In any business, time is money, so it’s important to have the best equipment to make your work as efficient as possible. This is as true for graphic design as it is for anything else.
Finding the best graphic design computer can be a challenge, because you need a powerful machine that can perform a variety of tasks. The demands are similar to what you’ll need for photo editing or video editing.
You need to be able to manipulate high-resolution images efficiently, and older computers aren’t up to the task.
Today, I’m going to walk you through how to find the best Laptops for Graphic Design. I’ll talk about the CPU, RAM, and GPU requirements, as well as laptop-specific considerations like size and portability.
By the end of this article, you’ll be able to choose the best laptop for working with Adobe Creative Cloud and other graphic design software.
As should be obvious by now, I’m talking about laptops, not desktops. If you have a stationary workstation, you might want to check out my guide on choosing the Best Computer for Graphic Design.
You won’t get the same portability, but you’ll get more bang for your buck.
If you don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty and just want the recommendations, go ahead and skip to the end.
For everyone else, let’s get started!
Best Laptop Components for Graphic Design
The CPU, sometimes called the “processor”, is the brain of your computer. It handles pretty much every task performed by your PC.
Typing an email? Your CPU processes every keystroke and puts the correct letter into your window. Drawing a line? Your CPU is taking your inputs and turning them into a line on the screen.
Opening a menu? Your CPU is processing all your instructions.
There are two main ways of measuring CPU speed. The first is to measure the speed, which is measured in Gigahertz (GHz), or billions of cycles per second. So a 1GHz CPU makes 1,000,000,000 calculations per second.
The other way is to measure the number of cores. A core is basically its own mini-CPU. In essence, a quad-core CPU works like 4 CPUs working together.
The reason this is important is that a CPU core can only work on a single task at a time. If your computer were running multiple tasks on a CPU with just one Core, it would have to constantly switch back and forth between the tasks, which slows it down.
So the more cores, the more speed you get for multiple tasks or tasks that can be parallelized.
For graphic design purposes, you’re typically running a single program. And, while a single program can use multiple cores, graphic design program tasks are hierarchical.
For example, your software might need to execute Task A, Task B, and Task C.
But Task C cannot be executed until Task B is executed, which cannot be executed until Task A is executed. Faster core speeds allow Task A to get executed faster, which moves the process along.
As a result, it’s important to look for a processor with high clock speeds, and 4 cores is just fine.
If you also want to perform rendering or video editing tasks, you might want 8 or more cores. But that’s not necessary for graphic design.
Here are some CPU benchmarks from PassMark Software. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does illustrate how much performance can vary from one CPU to another.
|Intel Core i9-9880H||2.3GHz||16,319|
|Intel Core i7-8700B||3.2GHz||14,963|
|Intel Core i7-9750HF||2.6GHz||14,598|
|Intel Core i5-9400F||2.9GHz||12,046|
|Intel Core i7-9850HL||1.9GHz||11,340|
|Intel Core i5-8259U||2.3GHz||10,979|
|Intel Core i5-8400H||2.5GHz||10,379|
|Intel Core i7-8705G||3.1GHz||9,853|
|AMD RYZEN 7 PRO 2700U||2.2GHz||8,873|
|Intel Xeon E3-1268L v5||2.4GHz||8,695|
|AMD RYZEN 5 3550H||2.1GHz||8,417|
|Intel Core i3-8109U||3GHz||6,074|
Your computer has 2 different types of storage: volatile memory, generally referred to as “random access memory”, or RAM, and non-volatile memory, or storage.
RAM is perhaps the most important feature for graphic design performance.
The reason for this is that RAM can be read and written very quickly. Storage, such as a hard drive, takes longer to read and write.
So, how much RAM is enough?
Let’s assume you’re running Windows 10. By the time your computer boots up, you’re already using 4GB of RAM. Once you load Adobe Creative Cloud, you’re already using 8GB of RAM.
What does this mean?
It means that if your computer only has 8GB of RAM, you’d better not be running anything in the background. Want to fire up iTunes or Chrome? You’re going to need more RAM.
When your RAM is used up, your computer will need to use storage to function as extra RAM. Since storage takes longer to read and write, this significantly slows your performance.
As a result, 8GB of RAM is the bare minimum for graphic design. Even then, you’ll probably get frustrated from time to time. In reality, 16GB is a much better number for graphic design.
Unlike a CPU or GPU, having absurd amounts of RAM isn’t going to help you out. As long as you have enough for your tasks, you’ll be fine. But it’s still better to have more than you need than not enough.
The GPU is a dedicated processor, similar to the CPU. However, the GPU is a processing unit that specializes on tasks related to graphical computations and visual output.
This eliminates a lot of demand from the CPU, freeing it up for processing everything else.The good news about choosing a graphic design laptop is that the GPU demands will be relatively minimal. You’re typically working with a single image, even if there are several layers to deal with.
As a result, you might notice that my top choices all have mid-tier GPUs.
If you’re building your own PC, it doesn’t hurt to buy a more powerful GPU. But in practice, ultra-powerful GPUs are only necessary for gaming, where the GPU needs to handle a multitude of textures and render them in real-time, often at high framerates.
For practical purposes, any GPU with at least 2GB of VRAM is just fine for running Adobe Creative Cloud.
Before we continue, here’s a list of GPU benchmarks I put together, as provided by PassMark Software.
|GPU||Video RAM||G3D Benchmark|
|GeForce RTX 2080 Ti||11,264MB||16,731|
|GeForce RTX 2080||8,096MB||15,470|
|GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER||8,192MB||14,895|
|GeForce GTX 1080 Ti||11,264MB||14,200|
|Radeon RX 5700 XT||8,192MB||14,098|
|GeForce RTX 2060||6,144MB||12,803|
|Radeon RX 5700||8,192MB||12,583|
|GeForce GTX 1070 Ti||8,192MB||12,290|
|GeForce GTX 1660 Ti||6,144MB||11,469|
|GeForce GTX 980 Ti||6,144MB||11,447|
|GeForce GTX 1070||8,192MB||11,387|
|GeForce GTX 1660||6,144MB||10,830|
|GeForce GTX 1650||4,096MB||7,916|
|GeForce GTX 1050 Ti||4,096MB||6,076|
|Radeon Pro 5300M||2,048MB||5,696|
|GeForce GTX 1050||2,048MB||4,805|
|Radeon R9 270X||4,096MB||4,698|
|GeForce GTX 660 Ti||3,072MB||4,654|
|Radeon HD 7870||2,048MB||4,385|
|Intel Quadro M620||2,048MB||2,805|
|Radeon Pro WX 2100||2,048MB||2,270|
HDD vs. SSD Drives
Moving on to storage, there are two basic types of storage devices: hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs).
An HDD is the standard, old-fashioned type of hard drive that still exists in most PCs.
It consists of a small metal case, with a hard disk inside. The disk spins around like a record, while a magnetized needle reads and writes your data.
HDDs are inexpensive, but slow. This is because the disk has to physically spin in order to read or write. This rotation speed, or RPM, limits your disk speed.
Most modern desktop drives operate at 7,200 RPM, while laptop drives are typically limited to 5,400 RPM.
The faster option is to use a Solid State Disk, or SSD. An SSD has no moving parts, so it can operate much quicker. Instead, it relies on a process called quantum tunneling to read and write your data. I’m not going to get into quantum tunneling, because it’s absurdly complicated.
Suffice it to say that SSDs are a lot faster.
So, why is this important?
The reason is that SSDs are significantly more costly, on a price-per-gigabyte basis, than HDDs. As with many things in life, you’re going to need to strike a balance between cost and quality.
For data-heavy applications like video editing, an SSD is all but mandatory.
However, for graphic design, this is less important. There just isn’t that much data even in a complex Photoshop image. The difference in read and write time between an SSD and an HDD aren’t that big.
That said, there are good reasons to choose an SSD. The reason is that your operating system, as well as your graphic design apps, need to load. And both of those applications are very heavy on storage.
Without an SSD, it can take several minutes just to boot up your laptop and load your software.
If you’re really short on cash, you might end up buying a laptop with a small SSD that’s barely large enough for your operating system and Adobe Creative Cloud.
In that case, there’s a good compromise solution: simply store your other data, such as your project files, on an external drive.
Alternatively, you could use cloud storage for your project files. Either way, use the SSD for your operating system and apps, and you’ll get much better performance.
There are several things to take into consideration when evaluating a laptop screen for graphic design. The first, screen resolution, is easy to understand. The bigger the numbers, the sharper the images.
You’ll see more detail, so you’ll be able to do better work without zooming in and out constantly.
That said, there’s a limit to how much resolution will help you. On a smaller screen, you won’t notice the difference between 1080p and 4K resolution. If you want 4K resolution from your laptop, your best bet is to use an external monitor.
Screen size is another important consideration. The bigger the screen, the easier it will be on your eyes. On the other hand, a large screen means a bigger laptop, which means more weight and bulk while you’re traveling.
I’ll talk more about laptop size in the next section.
Perhaps the most important consideration is color accuracy. This simply means the number of colors the screen can display.
As a side note, this is another reason to steer clear of gaming laptops for graphic design. Gaming GPUs and monitors are designed for fast refresh times and highly-saturated colors.
These are great for video games, but they’re not beneficial for graphic design.
For graphic design, you need color accuracy to find out what the end product is going to look like, no matter if you are going to print your designs or display them on the TV, Monitors, or Smartphone screens.
In addition, the type of panel will affect your viewing angle, or your ability to see accurate color from an angle. Since you probably won’t always be looking at your screen at a flat-on, 90-degree angle, this is important.
First, let’s look at different color accuracy standards:
- sRGB is the standard RGB color standard, and the most commonly-listed metric.
- Adobe RGB is a wider color standard that’s used for applications that will output their results in CMYK. It’s the most important metric for graphic designers.
- DCI-P3 is a more advanced color standard that’s not listed on most devices. In the future, this metric will become more important.
For laptops, it can often be difficult to find this information. You’ll need to read the product data sheet to find out, and many times, it isn’t even listed there. If it’s not listed, that is usually a bad sign.
Choose a Laptop that clearly states how color-accurate the screen is.
An easier specification to find is the panel type. LCD panels are divided into 3 different types:
- TN panels are the most inexpensive type of panel. They’re ideal for gaming, because they have the lowest latency and highest refresh rates. However, the color accuracy is the lowest of all panel types.
- IPS panels are the most expensive type of panel. However, they offer the highest color accuracy, as well as the widest viewing angle. The only serious downside is so-called “backlight bleed”, which makes it hard to distinguish different shades of black. Nonetheless, this is the best panel type for graphic designers.
- VA panels fall somewhere in-between TN panels and IPS panels. They’re generally inferior to IPS panels for graphic designers. However, because they don’t suffer from backlight bleed, they can be a good choice if you work primarily in greyscale.
Size and Portability
As I already mentioned, you’re going to have to consider the balance between size and portability.
The bigger the screen, the easier it is to work with. In addition, a larger laptop generally has an easier-to-use keyboard with some even sporting a Number-Pad, which can be invaluable depending on your workflow.
However, a larger laptop is generally going to be heavier, meaning you might not want to carry it around too much. And on top of that, you’re going to need a larger work space to accommodate the larger laptop.
On the go, in trains, on planes, a large laptop can be hard to fit.
But there’s also another balance to strike. You see, larger laptops also tend to perform better.
Why is this the case?
The issue here is cooling. As anyone who’s ever been burned by a laptop knows, laptops get hot. And that heat needs to go somewhere. A larger laptop allows for faster heat dissipation, since there’s more room for venting, radiator mass, and fans.
What does this have to do with performance?
The faster a processor or GPU is running, the more heat it’s going to produce. And more heat doesn’t just run the risk of burning your thighs; it also means that your laptop can fail sooner.
To compensate for this, laptop manufacturers throttle down their components’ performance when the particular component is starting to get too warm.
The result is that compact, high-performance laptops don’t always perform up to their potential. Sure, this micro laptop might have a Core i9 processor, but it’s not going to be running full-bore all the time because it gets too hot too quickly.
As a result, you’re juggling quality and performance against light weight, low noise, and portability. To maximize your performance, look for a 17-inch laptop that’s nice and thick.
For more portability, a 14-15-inch screen will still get the job done, and be lightweight at that.
Thankfully, graphic design doesn’t generally put a lot of demand on your CPU. The main difference in performance will generally come down to loading times. That said, a hotter laptop will end up failing sooner.
Also, don’t forget to look at the keyboard. If you’re fond of shortcuts, a small laptop with no function keys or Number-Pad can hinder your productivity.
This is another good reason to consider at least a mid-sized laptop.
Our Picks: Best Laptops for Graphic Design
Now that we’ve looked at all the necessary components, it’s time to get to the recommendations. Here are my top three choices for the best graphic-design laptop.
Best Budget Option: Acer Spin 3
Let’s address the elephant in the room; a budget computer is rarely ideal. When you go cheap, your laptop is going to be obsolete sooner than it would if you bought a more fully-featured system.
That said, sometimes cash is tight, and you need a computer that will work for you tomorrow.
If you need a graphic design laptop right this second, the Acer Spin 3 is a solid choice. It’s designed as a hybrid between a laptop and a tablet, with a reversible monitor that gives the system its name.
The 14-inch screen is a bit small, but it’s an IPS touch screen, complete with a stylus for sketching out a new design in a hurry. It has a 1080p resolution, which isn’t as impressive as 4K, but still good enough to get the job done.
The 16GB of RAM are enough to run Adobe Creative Cloud efficiently. There’s also a 512MB SSD drive, which allows you to boot up quickly and quickly load your files.
The 8th Generation Intel Core i7 8565U CPU offers burst speeds of 4.6GHz. However, the slim profile will prevent you from reaching those speeds on a regular basis.
Then again, the small size is part of the attraction. This laptop is only ¾ of an inch thick, and weighs less than 4 pounds. If you spend a lot of time on the road, you’ll appreciate the light weight.
The downside? There’s no GPU. This means that the entire weight of image processing is going to fall on the CPU.
Is the Acer Spin 3 perfect?
No. But it’s the best in its price range.
Best Value Option: HP ZBook x2
When I say that the HP ZBook x2 is the best value option, I don’t mean “value” as in “cheap”. I mean it’s a mid-priced laptop that punches above its weight.
At 15 inches, the display is on the smaller side, but it’s actually the ZBook x2’s best feature.
To begin with, it’s 4K, with DreamColor LEDs that were produced in a special partnership between LG and HP. It also has an IPS construction, for an impressive side-viewing capability.
But the really attractive aspect of the ZBook x2 is the ability to remove the screen altogether. You can take it off and use it as a tablet, and use the built-in stylus to work on your creations.
The keyboard operates via Bluetooth, so you can even fire off a quick email without reattaching the screen.
So far, so good.
But what about the graphics and the processor?
The CPU is an Intel Core i7, paired with an NVIDIA Quadro M620 GPU with 2GB of dedicated graphics memory. This is a nice touch, but to be honest the graphics memory is almost an afterthought; the HP ZBook x2 comes with a whopping 32GB of RAM.
Throw in a 512GB SSD card, and you’ve got a graphics design laptop that runs Adobe faster than Usain Bolt and Sonic the Hedgehog combined.
Best Performance Option: MSI P65 Creator
If money is no object, the MSI P65 Creator Series is my number one best laptop for graphic design. There are two main reasons for this.
The first is the gorgeous 15-inch, 4K Ultra HD screen. This screen is absolutely stunning, with a highly accurate IPS panel that makes your images clear and crisp from just about any angle.
The second is the powerful GeForce RTX 2060 GPU. This is a VR-ready GPU that’s capable of handling even 8K graphics. So it will process 4K images like Dwayne Johnson bench pressing a small house cat.
The P65 Creator also has a dedicated creator centor, which allows you to adjust your system settings to further optimize your system for top-tier Adobe performance. These controls can give top priority to your creative software, ensuring that it gets first dibs on system resources.
The Intel Core i7-9750h processor has a base frequency of 2.6GHz, but will operate at burst speeds of 4.5GHz. You won’t experience any lag when performing complex operations.
This laptop also features an impressive 32GB of RAM, which uses Intel’s Optane technology to automatically prioritize frequently-used apps like Photoshop and Illustrator.
Finally, the P65 Creator features a 1TB SSD. You won’t need an external drive to enhance your storage capacity. This laptop was built from the ground up for creative professionals, and it shows.
The Apple Alternative: Apple MacBook Pro 16
Let’s be clear, I’m not a huge fan of this machine for high-performance tasks. As you’ll see in a second, it has excellent specs. However, it’s very slim, which means the performance will often be throttled due to cooling concerns.
That said, I’m well aware that many people prefer a Mac. In many ways, they’re easier to use than a PC. And for some people, that outweighs any sacrifices in performance. If you’re one of those people, the Apple MacBook Pro 16 is your best choice.
To begin with, it sports a 9th-generation Intel Core i7 processor.
When paired with an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M GPU, this is sufficient for fast, lag-free operation of Adobe and other similar tools.
The 16-inch Retina display uses Apple’s True Tone color technology, which is ideal for graphic design. It also provides great color balance for other tasks, like animation.
The 16GB of RAM is the most significant upgrade from the Dell machine I just talked about.
It allows you to load Adobe Creative Suite, jam out to your favorite songs on iTunes, and still have enough head space to open and close apps without any issues.
The MacBook Pro 16 is a significant change from Apple’s last MacBook Pro. The upgraded CPU, GPU, and keyboard make this laptop a great value.
And speaking of the keyboard, the MacBook Pro 16 has an RGB slider at the top to perform color adjustment on the fly.
This laptop was purpose-built for creative professionals, and Apple has really outdone themselves. As an added bonus, the speakers are loud and powerful.
That’s about it from our side. What Laptop for Graphic Design are you thinking of buying?