Looking to upgrade your laptop? Maybe you're heading to college and not kitted out yet. Or perhaps your trusty old warhorse is down on its knees and you need a new laptop to make your designs sing. Either way, if you're in the market for a new machine, our pick of the best laptops for graphic design will help you select the right option. (Prefer desktop? Take a look at our pick of the best computers for graphic design.)
When choosing a laptop for your daily design work, there are many things to consider. One is power versus portability: you need something that’s thin and light enough to throw in your backpack, but also powerful enough to run your suite of creative tools.
And you need to decide whether macOS or Windows is right for you. The former used to be the staple of creative professionals, but it really doesn’t matter what platform you use these days.
Whatever your preferences, each of the six machines here will give you all the power and performance you need to hit the ground running with your latest, greatest project. Read on for our pick of the best laptops for graphic design.
01. Microsoft Surface Book 2
Best overall: The Surface Book could just be the ultimate laptop for graphic design
CPU: Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 – NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 15-inch PixelSense (3240x2160) | Storage: 256GB – 1TB SSD
Microsoft's Surface Book 2 is an incredible machine – even in its lowest spec option. That's why we're highlighting it as our overall best laptop for graphic design.
The fact that you can use it as both a tablet and laptop makes it the ultimate digital sketchbook. Just detach the screen and draw using the included Surface Pen, or buy the innovative Surface Dial (RRP £90) and get an intuitive way of controlling your creative tools. Even better, flip the screen around, reattach it and you can use it to draw at a more natural angle.
Spec-wise, you get a 15-inch 3,240 x 2,160 resolution display, 16GB of RAM, solid-state drive storage of up to 1TB and a possible NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060. In short, it impresses massively in every single department.
But be prepared to pay for the privilege however - you'll need to find well over $1,000/£1,000 to get hold of the Surface Book 2, and thats just for the entry-level configuration. So it's still well worth considering paying less for its predecessor. Microsoft's original Surface Book has a 13.5-inch display and remains a ridiculously accomplished laptop but with a smaller price tag.
Read: Our review of Microsoft Surface Book 2
02. HP ZBook Studio G4 DreamColor
Power meets portability – a fantastic laptop for graphic design
Processor: Intel Xeon CPU | Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro M1200 | Screen: 15.6-inch 3840x2160 | Storage: 512GB SSD | Memory: 32GB RAM | Ports: 2 x USB-C (Thunderbolt 3, DisplayPort), 1 x HDMI, 1 x USB 3.0 | Dimensions: 375(w) x 255(d) x 18(h)mm | Weight: 2.09kg (4.6lbs)
If you’re looking for all-out power and price isn’t too much of a consideration, check out the rip-roaring HP ZBook Studio G4 – the latest in HP’s line of mobile workstations.
The top-end model isn’t cheap, but it packs incredible specs including a 15.6-inch 4K DreamColor display that can easily be colour calibrated, a blazing-fast Core Intel Xeon CPU, 32GB RAM, a 512GB SSD and NVIDIA Quadro M1200 dedicated graphics with 4GB VRAM.
If you like to connect up your favourite peripherals and monitors, then there’s also a healthy range of ports - it features a Gigabit Ethernet port, HDMI port, a legacy VGA connector, SD card reader, one USB 3.0 port, and two USB Type-C (Thunderbolt 3) ports. Oh, and let's not forget the Bang & Olufsen speakers in case you want to crank up the tunes while you work.
At just over 2kg (4.6lbs), it won’t break your back carrying it around, and it’s pretty thin at 18mm. If you're anxious about security, then you'll be glad of the built-in fingerprint reader and the optional (and extremely fast) HP Z Turbo NVMe PCIe SED (self-encrypting drive) SSDs.
Read: Our sister site TechRadar’s HP ZBook 15 G4 review
03. MacBook Pro with Touch Bar
The latest MacBook Pro doesn’t disappoint
Processor: Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Radeon Pro 560 with 4GB memory | Screen: 15-inch 1920x1200 | Storage: 512GB SSD | Memory: 16GB RAM | Ports: 4 x Thunderbolt 3 | Dimensions: Starting at 349(w) x 240(d) x 15.5(h)mm | Weight: 1.95kg (4.3lbs)
It might be expensive, but the MacBook Pro has long been the staple of creative professionals wanting the perfect blend of power and portability. Fast, light, thin and with a fantastic screen, the machine is bolstered by the new Touch Bar – which enables you to perform quick tasks in apps (as long as they’re supported) with a flick of a finger.
Specs are, as you would expect, pretty damn good, with the latest i7 CPU and 16GB RAM. Most impressive of all is the build quality, this really is a beautiful laptop. And when the Touch Bar is eventually fully realised, it could go to the very top of our laptop podium.
Few laptops have a screen as good as the MacBook Pro's 2,560 x 1,600 Retina LED display. The processor makes mincemeat of most tasks, and Photoshopping is noticeably smooth and lag-free. If you rely on a lengthy battery life, we'd recommend turning off the Touch Bar, as it seems to drain it quicker than normal.
Read: TechRadar’s MacBook Pro with Touch Bar review
04. Dell XPS 15
A stunning laptop with a top-notch display
Processor: Intel Core i5 | Memory: 8GB RAM | Storage: 1TB HD/32GB SSD | Graphics: GeForce graphics | Ports: 1 x HDMI, 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x Thunderbolt 3 | Dimensions: 357(w) x 235(d) x 11(h)mm | Weight: 1.8kg
The XPS 15 is a truly stunning laptop – and starting at less than the other laptops above, it’s reasonably affordable, too. For that price, you get the virtually borderless ‘InfinityEdge’ display at Full HD resolution, a Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM and a 1TB HD and 32GB SSD. It's genuinely excellent value for money.
Spec it up a little (or a lot, actually) and you can get a 4K display with multi-touch, turning it – with the help of the Dell stylus – into a portable sketchbook. 15.6-inches of UHD definition (3,840 x 2,160) equals A LOT of pixels and we can't recall seeing a sharper image on any other laptops displays.
Depending on the complexity of the kind of projects you'll be working on, you can pump the Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU up to an impressive Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050. We can't imagine what you could possibly be designing that the latter wouldn't be able to handle.
If you don’t need a 15-incher, look to the XPS 13, which is perhaps the perfect blend of power and portability.
05. Apple MacBook
Best laptop for graphic design students
Processor: 1.2GHz dual-core 7th-generation Intel Core m3 | Memory: 8GB 1866MHz LPDDR3 | Storage: 256GB SSD | Graphics: Intel HD 615
The MacBook perfectly balances power and portability – and looks fantastic to boot. It might not have a lot of ports (one USB-C to be precise). And it might not have the power or screen size of the MacBook Pro. But for much less money, it’s a great option for designing on the go – and a brilliant laptop for graphic designers.
A 12-inch screen is at the heart of the MacBook, but you can of course plug it into an external display using an adaptor (via USB-C). And at 2304 x 1440 pixels there’s plenty of real estate. Technology dating back a few years, the Retina display isn't the very sharpest on the market any longer. But editing images and doing graphically intense design work still looks superb.
If you’re feeling a little flush, you can configure it with up to 16GB RAM – plenty for all but the most demanding tasks. Light, powerful and utterly stylish, the MacBook is a fantastic option for designers and students alike. Its dimensions are almost impossible to believe for such a powerful laptop. It weighs less than 1kg (honest!) and is a mere 13mm in profile.
06. Surface Laptop
Microsoft’s touchscreen bargain is sleek, light and powerful.
Processor: Intel Core i5 | Memory: 4GB RAM | Storage: 128GB SSD | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | Screen: 2256x1504 at 201ppi | Weight: 1.25kg
The Surface Laptop is one of the best laptops for graphic design students. Even the lowest-end model is powerful enough to run Photoshop and Illustrator on a daily basis, and the fact you can use the optional Surface Pen to draw directly on screen makes it even more appealing.
Bear in mind that if you want to run Creative Cloud apps, you’ll need to switch to Windows 10 which is free until early 2018. (The Surface Laptop comes with Windows 10 S – which only enables software from the Windows Store to be installed.)
Still, with its sleek looks and fabric keyboard, the Surface Laptop looks great and performs excellently.