short on a few design flaws.
The Dell XPS is a PC version of the MacBook Pro — competent, portable and well-rounded.
What Are the Specs?
A vivid display and superior RAM capacity give the specs for the Dell XPS an edge over many of its competitors.
Specifically, it excels in everyday performance and usability for graphic design related programs.
Many of the Dell XPS benefits come from its first NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050Ti GPU. With a bit of resolution adjusting, even the hardest video games can run in on the laptop.
Regarding graphic design, the crisp FHD display provides the optimal color palette for Adobe programs like Photoshop and Illustrator. With over three million more pixels than the MacBook, it has the competition beat regarding RGB potential.
A 4K display is also available. This can be a benefit, but it also reduce battery life so you should consider whether you really need a 4K display on the laptop. Another option is to use a 4K external display when you aren't mobile.
The most obvious drawback for the Dell XPS is the relatively steep price. Also, the Killer Wireless card that comes with the laptop is sometimes faulty and should be replaced by a $20 Intel one.
The speakers on this laptop are also inferior. They can work in a pinch for Youtube videos, but any audio mixing you will need to do with headphones.
For individuals who ethernet and multiple USB and HDMI ports, you may need a Dell DA200 Adapter.
A mouse and drawing pad are also recommended for graphic designers, though you will have to look outside of Dell to find one.
Make sure to buy this laptop online; you can save a significant amount of money.
Stores like Best Buy and Walmart usually charge full retail, but many online retailers knock off $300 from the price.
A used Dell XPS usually goes for around $1600.
Best 4k Laptop For Graphic Design:
ASUS VivoBook Pro 15 4K
With the VivoBook Pro 15 4K Touchscreen Laptop 3.6, ASUS made a laptop that is both powerful and affordable.
If you want a good bang for your buck, this is a great option. Unfortunately, the lack of portability is a downside.
What Are the Specs?
The real powerhouse here is the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 graphics processor, which pushes this laptop above the two-in-one category, into the competitive world of graphic design territory.
You will be hard pressed to find a laptop with a better array of I/O ports — especially since Apple switched to the constricting Thunderbolt 3 ports. The plethora of different ports on the VivoBook Pro makes for fewer compatibility issues.
Considering the low price, the VivoBook Pro also stands up admirably to its higher priced competition regarding most graphic design related programs.
The biggest drawback of the VivoBook Pro is its lack of portability. While they market the laptop as a slim, portable laptop, it is reasonably substantial. It also has a miserable battery life — one that barely lasts 3 hours.
So, if you are on the go a lot, you will need to find various charging stations. The touchpad on the VivoBook pro is also incredibly sensitive — which leads to frequent mistakes in precise editing and drawing programs.
Besides a much-needed mouse, the VivoBook Pro does not feature any accessories. However, the staggering number of ports means it can support almost anything.
As usual, buy online to save money on the retail price. There are also several features you can improve if you are willing to fork out some extra cash.
On Amazon, you can add a 1 TB of memory and a 4k enhancement for a couple of hundred dollars.
Best For Video Editing:
Apple MacBook Pro
While the Apple MacBook may not be the best-designed laptop for photo and vector-based design programs like Photoshop and Illustrator, it is the leading standard in video editing platforms.
If you are a university student, you may find many professors prefer or require Apple products.
This usability is mainly due to the ubiquitous nature of their operating systems and the general usability.
What Are the Specs?
What the Apple MacBook Pro lacks in comparable technical specs, it makes up for in smooth design and portability.
The new Touch Bar also adds a streamlined navigating element to a powerful engine.
MacBook Pros are generally easier to master than many PC laptops, thanks to the streamlined nature of its design.
While the new Touch Bar is a good cry from a fully operational touchscreen, it is a start for fewer mouse clicks and more fine control over video editing and volume adjustment.
Unfortunately, the four Thunderbolt 3 ports included on the new Apple MacBook Pro MLH12LL/A 3.9 means you will be carrying around a lot of wires and adapters wherever you go.
These frequent design changes are by far the worst part of being an Apple user. The weak graphics card also means lower quality images for photo editors and designers.
As we mentioned, you will need an adapter for the Thunderbolt 3 ports. Graphic design students who know they will be drawing a lot should invest in the Wacom Touch Tablet.
The iRig is another useful extra feature for audio designers that need an effective midi for their Mac.
It might be a bit hard to justify the price increase of the Apple MacBook Pro MLH12LL/A from the entry-level MacBook pro if you are not a video editor but at about $1700 the performance increase is obviously visible.
The introduction of the Touch Bar and a slimmer design adds an extra $300 to the price tag.
If this feature is not essential for you, you should consider buying an older, simpler model. Also, if you are a university student, see if your university offers any special discounts or deals on Apple-related products.
Acer Aspire 5
For video editors who adamantly refuse to own make, the Acer Aspire 5 is our next choice for programs like Final Cut Pro.
It also is an incredibly competent gaming laptop, for long breaks from graphic design work.
What Are the Specs?
Slightly bulky and heavy, the Aspire 5 makes up for its size with an excellent screen, processor and port selection.
The Acer Aspire 5 has a flexible form-factor. The 180 degree hinge allows you to adjust the display flat for the best viewing perspective. If you need more memory or storage you can easily upgrade them using a compartment door on the bottom of the laptop.
With the i7 processor and NVIDIA dedicated GPU, it runs video editing software at a competent speed.
The size is one of the most significant drawbacks of the Aspire 5, but this is true for most laptops with a 17" monitor. If students carry this laptop around in their backpacks frequently, it is going to get heavy.
The display on the laptop could be better — with slightly dim lighting settings.
We recommend a mouse for video editing or gaming with this computer. A sturdy carrying case is also a good investment since the laptop is on the heavier side.
We recommend buying the Acer Aspire 5 wherever you see a good deal, whether it is in store or online.
There is not much of a price difference between retail and online, so whatever is more convenient for you.
What to Look For in A Graphic Design Laptop
Unless you want to be slowed down by long loading times, you should look into what qualifications you need for your graphic design laptop.
Specifically, you will want to examine aspects of the screen, CPU, GPU and compatible graphic design software.
Since your work requires you to stare at a screen for hours on end meticulously, it is essential to know what you are buying.
If you are travelling a lot, portability should be a big concern. The slimmer and lighter the laptop, the better. However, screen size should stay around 13 inches or more to sea tiny, essential details on editing software.
Resolution is incredibly vital for graphic design laptops, especially considering many creative programs will now even run if you do not have a large enough decision.
Generally, 1280 x 800 is the lowest possible resolution you can have, but more is preferable.
Does it have an output for an additional monitor?
If you know your laptop screen will be too small to fit your editing needs, make sure to check if your laptop contains an HDMI, or other output, to connect the computer to a larger monitor for editing.
A relatively new concept for some laptops, touch screens can revolutionize the way you create digital art. However, make sure to try before you buy. An unresponsive or cheap touch screen can significantly affect the quality of your work.
What about 4k?
4k is another crucial feature to have, primarily if you will be working with images, video and animation professionally. While it might not seem like a massive leap from 1080p, the 8 million added pixels makes 4k far superior for noticing tiny details that may slip by on lower quality laptops.
What are the benefits of UHD monitors?
If your laptop does not come with 4k features, but still runs correctly, you might want to consider an ultra-high-definition (UHD) monitor. These monitors’ prices continue to fall, and the added clarity can enhance intricate photo editing details, fast video games and BluRay movies.
Most graphic design software relies on a responsive processor.
As a bare minimum, you will want a CPU in your laptop that runs around 1 GHz, however the more, the better. As slow CPU can lead to frequent freezes and crashes.
When you have a slow processor, you also have to worry about long loading times. This processor can affect deadlines and potentially important save files. Generally speaking, you should put the CPU before GPU regarding importance.
While CPU is critical to prioritize over GPU, and suitable graphics processors is still essential for professional graphic designers.
GPU account for a laptop’s rendering ability. Rendering is when a processor turns a 2D or 3D set of codes into a photorealistic image on the computer.
GPU’s assist a CPU when a laptop renders an image. This rendering is essential in video editing because it dramatically affects the quality of the frames as they are made.
Memory space to hold editing software is also crucial.
Often choosing graphic design programs is a matter of preference, but some companies will require specific software. As such, it is important to have room to store some or all of the following.
Video Editing Software
We hope our buying guide helped you choose the best laptop for your graphic design needs.
If you stick to any of the selections on our list, you should have a competent editing machine.