16-inch MacBook Pro on BoxSource: Rene Ritchie / iMore

Best laptops for graphic design iMore 2021

When it comes to doing graphic design work and staying mobile, the right laptop is going to go a long way, making your job and life a lot easier. Graphic design work can consist of many different tasks and rely on a lot of different software. While the 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) may not be the newest MacBook on the block, its large screen, software compatibility, and performance make it the best graphic design laptop you can buy right now.

Best overall: 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019)

16-inch MacBook ProSource: Rene Ritchie / iMore

This workhorse of a laptop can support up to 8 cores of Intel's latest Coffee Lake refresh processor chip with turbo boosts of up to 4.8GHz and SSD read speeds of up to 3.2Gbps. It has four Thunderbolt 3 ports — the most in the entire Mac laptop line. You have room for more accessories like drawing tablets, mice, hard drives, or anything else you need. Plus, you can spec out to be a very powerful machine that will not only let you get your work done but export and render your work surprisingly fast.

While it's certainly powerful enough, the 16-inch MacBook Pro can connect to up to four external displays with 4096x2304 resolution at 60Hz, or can connect to two external displays with 6016x3384 resolution at 60Hz, giving you a very expansive and impressive workstation when you're not on the move.

Just keep in mind that the 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) is a little dated at this point since it does not have Apple's M1 powering it, which has been proven to outperform Intel processors. However, you still get the biggest screen on a MacBook, which is super useful for viewing larger-scale graphic work and photos. Plus, it's compatible with some software that doesn't run on M1 Macs (or runs less smooth).

Pros:

  • Latest Intel processor (9th-gen) with up to 8-cores and advanced GPUs
  • Starts at 512GB SSD, configurable to 8TB
  • Starts at 16GB RAM, configurable to 64GB
  • Touch ID, Touch Bar, and Retina Display with True Tone

Cons:

  • Most expensive model
  • Heaviest (4 lbs)
  • No M1

Best overall

16 Inch Macbook Pro

16-inch MacBook Pro (2019)

The biggest screen you'll get on a MacBook

The 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro gives you the most power, performance, and software compatibility.

Best with M1: 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1

M1 Macbook Pro 2020 Source: Bryan M. Wolfe / iMore

If you're positive that you don't need an Intel processor to run the graphic design software you need, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is definitely worth every penny. It now features Apple's M1 chip, and it starts with the 8-core M1 chip, which means four cores are for performance, and the rest are for power efficiency. It's fast, powerful, and, thanks to being a bit smaller at 13 inches, more portable than the 16-inch MacBook pro.

If you're looking at specs, it starts with an 8-core GPU, and you can upgrade the base model with up to 16GB of RAM and with up to 2TB of storage. It only has two Thunderbolt 3 ports and can only connect to one external display at a time. Still, its gorgeous 2560x1600 resolution Retina display is perfect for creating, editing, and proofing all your work.

Pros:

  • Apple M1 chip
  • 20-hour battery life
  • Retina display
  • Scissor-switch keyboard

Cons:

  • Maxes out at 16GB RAM
  • Only has two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports

Best with M1

13-inch MacBook Pro (2020)

13-inch MacBook Pro with M1

M1 gets the job done

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 is powerful and portable, so you can get your work done no matter where you are

Best Windows laptop: Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Surface Laptop 4 Amd 2021 HeroSource: Windows Central

Our friends and Windows Central have been pretty keen on the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 for a while and with good reason. It offers a ton of variability when it comes to specs, meaning you can get the right specs you need for the graphic design work that you do. With both AMD and Intel models available, you'll have your choice of which processor you want. Plus, you can configure the machine to have up to 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.

One important thing to note is the AMD version of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 does see a bit of a performance drop when it's not plugged into power, so it runs a little slower when you're on the go. The good news is the battery life is fairly decent and should last you around 8-9 hours, meaning you can certainly get a whole day's worth of work done before you need a plug.

Pros:

  • AMD or Intel models
  • Excellent performance (on AC), decent battery life
  • Still the best keyboard, trackpad, and audio in a Windows laptop
  • Very quiet fan

Cons:

  • AMD performance drops on battery
  • Few ports
  • Display is glossy, with no HDR

Best Windows laptop

Surface Laptop 4 Reco

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

If you prefer Windows, get the Surface Laptop 4

With tons of options available to you, the Surface Laptop 4 can be the perfect design machine.

Best value: MacBook Air with M1

Macbook Air M1Source: Daniel Bader / iMore

The new MacBook Air with M1, which is no only our favorite Mac laptop, but also our favorite overall Mac for most people. Its combination of performance and price make it a compelling device for anyone, but we wouldn't blame graphic designers for being cautious of its lower-end specs. However, the M1 chip really does a lot of heavy lifting.

The base model starts with a 7-core GPU, while the higher-end version has an 8-core GPU. Plus, you can outfit the machine with up to 16GB of RAM and @TB of SSD storage. The M1 MacBook Air has outstanding battery life compared to its previous intel models, typically lasting about 15-20 hours, depending on your usage.

Speaking of performance, the new MacBook Air with M1 can actually outperform a 16-inch MacBook Pro from 2019 in certain situations, proving that the M1 chip is nothing to sneeze at; however, the machine has no fans at all. So, the MacBook Air will be super quiet, but it will throttle performance if it needs to prevent overheating — something to keep in mind.

Pros:

  • Most affordable MacBook
  • Long-lasting battery life
  • Retina display with Touch ID
  • Has scissor-switch keyboard

Cons:

  • Only two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports
  • RAM caps out at 16GB

Best Value

MacBook Air

MacBook Air with M1

An affordable MacBook with some power behind it

The MacBook Air has the perfect balance of features and affordability, making it worth a look for designers.

Best ultrabook option: Dell XPS 13

Dell Xps 13 9300 HeroSource: Windows Central

If you like the ultra-thin feel of an ultrabook but don't want to skimp out on specs, the Dell XPS 13 has long been a favorite of our friends at Windows Central, and the 9310 model is beautiful. Its display now has a 16:10 aspect ratio, which removes the bottom bezel that most laptops have below the screen, giving it an awesome body-to-screen ratio.

Speaking of the screen, you have a few options to choose from, the cheapest being a non-touch 1920x1200 (FHD+), which brings an anti-glare finish and has a brightness of up to 500 nits. If you want to spend more money, you can get a touch display with an anti-reflective layer to help reduce glare. And, if that's not enough, there is an OLED option with 3456x2160 resolution and absolutely beautiful color.

The Dell XPS 13 is powered by Intel's 11th Gen CPUs, and you can choose to get up to 32GB of RAM and up to 2TB of storage. You can certainly outfit an XPS 13 to perform your designing duties with ease and because it only weighs 2.65 pounds, you'll be able to carry this laptop with you anywhere you go.

Pros:

  • 16:10 aspect ratio and thin bezel
  • Stunning look and design
  • Excellent keyboard and touchpad
  • Strong performance from 11th Gen Intel CPUs
  • Beautiful display options

Cons:

  • Webcam could be better
  • Can be on the pricier side for higher-end specs

Best ultrabook option

Dell XPS 13 9300

Dell XPS 13

The XPS 13 9310 has everything we love about an Ultrabook. It looks great, it performs well, and it's a joy to use.

Bottom line

Graphic design work can cover a wide multitude of tasks, so you'll want a laptop that can handle anything you throw at it. While most software runs on Apple's M1 chip nowadays, it is entirely possible that something specific you use in your workflow may not function quite as well on an M1 Mac.

That's why our top pick is the 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019), so you know any software you need will work flawlessly. Plus, its big, beautiful screen makes editing, rendering, or proofing your work a breeze.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Author: Man holding Apple Pencil

Luke Filipowicz actually has a bit of experience in the graphic design field in his college years and is very familiar with popular programs like InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, CorelDraw, and others.

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