Looking to buy the best laptop for graphic design you can afford? You’ve come to the right place. In this handy guide, we walk through the best graphic design laptops available right now, at a range of different prices, so you can find the right machine for your budget and skill level.
Right now, we think the best laptop for graphic design is the new MacBook Pro (2018) – if you need sheer power, this pro notebook takes the crown. But those specs don’t come cheap, which is why we’ve put it at number two. For us, the top spot is still occupied by the stunning Microsoft Surface Book 2, which aside from being an excellent laptop, also doubles up as a ridiculously good tablet. Plus, there are some good deals around on the lower specced versions.
There’s also the Huawei Matebook X Pro (number five), which is a stunning laptop for graphic design that rivals the mighty MacBook Pro.
So how do you pick the best laptop for your graphic design work? Clearly you’ll be guided by what you can afford, which is why we have the best options for all budgets here. But there are a few other things to consider too.
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. You also 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 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.
Prefer working on a desktop PC or Mac? Then take a look at our pick of the best computers for graphic design.
01. Microsoft Surface Book 2
The Surface Book is 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 (3240×2160) | Storage: 256GB – 1TB SSD
Doubles as a tablet
Amazing colour-accurate screen
Surface Pen not included
Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 is an incredible 2-in-1 laptop – even in its lowest spec option. If you’re a designer who draws as well, this is the best laptop for graphic design you can get. It’s fast and immensely powerful, thanks to Intel’s quad-core Coffee Lake Core i7-8650 processor and 16GB of RAM. And it boasts an impressive battery life, plus a stunning, crisp display with superb colour accuracy. It’s also incredibly versatile: use it as a graphics, video or photo-editing workstation; on the go; or as a sketch book. Just detach the screen and use it as a tablet with the Surface Pen (which doesn’t come included, our one gripe) or buy the innovative Surface Dial ($50/£60) and have 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. Too expensive? If you can cope with less screen real estate, the 13-inch Surface Book 2 is significantly cheaper, with a similar core specification and only slightly less impressive overall performance. For cheaper again, Microsoft’s original 13-inch Surface Book remains a ridiculously accomplished laptop, with a smaller price tag. But if you’ve got the cash, the Surface Book 2 is an utterly fantastic laptop for graphic designers.
Also read: Microsoft Surface Book 2 review
Cheaper option: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 (2018) $1,299 / £1,469
This powerhouse boasts AMD Radeon RX Vega M graphics, Intel quad-core 8th gen i7 processors and a 4K touchscreen Infinity display. It takes on the Surface Book 2 and MacBook Pro, and while the Surface is a better 2-in-1, the Dell XPS is cheaper.
Even cheaper option: Acer Aspire 5 – $619 / £599.99
On a sub $1,000/$1,000 budget? Try the Acer Aspire 5 – a smart and competent mid-range machine. It comes with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM and NVIDIA GeForce MX150, plus a 15.6-inch full HD widescreen LED-backlit display.
02. MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (2018)
The latest MacBook Pro doesn’t disappoint
Processor: Intel Core i7-i9 | Graphics: Radeon Pro 555X-Radeon Pro 560 with 4GB of GDDR5 memory | Screen: 15-inch 1920×1200 IPS display | Storage: 256-4TB SSD | Memory: 16-32GB RAM | Ports: 4 x Thunderbolt 3, 1 x headphone jack | Dimensions: Starting at 349(w) x 240(d) x 15.5(h)mm | Weight: 1.83kg
Touch Bar works with Photoshop
Lack of ports
The MacBook Pro might have dipped in favour with recent versions, but we’re happy to report that (after an initial blip) Apple is back on form with the new 15-inch MacBook Pro 2018 with Touch Bar. If you need sheer power – and have the cash – this is the best graphic design laptop you can get: the new Macbook Pro offers a substantial upgrade over previous versions, and now beats the Surface Book 2 on specs. Aimed at creative professionals, this is the most powerful MacBook device ever created, with more RAM, a choice of 8th-generation Intel Core processors (that Apple claims make it up to 70 per cent faster than the MacBook Pro 2017) and better discrete graphics cards. It also comes with blisteringly fast SSDs, a quieter keyboard, and it’s both thinner than the Dell XPS 15 (number three on this list) and lighter than the Surface Book 2. On the downside, there are just four USB-C ports and one headphone jack port, so you’ll need an adapter if you want to plug in an Ethernet cable or legacy hardware. And while the screen is absolutely gorgeous, 4K would have been nice. Nevertheless, the Apple MacBook (2018) gives you the CPU and memory horsepower to make mincemeat of large files and complex tasks – and it absolutely looks the part too.
03. 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
Good battery life
Slim and light
Need to spend more for top spec
The Dell XPS 15 is a truly stunning laptop – and now that the 2017 version has been replaced by the Dell XPS 15 (2018), you can grab it for less than the other laptops above, making it reasonably affordable, too. For less than $1,000/£1,000 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, making for some incredibly sharp images. Depending on the complexity of the 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.
04. Dell Precision 7530
This VR-ready mobile workstation excels at the most demanding creative tasks
Model: Precision 7530 | Processor: Intel Core i5 (quad core) – i9 (six core) | RAM: 8-128GB | Hard drive: 500GB-6TB | Display: 15.6-inch FHD (1920×1080) – Ultra-HD (3,840 x 2,160) IPS display | Graphics: Radeon Pro WX 4150 – Nvidia Quadro P3200 (6GB) | OS: Windows 10 | Ports: 2xUSB 3.1, 2xThunderbolt3, 1xHDMI, 1x Mini DisplayPort 1.4, 1x SD card slot, 1x Headphone/mic | Size: (h)2.5-3cm x (w)3.37cm x (d)25.1cm | Weight: 2.6kg
The Dell Precision 7530 is a powerful 15-inch mobile workstation that’s been redesigned to be thinner, lighter and ready for VR. A fairly new addition to Dell’s Precision family – a pro-grade line of machines aimed specifically at creatives – the 7530 delivers workstation-class power, thanks to a whopping 128GB of RAM and options for i5, i7 and the new i9 eighth-generation Intel core processors, which makes it ready to handle even the most complex of creative tasks. The Precision 7530 also offers the option to come with up to three 2TB PCIe SSDs, giving you a potential 6TB of smooth Solid State Drive storage. Graphics specs are impressive too, with support for up to a Nvidia Quadro P3200 or AMD Radeon Pro WX 4150 graphics card. Meanwhile, the most expensive display option is an Ultra-HD IPS display (3,840 x 2,160) that claims to cover 100% of the Adobe RGB-colorspace. With VR and AR becoming increasingly important, this Dell laptop could be a timely investment.
05. Huawei MateBook X Pro
Our pick for the best laptop in the world
CPU: 8th generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 , Nvidia GeForce MX150 2GB GDDR5 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.9-inch 3K (3,000 x 2,080) | Storage: 512GB SSD
Terrific battery life
No SD card slot
Webcam not great
Huawei may not be the first name that springs to mind when you’re looking for the best laptops for graphical design, but with the Huawei MateBook X Pro, the Chinese company has proved it has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the biggest names in the laptop market. This is a gorgeously-designed laptop with a stunning screen (albeit with a rather odd aspect ratio), and it comes packed with cutting edge components that allows it to perform brilliantly, and a battery life that runs rings around many of its rivals. It has a design and performance that rivals the mighty MacBook Pro, while being considerably cheaper. This makes it a brilliant alternative for people who find Apple’s products to be too expensive. Also, it runs Windows 10, so you can install all the digital art apps you’re used to using. Based on its latest laptop, Huawei is definitely a name to watch in the future.
It also has a very competitive price, giving you features, design and performance for quite a bit less money. Sadly, it’s not available in many countries, so if you struggle to grab hold of it, look into getting the Dell XPS 13 (below).
Read: Our sister site TechRadar’s Huawei MateBook X Pro review
06. HP ZBook X2
HP’s stunning 2-in-1 option takes on the Surface Book 2
Processor: Intel Core i7 | Graphics: NVIDIA® Quadro M620 with 2GB dedicated GDDR5 graphics memory | Screen: 15-inch 1920×1200 | Storage: 512GB SSD | Memory: 32GB RAM | Ports: 2 x Thunderbolt 3, 1 x HDMI, 1 x USB | Dimensions: 14.35 x 8.94 x 0.8in | Weight: 4.78 lb (2.17kg, laptop mode) and 3.64 lb (1.65 kg, tablet mode)
4K multi-touch Dreamcolor display
Hefty price tag
Created specifically with creatives in mind, the HP ZBook X2 packs a serious amount of power. And with it a pretty hefty price tag. But if money is no issue and you’re contemplating abandoning a desktop or laptop as a primary creative tool, the HP ZBook X2 deserves a look. It boasts some seriously impressive designer-focused specs, including a stunning 10-bit, 100% Adobe RGB, 4K multi-touch UHD dreamcolour display and extra ports to keep you well connected. It also comes preinstalled with Adobe’s Creative Cloud desktop application for easy access, and sports a fully detachable Bluetooth keyboard so you can switch from laptop to tablet whenever inspiration strikes. That’s all backed up with the power of an Intel Core i7 processor, 32GB RAM – double that of its Microsoft rival – and NVIDIA Quadro graphics. However, power requires more juice, so battery life on the ZBook2 is shorter than some of the other laptops featured in this list. It’s also heavier than some of its competition, which isn’t ideal when you’re on the go. That said, while the X2 doesn’t come cheap, it’s still a serious option for designers looking to liberate themselves from a desktop without compromising on apps and performance.
07. HP ZBook Studio G4 DreamColor
Power meets portability – the G4 has repeatedly proven that it’s a fantastic laptop for graphic design
Processor: Intel Xeon CPU | Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro M1200 | Screen: 15.6-inch 3840×2160 | 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)
Relatively slim for power
If you’re looking for all-out power, 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
08. Microsoft Surface Laptop 2
Microsoft’s touchscreen bargain is sleek, light and powerful
CPU: Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.5-inch PixelSense (2,256 x 1,504) | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD
Touchscreen sketching with optional Surface Pen
Competitive power level
Lovely new black color scheme
No Thunderbolt 3 option
Too few ports for its size
The Surface Laptop 2 is Microsoft’s follow up to its popular original laptop, and once again the company has created a very good laptop for graphic design students. Microsoft has boosted the hardware of the Surface Laptop 2, making it an even better proposition for people looking for the best laptop for graphic design for their needs. As with its predecessor, 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. It no longer comes with Windows 10 S Mode as default either, instead you get the full Windows 10 experience, which means you can install Creative Cloud apps and other programs easily.
Read: Our sister site TechRadar’s Surface Laptop 2 review
09. Apple MacBook
The 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
Light, thin, looks amazing
Only one port (USB-C)
The MacBook 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.