What Computer Specs Do You Need for Graphic Design?
When buying a laptop, particularly premium models, the vast array of specs and features can be a bit overwhelming. Here’s a quick jargon-buster to help you choose like a pro:
As you’re likely to be using power-hungry programs for creative work, it makes sense to pay more for a powerful processor. After all, the less time you spend waiting for your computer to catch up, the faster you’ll finish working. You might also see processors referred to as CPU (central processing units) or, simply, chips.
AMD and Intel are the two names in town when it comes to processors. These days, there’s little distance between the two brands, and both put out some high quality processors for top-end laptops.
For design work, you should accept nothing less than an Intel Core i5 processor (with i7 being preferable), an AMD Ryzen or AMD FX chip.
You’ll also want a decent amount of RAM – 8GB at least, but 16GB is a good bet these days. RAM stands for random access memory – it helps your computer navigate its way through your files and tasks.
Again, the more RAM your computer has, the faster you’ll be able to get your jobs finished. Also – don’t confuse memory, meaning RAM, with storage, which is your hard drive or solid state drive.
There are also two types of storage used in premium laptops: spinning hard drives, or solid state drives (SSDs). A spinning hard drive is older, but not obsolete tech – they tend to be cheaper and have more storage space than SSDs of the same price. They also literally spin around, creating noise, friction and heat.
SSDs on the other hand, are newer – and more expensive – than spinning drives. They have no moving parts, helping the computer to read and write data much faster. With an SSD, your laptop will boot up more quickly, and run and open programs more smoothly. The only downside is you get much less storage space with an SSD.
Graphics cards, or GPUs, are similar to processors, but work in a slightly different way. Graphics cards are better at representing things on-screen. Some cheaper computers eschew a discrete graphics card in favour of letting the processor manage all the tasks – but for the work you’re going to be doing, you’ll need a dedicated GPU.
Again, the more expensive the GPU, the quicker it will be able to work through the tasks you give it
A larger screen can also be helpful – there’s no point in peering into a tiny display when you’re designing a multi-million dollar ad campaign. Think 13-inch as a minimum, with 15-inch being preferable.
These are very demanding specifications and you shouldn’t be surprised by prices over $1,000 or even over $2,000.
Which MacBook is Best for Graphic Design?
Apple currently offers three MacBook lines. The slimmest is simply called ‘MacBook’ (a 12-inch screen model), the slightly outdated ‘Air’ range sits in the middle (13-inch screen) and then there’s the top-of-the-line Pro range (available in 13-inch or 15-inch). As a graphic designer, you’ll need to get a Pro.
Simply put, the MacBook’s 12-inch screen is too small for any serious design work. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a great laptop, but just not the right fit for graphic design work. Beyond that, the processor in the 12-inch MacBook is underpowered for the work itself.
The MacBook Air, on the other hand, has a more acceptable 13.3-inch screen, but it only has a 1440×900 pixel resolution, so it’s not even a proper HD screen.
The Air also has out-of-date processors: fifth generation Intel Core i5 or i7 chips, which while claiming some pretty fast clock speeds of 1.8 or 2.2GHz, respectively, these processors are going to be less efficient and less powerful overall than the current 8th-gen processors being offered in the MacBook Pro line.
Read more – Intel 9th-Gen Processors Available in October 2018
The Pro line, therefore, is the only viable option if you’re after a MacBook for design. It’s available in two screen sizes, 13.3-inch and 15.4-inch screens offering 2560×1600 and 2880×1800 pixel resolutions respectively.
The Pro line is also significantly more powerful than either the Air or regular MacBook lines, with 8th-gen processors and better graphics cards. The 13-inch model has an Intel Iris Plus 655 GPU, and the 15 inch will give you a choice between the Intel UHD 630 GPU or two AMD Radeon units.
With the Pro line, you’ll also have access to more USB-C ports, four in total, which makes adding peripherals like an external drawing pad or hard drive less of a pain.
What’s The Best Laptop for Drawing?
Four of the laptops we mentioned above come with a touchscreen – the Surface Book 2, Samsung Notebook 9 Pen, Lenovo’s Yoga 920 and the HP Spectre x360 15.
A stylus allow you to draw on each laptop’s touchscreen with ease, and some, like the Surface Book’s stylus, allow for more versatility than just drawing lines: you can shade, for example, by tilting the pen as you draw.
However, the Surface Book’s stylus isn’t included in the price of the laptop, unlike the other three models. So, unless you know you’re going to use it extensively, it might not be worth the investment.
Should you have your eyes on a laptop sans stylus, but need drawing functionality, it’s worth remembering that you could invest in a drawing pad (or graphics tablet, as they’re also known) that will work with all laptops.
They can cost as little $25, but really, you should be looking to spend closer to $100 or more to get a quality pad. Wacom is the market leader when it comes to graphics tablets, and its Intuos range (pictured) starts from $80. The tablet pads will also typically be better for serious drawing than using a stylus straight onto a glass touchscreen. They have different levels of pressure sensitivity, allowing you to sketch and shade with ease.
Are Gaming Laptops Good for Graphics Design?
Graphic designers need powerful laptops with big screens, and so do gamers. So, can you kill two birds with one stone and get a single laptop for both jobs?
Well, sort of. Any tasks you need to perform for graphic design you’d be able to do on a gaming laptop.
However, when it comes to gaming on the machines in this list, you’ll be slightly lacking in the graphics department. In order to process the high graphical demands of modern games, laptops need to have powerful discrete GPUs, and these require serious cooling to work effectively.
As a result, gaming laptops tend to pretty chunky and throwing one into a courier bag before heading off to work is likely to leave you with a sore shoulder – although the new Razer Blade Stealth is a notable lightweight exception.
Gaming laptops typically feature some pretty garish designs – like the Lenovo Legion Y730, pictured. So, pulling out a laptop like this in a pitching meeting might not make you look particularly professional.