Finding a laptop fit to handle the complex demands of designers and artists operating in the digital realm is no small feat. With options aplenty, we’re spoiled for choice, which is both a boon and a burden, making the task of finding the best laptops for graphic design a challenging task. More and more manufacturers are successfully squeezing down the power of traditionally chunky workstations packed to the gills with cutting-edge hardware into portable, powerful devices.
If you judiciously have not gone out and laid down cash on the first allegedly graphic design-ready laptop out there and want to make an informed decision, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve tracked down the best laptops for graphic design out there, covering a range of budgets and uses to hopefully meet your needs and help you further your skills.
How We Picked
‘Best’ is a very subjective term, so to offer options with the general chops to handle most graphic design tasks, we concentrated our efforts on tracking down the laptops with a balance of several core features. Specifications, notably CPU, RAM, and GPU, design, build quality, display type and quality, battery life, portability, and connectivity – these largely steered our decision-making process.
After trawling through what the market has to offer, we’ve narrowed down our recommendations to five top picks. Read on to find out what each brings to the graphic design table alongside stand-out features and the things they get wrong. Let’s start with what we deem the all-around best laptop for graphic design work.
Best Laptop For Graphic Design in 2021
Exquisite 16-inch Retina display with P3 wide color gamut
AMD Radeon Pro 5000M series graphics
Responsive and comfortable Magic Keyboard
Up to 11 hours of battery life
Limited I/O ports
The Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch needs little introduction, and if it does, it is not just the best MacBook Pro in years, but the ultimate portable graphic design device money can buy. Apple has leveraged its unparalleled eye for aesthetic and intuitive design with a, frankly, beastly list of specifications to deliver the market’s most powerful laptop for editors, musicians, developers, animators, and artists.
Under the hood, Apple offers the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch in an array of configurations sporting either an Intel i7 or i9 processor, up to 64 GB of RAM, up to 8TB of SSD storage, and either AMD’s Radeon Pro 5300M or Radeon Pro 5500M GPU. The last point is particularly relevant to graphic design, as AMD’s Radeon Pro 5000M series represents the cutting edge of discrete mobile graphics solutions.
Alongside, Apple has successfully squeezed in 11 hours of battery life, although mileage will vary based on use. The exquisite 16-inch Retina display with P3 wide color gamut is worth mentioning too. It is perfectly factory-calibrated for accurate color reproduction, a boon in the graphic design field. We’d also be remiss not to mention the much-improved Magic Keyboard with its scissor mechanism keys and smooth, responsive 1mm travel.
Such a feature-rich laptop coupled with the premium associated with the Apple name means the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch doesn’t come cheap even within the premium laptop space. In our opinion, the laptop is worth every penny as long as you’ll make full use of all its capabilities and hardware.
Another arguable negative is the minimal selection of I/O ports – four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports. Standard fare for Mac devices, you could say, but still, a point of contention compared to the much-loved Mid-2015 MacBook Pro with its generous spread of Thunderbolt, USB, HDMI ports, and an SD card reader. That said, the ports on the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch support up to two 6K displays.
Versatile M1 chip
More affordable than 16-inch MacBook Pro
20-hours of battery life
13-inch Retina display with P3 wide color gamut
Poor selection of ports
If the eye-watering price of the 16-inch MacBook Pro is too prohibitive, and let’s face it, it will be for the majority of people, then the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch offers a welcome mid-range compromise housed in a smaller form factor.
The MacBook Pro 13-inch swaps out the Intel processors found in the 16-inch variant for Apple’s proprietary M1, an SoC solution that incorporates CPU, GPU, and I/O into one. Versatility is the name of the game here, with stellar nippy performance for large selection of tasks, particularly resource-heavy graphic design applications. The integrated graphics are notably impressive, with plenty of power to confidently tackle 8K video.
Alongside, Apple makes the MacBook Pro 13-inch in several configurations with up to 16 GB of RAM and 2TB of SSD storage. Additionally, the M1 can be replaced by either an Intel i5 or i7 if that’s more your speed, although you’ll have to depend on Intel Iris Plus for all your graphics needs.
The MacBook Pro 13-inch features the same premium-grade Retina display as its larger sibling, albeit scaled-down, but with an identical P3 wide color gamut for superb color accuracy. Similarly, the laptop sports the same Magic keyboard, which offers a satisfyingly tactile and responsive typing experience. The 13-inch model also ups the battery life to 20-hours, which for a pro-grade laptop is incredibly efficient, further underscoring the laptop’s portability credentials.
Much like the 16-inch Macbook Pro, the MacBook Pro 13-inch suffers from a sparsity of ports, with only two Thunderbolt USB 4 ports on the device’s side.
Cutting-edge mobile specifications
Elegant and neat design
Impressive 15.6-inch 4K display
Mediocre battery life
Discrete GPU option may not suit power users
Shifting OS to Windows, the Dell XPS 15 is, in our opinion, the most rounded laptop, 15-inch or otherwise, in a bustling sea of options. The device is the latest beneficiary of a much-needed ground-up rework from Dell, doing away with the old bulky and outdated chassis for possibly one of the neatest and elegant laptop designs around. And one that rivals Apple with an effortlessly cohesive look and feel, packaged in a slim, portable shell.
That style carries over to the Dell XPS 15’s stunning 15.6-inch 4K display, available in either a battery-sapping OLED version or a more efficient UHD variant. As for the hardware powering the laptop, you’ll find some of the best mobile options out there: 10th-gen Intel i7 or i9, up to 32 GB of RAM, and up to 1TB of SSD storage.
Dell limits the GPU to a perfectly serviceable NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti, which will suit most graphic design work but may lack power for those working with the most resource-intensive tasks. Another gripe we have with the Dell XPS 15 is mediocre battery life, which caps out at about 6 hours for general use and even less for the OLED version.
Now to talk briefly about price. The Dell XPS 15 isn’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but the well-balanced configurations are substantially lower priced than the base spec MacBook Pro 16-inch. One of the benefits of operating within the Windows ecosystem.
Beautiful minimalist design and robust aluminum casing
11.5 hours of battery life
Bright and vivid display
Those looking for a Windows laptop suitable for more modest forms of graphic design should consider the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 15-inch. Not as powerful as the options above, or as expensive, the laptop sits firmly in the mid-range tranche. We’re particularly fond of the minimalist design and rugged aluminum casing, which mirrors the functional aura surrounding the laptop.
On the specification side of things, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 15-inch ships with either an AMD Ryzen 5 3580U or AMD Ryzen 7 3780U processor, up to 16 GB of RAM, Radeon Vega 9 or Radeon RX Vega graphics, and up to 1 TB of SSD storage. In keeping with our aim of highlighting the best laptops for graphic design, Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 15-inch features a stunning, bright, and vivid PixelSense display.
As for negatives, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 15-inch suffers from the same shortage of ports as the MacBook Pro range. Additionally, with the specifications maxed out, the price rises sharply. However, it remains digestible compared to the bill you’ll contend with when opting for the premium Dell XPS 15 and MacBook Pro configurations.
Simple, elegant design and compact casing
12-hours of battery life
Too few ports
A good way to look at the Dell XPS 13 is as a compact iteration of the XP15, which we’ve detailed above. The laptop benefits from the same stylish refresh: simple, elegant, virtually bezel-less, and portable. Perfect for anyone in the graphic design field that is constantly on the move but doesn’t want to sacrifice performance – or looks, for that matter.
Dell has incorporated its excellent anti-glare 13.4-inch FHD+ Infinity Edge (there’s also a premium UHD+ version available) with superb 500 nits brightness and remarkably accurate color reproduction thanks to 100 sRGB and 90% DCI-P3. If we look to the other specifications, there are four different configurations available. Choices include the latest Intel Core i5-1135G7 or i7-1185G7 processors, 8 GB or 16 GB of RAM, and 256 GB or 512 GB of SSD storage. We also have to highlight that the Dell XPS 13 boasts the best battery life of our recommendations, with up to 12 hours of use on a single charge.
We’re starting to sound like a broken record at this point, but once again, the Dell XPS 13 leaves a lot to be desired in terms of ports, offering a measly duo of Thunderbolt 4 ports and a headphone/mic. We also feel that for a 13-inch laptop, the Dell XPS 13 borders on expensive. Although there’s plenty here to warrant the price tag, it’s more a case of pricing out more thrifty graphic designers sticking to a tight budget.
Things To Consider
When it comes to laptops for graphic design, nothing is worth scrutinizing more than the display. As a visual field, graphic design depends on workstations and laptops that reproduce colors accurately and offer highly detailed resolutions, so the finished design appears more or less the same for all regardless of the device.
The gold standard for graphic design laptops is a 15-inch display, although 17-inch models do exist. This ultimately comes down to preference and how much on-screen real estate you might need.
As for resolution, go as high as your budget allows. The trickle-down effect from the most-cutting edge laptops means 4K displays are more affordable than ever, although they cost more than FHD or FHD+ options. There is some leeway here, and cutting down on resolution can save costs, but of course, this depends on the type of work you plan to undertake.
For beginners or those that want a reliable out-of-the-box device, we suggest pre-calibrated displays. Self-calibration is best left to veterans with the right eye for correct color reproduction who know what they are doing.
RAM – As a general rule, we’d urge you to choose a laptop with as much RAM as your budget allows. Put simply, RAM count determines how responsive and smooth a device feels. Software in particular benefits from RAM the most. It allows a smoother in-program experience where projects, tools, effects, and the like load faster, which contributes to an uninterrupted workflow.
GPU – If your work involves more resource-heavy and graphically-intensive types of work such as animation, game design, CGI, or 3D modeling, don’t skimp on a good graphics processing unit or GPU. Laptops don’t perform as well as their desktop or workstation counterparts, it has to be said, but this is the trade-off you make for portability and a comparatively smaller form factor.
Storage – This one is simple: always opt for a nippy and roomy SSD. Most modern laptops won’t include HDD, so the decision is often made on your behalf, but if you have the choice, go SSD. The two types of storage are worlds apart in speed and efficiency.
Check Program Requirements
All our recommendations are great all-around laptops for graphic design work. However, these are general picks, and some may be more suited to particular software or applications than others. The way these applications are used matters, too, making it difficult to assign a specific ‘best’ model. We recommend buying according to your needs and requirements rather than simply opting for a cover-all-bases, pricey option.
In that sense, we suggest researching the system requirements for your software of choice, be that Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or CorelDraw, and matching the specs of your graphic design laptop accordingly. Leading manufacturers list these on their websites, and they can often be found accompanying listings in app stores and the like.
Doing so will ensure you get the most out of the laptop and that it delivers where it matters most in your particular situation. This is particularly relevant if you must stick to a strict, delimited budget and want to know which specifications to compromise on without sacrificing overall in-program performance.
While Apple products may not be to everyone’s taste, it’s hard to go against the grain here and not align with the consensus that the MacBook Pro 16-inch is the uncontested king of laptops suited to graphic design. It’s insanely powerful, packed with cutting edge hardware, and sports an impeccable 16-inch Retina display; there’s little to dislike here, and the gripes we do have are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.
For those priced out of the MacBook Pro 16-inch, the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch is a worthy substitute. The lower price tag, excellent features, and versatile M1 chip combine to deliver a compact, graphic design powerhouse bolstered by Apple’s distinctive look and feel.
Moving to Windows devices, the Dell XPS 15 is the most well-rounded out there: superb performance, top-notch specifications, a tidy refresh, and a genuinely stunning 15.6-inch 4K display. We also consider the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 15-inch, with its minimalist design and excellent battery life, a worthwhile alternative to the XPS 15.
Finally, for Windows users looking for a compact graphic design laptop, we recommend the Dell XPS 13. A miniaturized XPS 15, it’s ideal for those on the go that want performance.
With that, we’ll end our guide to the best laptops for graphic design here. Don’t hesitate to share any comments, suggestions, or questions in the comment section below.