Whether you’re looking for a laptop that can be used in conjunction with a desktop computer or as a primary computer, this is our expert pick of the best laptops for digital Art, be they graphics, UX, or any other form of digital design.
They’re also great for artists who don’t want a 2-in-1 tablet or device that you can draw on directly, or for 3D artists and animators.
Unlike many other stories that you can read on the Internet to tell you which is the best laptop for digital art and artists, we have thoroughly tested and rated each of the models we selected, and there are also many more that failed on the list.
Here we have focused on models that offer the best combination of performance and portability, which in our experience means a 15-inch model. We also looked for 14-inch models for those on a budget, but only one of these laptops was the best of the models featured below. The 13-inch models are generally not powerful enough. The 17-inch models are too bulky to transport unless you really need the extra performance and storage they offer.
The following explains in detail how to choose the correct configuration. However, if you only want a recommendation, we recommend the following:
- If you are working with very complex Photoshop files, editing 4K or working in After Effects, or you are just looking for the biggest and nastiest laptop on the market: a Core i9 processor, 32 GB of RAM, a 512 GB or 1 PCIe SSD TB, an AMD Radeon Pro 555X or Nvidia GeForce 1050i graphics chip, a Retina or 4K display, and a Thunderbolt 3 port for connecting fast storage
- If you’re on a budget: a Core i7 processor with a U suffix, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a powerful HD display. Avoid inexpensive models with bad screens.
The Top Best Laptops For Design & Digital Art 2021
Below we have selected some of the best laptop for design and digital art work.
Apple MacBook Air Laptop
About this item
- All-Day Battery Life – Go longer than ever with up to 18 hours of battery life.
- Powerful Performance – Take on everything from professional-quality editing to action-packed gaming with ease. The Apple M1 chip with an 8-core CPU delivers up to 3.5x faster performance than the previous generation while using way less power.
- Superfast Memory – 8GB of unified memory makes your entire system speedy and responsive. That way it can support tasks like memory-hogging multitab browsing and opening a huge graphic file quickly and easily.
- Stunning Display – With a 13.3” Retina display, images come alive with new levels of realism. Text is sharp and clear, and colors are more vibrant.
- Why Mac – Easy to learn. Easy to set up. Astoundingly powerful. Intuitive. Packed with apps to use right out of the box. Mac is designed to let you work, play, and create like never before.
- Simply Compatible – All your existing apps work, including Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft 365, and Google Drive. Plus you can use your favorite iPhone and iPad apps directly on macOS. Altogether you’ll have access to the biggest collection of apps ever for Mac. All available on the App Store.
- Easy to Learn – If you already have an iPhone, MacBook Air feels familiar from the moment you turn it on. And it works perfectly with all your Apple devices. Use your iPad to extend the workspace of your Mac, answer texts and phone calls directly on your Mac, and more.
Lenovo Chromebook C330 2-in-1 Convertible Laptop
About this item
- Get high performance when you need it – The Chromebook C330 boots up in seconds and features easy-to-use Chrome OS, plenty of memory and storage, and so much more
- Sleek, stylish, and secure, this 360⁰ convertible laptop is less than 1-inch thin and about the weight of a hardback book, with an 11-inch touchscreen display that’s perfect for day-to-day computing and multimedia, on or offline
- The Lenovo Chromebook C330 is easy to use, offers built-in virus protection and keeps going with long battery life. No setup needed – Just login with a Google account so emails, maps, documents, and photos stay with you via cloud storage
- Built to connect, this notebook computer includes a variety of USB ports for effortless connectivity. Plus, stay in touch with the built-in camera. Bluetooth 4.2
- Users love it; “High end features for a low price,” says one happy reviewer. Another adds, “This Chromebook has far exceeded my expectations. The speed is snappy and the device responds quickly to gestures and commands.”
ASUS VivoBook L203NA-DS04
About this item
- 1.10 GHz Intel Celeron N3350 Processor
- 4GB DDR4 RAM | 64GB eMMC Flash Storage
- 11.6″ 1366 x 768 (HD) Display
- Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 500
- Windows 10 Home in S mode
Dell ChromeBook 11
About this item
- 11.6-inch HD SVA BrightView WLED-backlit 1366 x 768 resolution, MaxxAudio Audio, 16GB SSD drive
- 4GB DDR3 SDRAM, Intel Celeron N2955U Processor
- Multi-format media reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC), 802. 11 A/C, Bluetooth 4. 0
- 1 x USB 3. 0 port, 2 x USB 2. 0 port, 1 x HDMI port, 1 x headphone/microphone jack, 3-cell, 36 WHr Li-ion Battery, Chrome OS, Weighs 2.85 lbs, Black Color
Samsung Chromebook Plus V2
About this item
- LIGHTWEIGHT 2-in-1 DESIGN At just under 3 pounds, the Chromebook Plus is incredibly lightweight. You can easily fold it into tablet mode for comfortable viewing and browsing
- BUILT-IN PEN Experience the power of the incredibly precise built-in pen that never needs charging. It’s always ready to write, sketch, edit, magnify and even take screenshots
- DUAL CAMERA Fold your laptop into tablet mode to capture clear shots and even zoom in for a closer look with the revolutionary 13MP world-facing camera with autofocus
- CHROME OS AND GOOGLE PLAY STORE Create, explore and browse on a bigger screen with the tools you use every day —all on the secure Chrome OS
- GET THE MOST OUT OF GOOGLE: Create and explore in a whole new way with the tools you use most. Take your experiences to the big screen, and navigate intuitively with the keyboard and touchpad. Plus, easily download your favorite apps, movies and games from Google Play. Your Chrome OS experience is simple, secure and fast.
- DO MORE. STORE MORE: Tackle anything that comes your way, thanks to a long-lasting battery and an Intel Celeron 3965Y Processor that lets you work on multiple things at once. With 32GB of built-in memory, you have room for your favorite photos, documents, music and more. Even store movies to watch offline while on the go. When you need extra room, add more storage with a microSD card.
Most 15-inch laptops are available with HD displays (that is, 1,920 x 1,080 or 1,920 x 1,200) or 4K displays (3840 x 2160). Always go for the 4K display if you can afford it.
Not only can you view your work in four times more detail, modern application user interfaces are also designed for resolutions higher than HD. On HD displays, control panels and toolbars take up a large part of the screen (at least if you do). I am used to working on the highest resolution screen, be it on the desktop or on a laptop.
In general, 4K displays on laptops intended for designers and artists offer better color reproduction as a premium viewing option. They can output a wider gamut of colors – Most HD displays can only output about 75% of the Adobe RGB color space (as used by most Adobe RGB applications).
Instead, HD displays aim for 100% sRGB, which is a much smaller color space so you can see less shadows and less smooth gradients, for example. Some 4K displays can output 100% Adobe RGB and are generally more color accurate as well. We tested both with a Data Color Spyder 5 Elite color calibrator.
Some models offer an optional touchscreen, or if you choose the 4K display option, it’s a touchscreen. These are not used to draw like tablets or tablets, but to create wide gestures: scroll, pan, zoom.
This is easier than trying to use the trackpad with a laptop on your lap and is especially useful in circumstances where you don’t have much leeway, such as trains, airplanes, and certain cafes. Whether you find a useful one depends on how often you need to use it away from your desk.
All laptops considered here have Intel CPUs. Despite AMD’s recent resurgence in desktop performance and popularity for gamers and some creatives from niche system builders, the main brands we’ve focused on here are all Core (or Xeon). Even within the core area, choosing a processor can be difficult.
The latest generation of chips is the eighth, although laptops with seventh generation chips are still available. Opt for a laptop with an 8th-gen chip if you can, as these can be roughly 50% faster than 7th-gen chips.
Within the eighth generation there are Core i3, i5, i7 and i9 models, with i5 and i7 divided between the models ending in U and H / HQ / HK. U processors have two to four cores and use less power than H-series chips (and offer lower performance); this is how they are found in the smallest laptops. If you look at a 13 or 14-inch laptop, you probably have one of them, and for the performance that creative applications demand, an i7 chip will deliver.
The H-series chips have four to six cores at higher base speeds than the U models and are therefore more powerful for intensive multi-threaded tasks (such as running creative applications). You’ll probably want an i7 chip, but if performance is really important and you’re on the budget, an i9 chip gives you faster clock speeds and more cache for maximum performance.
(A note on speeds. The chips have a base speed and a turbo speed. If the tasks your applications perform do not use all the cores, your computers can increase the speed of the cores they use in the processors and the important thing is to check that the speed indicated by a supplier is the base speed or a turbo speed.
To determine which generation and type a processor is, look at the first digit after the dash and the letters at the end: A Core i9-8950HK is an 8th generation H-series Core i9. A Core i7-7600U is a Core i7 of the seventh generation. Manufacturers generally give the number of cores.
As such, these do not offer any additional features. Nale’s performance compared to core chips – The Xeon E-2186M used in the highest rated HP ZBook Studio has essentially the same specs as the Core i9-8950HK, which is Apple’s best MacBook.
Pro is used with 15 inches: 2.9 GHz, six cores and 12 MB of L1 cache. The real difference is that the Xeon gives you access to ECC RAM (and you expect the Xeon to be more reliable).
RAM essentially indicates how much information your computer’s short-term memory contains and how it affects the number of applications that can be processed at the same time without entering your memory.
We recommend 8GB minimum if you are on a tight budget. 16GB is the standard amount for most design applications. Ex: After Effects, which uses RAM to preview your compositions, you may want 32GB. Some high-end models offer 64GB, but they can be extremely expensive.
Faster RAM means better performance. The best laptops use 2666MHz DDR4 RAM, while older or smaller laptops often use 2133MHz DDR3 RAM.
Most laptops have two RAM module slots. Unlike in the past, it is not necessary to place modules in pairs. So for 16GB of RAM, you can use a single 16GB DIMM instead of two 8GB, so you can upgrade to 32GB in the future by purchasing a single 16GB module.
However, using two DIMMs provides better performance than a single DIMM because there are essentially two conduits in your RAM, rather than just one. If you are tempted by individual DIMMs, ask yourself if you are likely to upgrade the memory before upgrading your laptop to a newer model.
Mobile workstations provide ECC RAM that is more stable over long periods of time, for example when performing long renderings or encodings on your laptop.
Most 15-inch laptop computers have a single drive, typically up to 1 TB in capacity. Some offer up to 2TB, but this is usually a really expensive upgrade. 256 GB is too small because you have little space for your work with the operating system and installed applications. 512GB is the best option for most users/
You can usually choose between SATA or PCIe drives (sometimes called NVMe, which refers to the technology they use). Drives that use a PCle connector on the laptop’s motherboard can be more than five times longer than drives with a SATA connector.
The drives are also 2.5mm or M.2 – the former are the blocks you’d think of when you think of a hard drive, while M.2 drives look more like RAM modules – thin sticks with their circuitry on them. 2.5mm drives are always SATA drives, while M.2 drives can be SATA or PCIe drives. Some vendors use M.2 as a PCIe drive, but they don’t get caught.
Some models offer up to two hard drives, either a PCIe drive and a 2.5-inch SATA SSD or two PCIe drives. If you work with 4K video or animation, and are on the budget, it makes perfect sense to have two PCIe drives for the added performance when you configure them as a system / application drive and a media drive, or RAID 0 summarized all-in-one for performance.
Maximum. In this way, Apple can offer its MacBook Pro with 4 TB of storage, as two discs are scratched on top of each other in all configurations.
In this case, a discrete graphics chip is a must. If you work primarily with InDesign, Sketch, or XD, Intel graphics are sufficient.
If you’re using a 3D suite like Cinema 4D, get the most powerful graphics chip you can afford and try to get more 3D performance on your desktop through a GPU (unless you’re using your laptop alongside a powerful desktop.
As the case for 15-inch models has gotten slimmer in recent years, we’ve seen a trend to reduce the number and type of connections.
The MacBook Pro is the epitome of this and only offers four Thunderbolt ports. The idea is to provide so much connectivity wirelessly that fewer ports are required, and you can only use an adapter when you’re on the go or a docking station at your desk.
Anyone who has discovered that you put down your adapter while trying to connect to a projector, be it HDMI or even a USB key-based wireless system like our office ship setup, has experienced the frustration that this entails.
Therefore, we continue to give additional ratings to laptop vendors who provide you with USB and HDMI ports. Connections you only use at your desk (Ethernet to move or edit large files on your network, DisplayPort to connect high-end monitors), however, require adapters or docks.
Mac vs Windows
While there are still some aesthetic and UX differences that make Mac OS the superior operating system over Windows, for most creatives there are no real differences between the two as the applications are almost always identical on both platforms.
Photoshop is Photoshop, Illustrator is Illustrator, whether you’re using them on a Mac or Windows laptop, and the only difficulty moving from one to the other is training your fingers to find Cmd instead of Ctrl, or vice versa.
There are some exceptions to this. Some applications are only available for Mac, notably Sketch, and others for Windows.
Points of reference
Here are the specs for the models we tested here.
- 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro: Intel Core i9-8950HK (8th Gen, 2.9GHz, 6-core), 32GB RAM, 2TB NVMe SSD, AMD Radeon Pro 560X Graphics with 4GB RAM, LCD display 15.4 inches, 2880 x 1800 resolution.
- Asus ZenBook Pro 14: Intel Core i7 (8th gen, 1.8 GHz, 4 cores), 8 GB RAM, 512 GB NVMe SSD, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics with 2 GB RAM, 14.1-inch touchscreen, 1920 resolution x 1080.
- Dell XPS 15: Intel Core i9-8950HK (8th Gen, 2.9 GHz, 6 Cores), 32GB RAM, 512GB NVMe SSD, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti Graphics with 4GB RAM, 15.6 Display inches, 3840 x 2160 resolution.
- HP ZBook Studio G5: Intel Xeon E-2186M (8th Gen, 2.9GHz, 6 Core), 16GB RAM, 1TB NVMe SSD, NVidia Quadro P1000 Graphics with 4GB RAM, 15GB Display, 6-inch, 2880 x 1800 resolution.