Communicating through pictures is an activity as old as humanity and evolved at the same pace as humans themselves. Nowadays, in the digital era, the generalized use of computers has added practically infinite connotations to this activity, and equally infinite possibilities for the image creators.
Of course, all these new opportunities come at a price. As far as the designers themselves are concerned, there’s a whole lot more to learn about design software than it used to be about, say, watercolors or charcoal drawing, and it involves a great deal of time and money. Secondly, there’s the actual price of things – software like Corel, AutoCAD, Adobe Illustrator, Xara, and various Photoshop tools cost you a whole lot of money. Finally, there’s the price of your workstation. The aforementioned software is quite taxing on your system, and most of these tools cannot be used properly, if at all, on a low-end computer.
You have to pay attention, in particular, when you’re buying a laptop for graphic design. Desktops have more power and are upgradable at any time if you happen to forget something. If on the other hand, you get a bad laptop, it’ll cost you a lot of time and money to exchange it for a better one. What’s more, it’s harder to find a good laptop for graphic design than it is to find one for, say, gaming. We’d like to provide you with some examples of what we think are the best laptops for graphics design you can find on the market right now, besides non-consumer models. Here’s what we liked:
1. Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW – Editor’s choice
As far as we are concerned, besides professional workstations, this is the best laptop for graphic design and visual applications in general (video editing and CGI included) we could find on the market. It’s hands down the most beautiful design from Asus and one of the best around, although some of the reviewers seem to prefer the looks of a MacBook. It features the best display around as well (again, some seem to prefer Apple here), a 15.6” 4K UHD IPS 10-finger multitouch wide-angle display, which is amazing if you want to do anything related to images. What’s more, it’s properly color-calibrated by default, so it will show you the colors exactly as they should be.
Performance-wise, this slim and light laptop is a monster in disguise. It features the Intel i7-6700HQ processor, 2.6GHz and up to 3.5GHz overclocked, 6MB cache. It’s paired with a nVidia GTX 960M, with 2GB GDDR5, which can do some medium-level gaming and whatever-level graphic design you want. 16GB RAM, a 512GB SSD, and you get the recipe for the absolute best. For this price, we think this is a fabulous option for the professionals, and we completely recommend it if you can afford it.
2. Apple MacBook Pro MJLQ2LL/A
In spite of them being quite pricey, Apple laptops seem to be the first choice of many photo and video editors and graphic designers. And it’s not just because they are pretty. The Retina display, which on this model has the ideal QHD+ resolution, is claimed to be the best on the market, and, to be honest, we can’t say that it isn’t. There’s also the premium quality of the overall build and the fact that no viruses will affect you. All in all, in spite of the relatively high price, we do recommend this if you’re into Apple.
Just like the display, the CPU is also custom-made. It’s an i7 belonging to the Crystalwell generation, 2.2GHz and up to 3.4GHz with Turbo Boost, featuring the professional-level integrated graphics chip Intel Iris Pro. It can deal with 3D graphic design like it’s nothing, especially since it also has 16GB DDR3L SDRAM. The storage is a tad bit tiny, a 256GB SSD, but you can totally afford an external HDD if you can afford a MacBook.
3. Acer Aspire V17 Nitro Black Edition VN7-792G-709L
Technically, this is a gaming-oriented model. However, we decided to include it on this list because of the excellent UHD display, a feature relatively rare on an Acer model. It’s on a different level when it comes to size, being 17.6”, but it’s still fairly slim and light for its size class, at only 0.98” and 6.83lbs. If you prefer bigger displays, we completely recommend this, especially since it has some excellent reviews and has the great advantage of being somewhat user-upgradable, which we cannot say about any other model here.
The configuration is rather similar to the ZenBook Pro, with the same i7-6700HQ, and 16GB DDR4. The graphics card is also the same, a GTX 960M, but it has 4GB GDDR5, presumably to deal with the bigger display. What’s more, there’s also a 1TB HDD, so this model has both storage size and speed covered.
4. Dell XPS 9350-8008SLV
We included a big laptop; now it’s time to include a small one as well. At only 0.6” thickness and 2.83lbs, this little beauty features an astonishing 13.3” QHD+ IPS 10-finger multitouch Infinity Edge display, which will allow you to play using more than just the keyboard or mouse.
Performance-wise, in spite of it being so tiny, this laptop is just as good as the MacBook Pro. It’s powered by an i7-6560HQ, 2.2GHz base frequency, and Turbo Boost up to 3.2Ghz, with the integrated graphics chip Intel Iris 540. It has the same 16GB DDR3L SDRAM and, as a bonus, it also has a 512GB SSD, which the MacBook Pro doesn’t. All in all, the best mini-laptop for graphic design.
5. Lenovo Yoga 710
Sometimes, you may find it easier to deal with visual applications on a tablet. Sure, a touchscreen laptop can do almost the same things, but it’s a lot less comfortable. The Yoga 710 takes the best out of both worlds, with its 14” FHD IPS multitouch display. You can use it as a laptop or a tablet by simply flipping the screen on the other side, and it’s a very portable design at only 0.7” and 3.8lbs.
The processor used for this model is a latest-generation Intel Core i5-7200U, 2.5GHz and up to 3.1GHz overclocked, which comes with Intel HD Graphics 620. It also has 8GB DDR4 and a 256GB SSD. As far as we’re concerned, this is one of the best 2-in-1 laptops for graphic design and certainly the best in its price range.
6. Asus F556UA-AB54 NB
The best budget model around here, this classy laptop from Asus makes the top of more than one of our lists. You get a design almost on par with the ZenBook Pro, which is almost three times the price. The brushed aluminum frame, quite characteristic of Asus models, hosts a nice FHD display, and the whole thing just radiates a premium look.
As far as performance goes, this one is identical in every aspect to the Yoga 710, with the same processor, memory, and storage. We think you could count on better cooling, which Asus is renowned for, and a bit more battery life in spite of the bigger display, as touchscreens use up more power.
How can you choose the best laptop for graphic design among the possibilities your budget allows? There are a couple of things you need to consider when making such a purchase and, if you get those right, you’ll have no problem running more demanding software. The following are the main points you have to take into account:
The ultimate concern for a visual arts professional, whether they are visual image developers, layout artists, web designers, photo or video editors, or whatever other similar trade, is to have a good display to work on. You cannot upgrade the screen of your laptop as you can with your desktop and connect an external monitor would simply defeat the purpose of buying a portable computer in the first place.
The best laptops for graphic design have at least an FHD (1920x1080p) resolution on a classic 15.6” screen. It’s not just about the resolution, but about the resolution/size ratio – an HD resolution is sufficient on a 12.5” display, but a 17.6” HD one is awful. There’s nothing worse than pixelated images or a picture simply not fitting on display. With that in mind, the optimal resolution is QHD for a 15-inch display or higher, FHD for 13-15”, and HD for anything lower than that, although nobody’s going to have a problem with a 17.6” UHD or 13.3” QHD.
The second most important thing is to make sure it’s a true IPS panel and not the average TN panel. IPS panels have the disadvantage of a slower response time than TN panels, but that’s irrelevant for graphic design. What’s relevant is that they provide incomparably better color reproduction, wider viewing angles, better lighting, no lighting or tailing when touched (significant for touchscreen devices) and overall clear images and excellent response time.
Poor color reproduction leads to overcompensation on behalf of the designer, which will result in printing flaws and so on. The same goes for the viewing angles: while some people may want others not to see what they’re doing and thus restricting the angle on purpose, this is a problem for visual artists. You will see the colors at the center and the border of the display differently, which may lead to the same problems as overall poor color reproduction.
To avoid all these issues, make sure you get a proper IPS display. You can, and you should check the reviews for the product you’re planning to buy, to make sure that the display is exactly what you want before buying, especially considering that many shops and even manufacturers advertise as “IPS” displays that are obviously not.
THE most important part of any computer, the CPU is something you also need to pay particular attention to if you’re doing graphic design. As said above, the necessary software is often very demanding, and we weren’t talking about your bank account.
That being said, most modern high-end CPUs will work just fine for this type of application. Anything like a 6th or 7th generation Intel Core i5 or i7 can handle the task just fine, even ultra-low voltage ones like i5-6200U or i7-6500U. Of course, if you’re using many demanding applications at the same time, you’ll need a stronger i7, such as the current mainstream gaming-oriented model i7-6700HQ.
By the way, in case you’re wondering if gaming laptops are good for graphic design, the answer is yes. Certainly. Just make sure they have the appropriate display. Besides that, gaming laptops are ideal for graphic design and just about everything else.
Why not AMD? While their desktop CPUs are excellent, their mobile performance is not quite up to standard. They’re not necessarily bad; you can still get one if you find something attractive, just not as good as Intel when it comes to laptops.
The graphics chip
It’s not necessary for you to have a discrete graphics card for graphic design purposes. In fact, unless you’re doing gaming, hardcore CGI, or video editing, you don’t need one. Modern integrated video chips support not only 2D graphics, but also multi-layer and 3D rendering without a problem, and they cost you absolutely nothing – they come with the CPU.
Intel usually pairs their 6th and 7th generation processors with video chips like Intel HD 520, 530, 620, 630, and so on. These are all sufficient for most practical purposes. What’s more, certain CPUs come with Intel Iris, which is a semi-pro-oriented graphics chip and it’s almost on par with non-consumer graphics cards like nVidia Quadro when it comes to visual rendering. Among integrated chips, these are unquestionably the best, and we totally recommend them. They’re also the most expensive so that you know.
If you see a good model featuring a discrete graphics card, you can get it. It’ll work just fine for you, although it will consume a fair bit more battery.
Laptops for graphic design should have at least 8GB RAM. It’s law. Not only is the software itself particularly taxing on the memory, but you often find yourself multitasking, and you don’t want that one extra Chrome tab to lead to a general block. Sure, if you’re not doing anything complicated, it’s possible to get by with 4GB, but that’s only for complete amateurs.
In case you’re using some of the more hardcore applications, we recommend 12-16GB for optimal use.
HDD vs. SSD. Capacity versus speed, more or less. Hard disk drives are huge and cheap, but also pretty slow, and it may take a lifetime for an application to load or for you to copy a few thousand files from one place to another. SSDs are lightning fast and less prone to errors, which is perfect if you know what the “blue screen of death” means. However, they are smaller in size and more expensive.
All things considered, we recommend you get a 256GB or so SSD on your laptop. You can buy a 4TB external HDD for less than $100, and it will be enough for you to store everything you could need, while the computer will use the faster SSD for whatever you are processing at the time.
Of course, since we’re talking about laptops, we have to talk about batteries also. You’re lucky though: most of the laptops for graphic design have good to excellent battery life, unlike gaming models. Especially since a discrete graphics card is not necessary and an ultra-low voltage processor will do the job perfectly.
As a rule of thumb, the smaller the display, the better the battery life. You can expect a 15.6” laptop to hold out for about 6-8 hours, on average, while 13-inchers can go as high as 12 hours.
That’s about all you need from a laptop when it comes to graphic design. Well, at least theoretically.