The Best Laptops for Graphic Design 2018

best graphic design laptop

As a graphic designer, you’re going to want a laptop that can keep up with you. Creative software is notoriously demanding to run, so you’re going to need a high spec machine to handle your work without any annoying lag.

The computing market in 2018 is competitive, and so there are loads of incredible options available at every spec and every price. Finding the right graphic design computer is integral to being as productive as possible, but with so many options available it can be tricky to pin down the best option for you.

When shopping around for a new laptop for graphic design, start by considering the following things.

  • Processor – as a graphic designer you’ll know that software like InDesign and AutoCAD needs a lot of power behind it to run smoothly, so a machine that has a powerful processor is a must. Intel Core i7 and Xeon are both great options and can manage even the most complex projects.

  • Memory (RAM) – The more RAM you have, the more space there is for the temporary files that are created while you work. 16 GB of RAM is the minimum you should be considering for a laptop intended for digital design, and if you work with 3D or video 32GB is better.

  • Graphics – a decent GPU is needed for handling layers and effects, and even in 2D, you’re going to want something powerful. NVIDIA’s Quadro and AMD’s Radeon Pro are both brilliant options.

  • Storage - SSD hard drives are the ideal choice for graphic designers as they’re quicker than HDDs. The price of the laptop will go up with the amount of storage you have on board, so if you can live with 512 GB rather than 1 TB, stick to that.

  • Screen – don’t settle for anything less than 1080p (most laptops have this as standard now, anyway) but 4K is obviously better. Consider also whether you’d use a touchscreen and stylus, and if a 2-in-1 is of interest to you.

  • Connectivity – graphic designers will need a couple of USB 3.0 ports, and you’ll most likely want Thunderbolt or HDMI for connecting an external monitor. Ethernet is useful for speedy networking, and an SD card slot is handy if you use photography in your artwork.

Here are our five best laptops for graphic design. It’s worth noting that, where relevant, we’ve reviewed the top specification model for each laptop.

If you’re an Apple fan running demanding software, Apple’s MacBook Pro with Touch Bar will blow your mind with its incredible capabilities.

Amazing power
+ Stunning display
+ Touch Bar aids productivity
Lack of ports

Specification

  • Processor: 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i7
  • Memory: 16GB RAM
  • Graphics: Radeon Pro 560X
  • Storage: 512GB SSD storage
  • Screen: 15” Retina display with True Tone
  • Connectivity: 4 x Thunderbolt 3 ports

Last update on 2018-12-18

This top-spec powerhouse is nothing short of stunning, and if you’re a professional graphic designer it’ll blow your mind with its capabilities. No matter what you’re working on, this Mac won’t struggle to keep up with you and your creativity.

The Touch Bar is a nice addition from Apple and replaces the function keys that are found on most laptops. This intuitive feature displays the tools that you need for each program, which makes it quicker and easier to navigate software such as Photoshop.

The Retina display is spectacular and delivers the realistic tones that you’ll need to see exactly how your color palette will look fresh out of a graphic design printer.

The downsides? There’s not a whole lot of connectivity options available, and the price is as high as you’d expect for an Apple product, but other than that the MacBook Pro is absolutely perfect for professionals.

If you prefer to work with a touchscreen, the Microsoft Surface book 2 will provide you with that and so much more.

Lightning fast performance
+ Long battery life
+ Works as a tablet
Highest spec model is expensive

Specification

  • Processor: 8th-Gen Intel Core i7-8650U quad core
  • Memory: 16GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX
  • Storage: 1TB SSD
  • Screen: 15” PixelSense touch display
  • Connectivity: 2 x USB 3.1, 1 x USB-C, 1 x SDXC card reader

Last update on 2018-12-18

The Surface Books are dominating the hybrid market right now, and with good reason: release after release the range just gets better.

The latest version from Microsoft is unbelievably fast will make light work of 2D work. 3D artists will also be impressed with its performance, and despite the 16GB memory being lower than we’d usually recommend, you won’t experience any slowdown.

The detachable touchscreen is the star of the show, and it’s ideal for artists who integrate digital drawing and painting into their creations.

This laptop is the ultimate in portability. It works as a standalone tablet and the battery last for up to 17 hours so you can be productive wherever you are.

The only real downside is the price: for the highest spec model you’re going to be paying a premium. But as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for, and we wholeheartedly believe that it’s worth every penny.

Another excellent 2-in-1 option is Dell’s XPS 15. If you’re looking for a compact and lightweight powerhouse, you can’t go wrong with this beauty.

+ Stunning 4K display
+ Thin and lightweight
+ A cheaper alternative to pro-level computing
Not as impressive as the Surface Book 2

Specification

  • Processor: 8th-generation Intel Vega Core i7-8705G
  • Memory: 16GB RAM
  • Graphics: Radeon RX Vega 870 with 4GB HMB2
  • Storage: 1TB SSD
  • Screen: 15.6” 4K anti-reflective touch display
  • Connectivity: 2 x Thunderbolt 3

Last update on 2018-12-18

Professionals and hobbyists alike love Dell’s XPS 15, and with good reason: it’s the perfect mix of style and substance.

The processor packs a real punch and the graphics card will handle hefty Illustrator files with ease. 

The machine itself is lightweight and portable, which is ideal for getting work done on the go, and it feels surprisingly compact considering the huge screen that it offers. Speaking of the screen, the anti-glare display is beautifully crisp, and the touchscreen is a great addition if you’re a designer that likes to work directly on the screen.

The performance stands up to Microsoft’s Surface Book 2, but Dell’s offering just doesn’t have the same wow-factor. Connectivity is a bit of a let-down, too. Still, it’s a solid option for professional graphic designers.

Fast, powerful and reliable, the HP ZBook Studio G4 is a longstanding solid choice for any multi-tasking graphic designer.

+ Top-spec performance
+ Screen can easily be color calibrated
+ Great connectivity
Short battery life

Specification

  • Processor: Intel Xeon E3-1535M v6
  • Memory: 32GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro M1200
  • Storage: 1TB SSD
  • Screen: 15.6” DreamColor display
  • Connectivity: 3 x USB 3, 2 x USB-C, 1 x HDMI

Last update on 2018-12-18

If power is your main requirement, HP’s G4 will not disappoint. This machine is everything you need to let your projects shine, and it’s our pick of the powerful models on the market. 32GB of RAM is a dream for designers working with video and 3D, and you won’t experience any lag, no matter how much you throw at it.

The display is big and beautiful and can easily be color calibrated for enhanced accuracy. There’s plenty of connectivity options for plugging into external monitors and hard drives, which is something that a lot of the other products on this list don’t offer.

If you’re a designer that likes to work on the go, you might find the short battery life to be a bit of a frustration, and although it’s not bulky it’s not really made with portability in mind. But, if that’s not a deal breaker for you, you won’t regret investing in this beast of a laptop.

Being on a budget doesn’t mean that you have to settle for a sub-par machine, as this ASUS ZenBook 13 UX330UA proves.

+ Cheaper than most pro-level laptops
+ Speedy performance
+ Sturdy build is nice and robust
The touchpad isn’t great

Specification

  • Processor: Intel Xeon E3-1535M v6
  • Memory: 32GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce MX150
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Screen: 13.3” non-gloss display
  • Connectivity: 3 x USB 3, 1 x USB-C, 1 x micro HDMI, SD card reader

Last update on 2018-12-18

A small budget doesn’t mean poor performance, as this ASUS proves. With a memory that tops other options on our list and pro-grade processor and graphics cards, it’s actually quite surprising that you can pick this laptop up for way under $1,000.

As well as a great spec, ASUS also nailed the fundamentals with this laptop. Connectivity is a huge selling point, and the screen is non-glossy and brilliantly crisp. And, if you like to listen to music while you create, the inbuilt speakers were co-developed with Harmon Kardon and are highly impressive for a laptop.

Screen is smaller than the other options on our list, and there’s less storage on offer too. The touchpad is also a bit of a pain to use so an external mouse would be a good investment. But, you’re saving hundreds of dollars with this model so it’s worth making some compromises if you’re on a tighter budget.

On a final note

As a graphic designer, you’re going to spend a huge amount of time chained to your laptop, so you’ve got to get the right one for your specific needs. As a general rule, spend as much as you can afford to get the highest possible spec, and look out for extra design features that appeal to you.

Which is your best laptop for graphic design? Let us know in the comments.

About the author

John Thatch

John Thatcher is a computer science educated artist. He uses technology to solve artist problems. His friends don't like it when he speaks of himself in the third person. But John does it anyway, because he's a rebel.

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