/>
X
Why you can trust ZDNet ZDNet independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Our process

'ZDNet Recommends': What exactly does it mean?

ZDNet's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.

When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNet nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.

ZDNet's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.

Close

The best laptops for graphic design: Top creator notebooks

Apple has traditionally dominated the creative markets, but there are now dozens of Windows PCs designed for content creation, too. Here's a selection of portable devices. Our top pick for the best laptop for creative design is the Apple MacBook Pro 13 for its M1 processor, storage, and Retina display.
cliff-joseph-author.jpg
Written by Cliff Joseph on
Reviewed by Taylor Clemons

Apple's professional users -- especially those working in the creative industries -- have welcomed the company's renewed focus on its professional Mac products, following the long-awaited introduction of the 2019 Mac Pro desktop and the 16-inch revamp of its flagship MacBook Pro laptop. But there's no doubt that Apple took its eye off the ball in the Mac market while it spent years concentrating on the iPhone, and that has allowed rival PC manufacturers to capture a slice of Apple's creative pie.

Intel got the ball rolling back in 2018 with its Creator PC initiative, which was further boosted by Nvidia's Studiocampaign the following year. Nvidia aimed to extend the company's graphics technologies beyond its traditional gaming audience and into the creative industries.
 
As a result, all the main PC manufacturers, including market leaders such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo, now offer extensive portfolios of laptops and desktop PCs that are specifically aimed at creative users in fields such as graphic design, photography, video editing, and animation. The involvement of Nvidia, with its RTX ray-tracing graphics technology, has also attracted gaming specialists such as Razer and Gigabyte, whose expertise with high-end gaming graphics has allowed them to design some impressively powerful laptops for professional users.

Creative users are now spoilt for choice, with dozens of laptop and desktop systems now vying for their attention. Here, we're focusing on "creator" laptops. 

apple-macbook-pro-m1-creator-laptops.jpg
Images: Apple

CPU: apple M1 | GPU: M1 integrated graphics | RAM: 8GB | Storage: Up to 512GB SSD | Display: 13-inch Retina 

Externally, the 13-inch MacBook Pro launched in November 2020 didn't differ much from previous generations. But on the inside, it was an entirely new beast. The first "pro" Mac based on the Apple Silicon M1 system-on-chip delivered impressive performance -- including, crucially for creators, GPU performance -- and battery life, with ZDNet's Jason Cipriani claiming it was "the fastest Mac [he's] ever used."

But while Apple's Rosetta 2 technology provided compatibility with existing software and apps, which were written for Intel processors, developers still needed to update their software in order to gain the full performance benefits of Apple's new processors.

Since then, Microsoft has announced native M1 support for Office 365, and Adobe has just released the M1 version of Photoshop, which it claims provides a 50% performance increase over the MacBook Pro's Intel-based predecessor. Support from these key developers should boost acceptance of the new Apple Silicon Macs, and the rumors of Apple's next-generation M1X chip have Mac users eagerly awaiting the next updates for the MacBook Pro and iMac ranges.

Pros:

  • Excellent display
  • Great CPU performance
  • Great battery life

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Some programs may not be compatible with macOS
zbook-fury-g8.jpg
HP

CPU: Up to 11th gen Intel Core i9 | GPU: Up to Nvidia RTX A4000 | RAM: Up to 64GB | Storage: Up to 1TB SSD | Display: FHD or 4K 

The ZBook is HP's mobile workstation range, but there are several models within the range that are specifically designed for particular tasks and applications. The ZBook Fury -- recently updated with this 8th generation (G8) model -- is very much a top-of-the-range option, suitable for 3D graphics and visualization, game development, and 4K video editing.

HP's website provides an almost dazzlingly wide range of customization options, including both 15.6-inch and 17.3-inch displays, but if you're aiming for no-compromise performance then it makes sense to opt for the 17-inch model that we review here. It's a bit of a beast, measuring 27mm thick, but it packs all the power of a high-end desktop graphics workstation.

There's an entry-level model with i5 processor, integrated graphics, and 1080p display for around $2,300, but serious graphics and video work will require a few upgrades. You can expect to step up to $4,164.00 for a more powerful model with an 11th gen i7-11800H, Nvidia RTX A2000, full 4K display, 16GB memory, and 256GB solid-state storage. 

And, as mentioned, there's a wide range of further upgrades also available, including i9 and Xeon processors, and up to RTX A5000 graphics. The high-quality display doesn't cut any corners either, providing HDR400, 120Hz refresh rate for clear, sharp graphics for game developers, and DCI-P3 colour for video editing.

Pros:

  • 4K display option
  • Tons of customization options
  • Workstation performance
  • Good connectivity

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Only 720p webcam
dell-precision-5760.jpg
Dell

CPU: Intel Core i7-11850H | GPU: Nvidia RTX A2000 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 256GB SSD | Display: 17-inch 3840x2400

Dell made quite an impact with its 17-inch Precision 5750 last year, combining impressive workstation levels of performance with a slim and (relatively) lightweight design that could go head-to-head with Apple's revamped 16-inch MacBook Pro. As you might expect, the new Precision 5760 is this year's follow-up, bringing new CPU and GPU upgrades, whilst still retaining the slimline profile of its predecessor -- just 13.2mm thick.

There are three standard configurations on Dell's website, although all three provide a wide range of customization options, so you can effectively build your own laptop to suit your needs. The entry-level model only costs around $2,000 but relies on an i5 processor with integrated graphics and a relatively modest 1080p display. 

Creative users will therefore probably prefer the i7 model, which steps up to an 11th gen, 8-core i7 processor, Nvidia RTX A2000 graphics, 16GB memory, and 256GB solid-state drive. That costs $3,085.75 with a UHD touch-screen display with 3840x2400 resolution (266.4dpi), which supports HDR400, Adobe RGB, and 99% of the DCI-P3 colour standard for professional-level video editing work. There are also additional options for memory and storage upgrades, as well as a choice of i9 and Xeon processors, and RTX A300 graphics.

If you want to read a more in-depth analysis of the Dell Precision 5760, you can check out our full review

Pros:

  • Slimline, lightweight design
  • Good connectivity
  • Lots of customization
  • Great 17-inch display

Cons:

  • No audio line-in
  • Heavy power supply
  • Upgrades add weight
gigabyte-aero-15-oled.jpg
Gigabyte

CPU: INtel Core i7-11800H | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 1TB SSD | Display: 15.6-inch 4K OLED

Gigabyte is best known for its Aorus range of gaming laptops and components, but its Aero range also provides some attractive options for professional content creators too. The company recently updated the popular Aero 15 OLED, which, as the name implies, provides a high-quality 15.6-inch OLED display that is suitable for a wide range of creative and design tasks. It's not the lightest laptop of this size, but it certainly packs plenty of power for high-end graphics and video work.

It has to be said, though, that Gigabyte's website is less than helpful. It lists a wide range of options for the CPU, GPU, and other components, but you can't buy directly from Gigabyte so you'll need to search around online to find the configuration that you require.

It's worth shopping around, though, as the Aero is competitively priced, with the most commonly available configuration costing $1,599.00 with a 1st generation i7-11800H processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Laptop GPU, and 16GB memory, and 1TB solid-state drive. That combination will provide plenty of power for professional users.

But Aero's crowning glory is the Samsung OLED display, which provides 4K resolution, with support for HDR400 and the DCI-P3 colour standard for professional video editing. It's well connected too, with one Thunderbolt 4 port, three USB-A (3.2), HDMI, and mini-DisplayPort for connecting external displays, a combo 3.5mm audio input/output, an SD card reader, and an Ethernet port.

Pros:

  • 4K OLED display
  • Powerful GPU
  • Good connectivity
  • Competitive price

Cons:

  • Limited upgrade options
  • On the heavy side
lenovo-thinkpad-p15-gen-2.jpg
Lenovo

CPU: Intel Core i5-11500H | GPU: Nvidia T1200 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Display:  15.6-inch 1080p

Lenovo's updated ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 isn't as light as previous models in the range, but it provides an affordable mobile workstation for students and professional users in fields such as engineering and CAD.

The p15 Gen 2 measures 31mm at its thickest point and is probably more suited for indoor use on the desktop rather than outdoors. However, the low price and Lenovo's wide range of customization options will still appeal to many users. There are a dozen "ready to ship" models available on Lenovo's website, with prices starting at $1,709 with a 6-core, 11th generation Intel Core i5 processor, Nvidia T1200 GPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. That price includes a 15.6-inch display with 1080p resolution, which should be adequate for 2D graphics and simple video editing. 

But you can upgrade to a 4K display for a little over $300 if you need it. Lenovo also provides a "Build your own ThinkPad" option which allows you to start with a clean slate and select all the core components yourself, including the Intel Core i7, i9, and Xeon processors and a variety of Nvidia graphics cards. There is also a high-end display option, which will set you back another $500 or so, which supports Dolby Vision and HDR500 and sports a 17-inch screen.

Pros:

  • Competitive price
  • Wide range of customization options
  • Good connectivity

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Entry-level model only has a 1080p display
microsoft-surface-laptop-studio.jpg
Microsoft

CPU: Intel core i7-11370H | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti | RAM: 32GB | Storage: 1TB SSD | Display: 14.4-inch 1600p

The Surface Book was Microsoft's first attempt to lure creative users away from Apple, but the new Surface Laptop Studio for Business goes all-out to focus on graphics and design work.

Like other Surface models, the Laptop Studio has a convertible, 2-in-1 design that allows you to fold the screen flat so that you can use it either as a tablet or a conventional laptop. However, the screen also has an additional hinge that lets you tilt the screen like an easel; this is perfect for use with Microsoft's Surface pen for illustration work.

The built quality is excellent, and the Laptop Studio feels very sturdy, despite its lightweight design and slimline profile. The 14.4-inch, touch-sensitive display is bright and sharp with 1600p resolution, and it is a delight to work with. However, Microsoft makes no mention of Adobe RGB or DCI-PE support, so you'll probably still need an external display for high-end graphics or video work. And, to be fair, the Laptop Studio isn't meant to act as a mobile workstation in the same league as some of its rivals, focusing on portability and ease of use rather than high-end performance.

Prices start at $1,700 for a model with an i5 processor and integrated Iris graphics. However, you'll need to double that price for the top-of-the-range model that we tested which costs $3,399.99. Our testing model was outfitted with an 11th gen i7 CPU, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 TI graphics card, 32GB of RAM, and 1TB SSD. Connectivity is a little disappointing, though, with just two Thunderbolt 4 ports and a headphone socket. So Microsoft is clearly hoping you'll pay another $260 for the additional ports provided by its Surface Dock 2.

Pros:

  • Slim, lightweight design
  • Adjustable easel display
  • Solid build
  • 1600p display

Cons:

  • Limited customization options
  • Limited connectivity
  • Less suited for video editing
msi-creator-z17.jpg
MSI

CPU: Intel Core i7-12700H | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Ti | RAM: 32 GB | Storage: 1TB SSD | Display: 17-inch 1600p

Last year's Creator 17 model with 10th gen Intel processors is still available on MSI's website, and a few online retailers, but if you want to get bang up to date then the new Creator Z17 provides a powerful mobile workstation with a stylish design that MSI describes as "tech meets aesthetics".

Like Apple's MacBook range, the Creator Z17 has a 'unibody' design carved out of metal. It measures just 19mm thick, and its 'lunar grey' colouring is also designed to shimmer and change hue as the ambient light around it changes during the day. However, its 3.0Kg weight reminds you that this is a mobile workstation, rather than a stylish ultrabook.

There's plenty of power hidden within that stylish design too. Prices for the Creator Z17 start at $3,050 for a model with a 14-core, 12th-gen i7 processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Ti Laptop GPU, 32GB memory, and 1TB memory. There are also upgrade options for an i9 processor and RTX 3080 graphics, but it's a shame that all Z17 models share the same 2560x1600 display. To be fair, it's an attractive, touch-sensitive display, with a 16:10 aspect ratio, smooth 165Hz refresh rate, and support for DCI-P3 for video editing work. It's a shame, though, that there's no option to upgrade to a 4K display, so high-end graphics and video work will require an external display.

Pros:

  • Attractive, slim design
  • Nvidia RTX 30 Series GPU
  • High quality display

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Limited upgrade options
razer-blade-15.jpg
Razer

CPU: Intel Core i9-12900H | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti | RAM: 32GB | Storage: 1TB SSD | Display: 15.6-inch 4K

Razer is well-known for its range of gaming gear and its popular Blade gaming laptops, but the recent move towards hybrid and remote working has encouraged it to move into the business and professional market too. Its new Razer Book laptops are an attractive convertible rival for Microsoft's Surface range, although their integrated graphics are more suited for general office work rather than content creation. 

However, there are several models in the recently updated Blade range that will appeal to creative users. Screen sizes vary from 14.0 to 17.0 inches, but the sweet spot for creative users is probably the 15.6-inch Blade 15 (which replaces last year's Blade 15 Studio Edition).

Described as "the world's thinnest gaming laptop," the Blade 15 measures just 17mm thick and weighs a highly portable 2Kg. Prices start at $1,799.99 for a model with an i7 processor and 1080p display, while a QHD display (2560x1440) steps up the price. 

The new top-of-the-range Blade 15 model pulls out all the stops, offering a 4K display with a super-smooth 144Hz refresh rate and DCI-P3 support for high-end video editing. That bumps the price up to a hefty $3,999.99, but the Blade 15 will earn its keep, powered by the latest 12th gen, 14-core Intel i9 processor, and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti, along with 32GB memory and 1TB solid-state drive. The only disappointment is that Razer doesn't provide many customization options, so you simply have to select the handful of pre-configured models listed on its website. 

Pros:

  • 4K display
  • Slim, lightweight design
  • Powerful, 14-core i9 processor

Cons:

  • Limited customization options
  • Only one Thunderbolt port

What is the best laptop for graphic design?

PLACEHOLDER

How did we choose these graphic design laptops?

A laptop designed for creative users has to provide far more power than a laptop that is designed for general-purpose productivity software, such as Microsoft Office. We therefore focused on laptops that provide a discrete graphics card in order to provide extra power for graphics, design, and video-editing work. 

A high-resolution display is also essential in order to view your work in detail, and many users will insist on a full 4K display for high-end video editing. Support for specific color standards is also essential for some industries -- Adobe RGB for print and publishing, or DCI-P3 for video and broadcast.

Buy this...

If you need...

Apple MacBook Pro M1 13-inch

A fast and well-rounded laptop for graphic design

HP ZBook Fury 17 G8

A laptop with lots of configuration options

Dell Precision 5760

An affordable option for content creation and graphic design

Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED

An excellent display for better color accuracy

Lenovo ThinkPad P15 Gen 2

A laptop for graphic design students

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio

A more mobile option for graphic design on-the-go

MSI Creator Z17

A powerful MacBook alternative

Razer Blade 15

A laptop geared toward content creation

Which graphic design laptop is right for you?

Creative laptops have to cope with a wide range of tasks. Video editing or 3D animation will require a lot more power than simple 2D graphics or illustration work, so you should be very clear about your requirements before buying a new laptop or mobile workstation.

Battery life varies enormously too, so you need to decide if you need a high-end laptop that can run at full speed for just a few hours or a less powerful laptop that can last through a whole day. And, of course, a laptop with a 16-inch or 17-inch display will be a lot bigger and heavier than a 13-inch or 14-inch model, so regular business travelers may prefer to opt for a more compact laptop when they're on the road, with the option of using a larger, external display when they get back to the office.

Product

Price

CPU

GPU

Apple MacBook Pro 13

$1,299

M1

M1

HP ZBook Fury 17 G8

$1,449

Up to i9

Up to Nvidia RTX A4000

Dell Precision 5760

$2,499

Intel Core i7

Nvidia RTX A3000

Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED

$1,709

Intel Core i7

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060

HP ZBook Power G8

$1,766

Intel Core i5

Intel UHD

What about battery life?

Battery life is always important for laptops -- but perhaps less so for some of these creative laptops. High-end 3D graphics and video work can drain even the most powerful battery in just a few hours, and many "mobile workstations" are primarily intended to be used as a desktop replacement PC that is mainly used indoors and close to a power socket. 

What about connectivity?

Many laptops sacrifice connectivity in order to reduce their size and weight (Apple and Microsoft, we're looking at you). However, creative users work with a wide variety of devices and peripherals -- perhaps connecting their laptop to multiple external displays, audio equipment, or cameras with memory cards -- so good connectivity isn't just an optional extra.

And, bizarrely, many of these powerful, expensive laptops still seem to think they can get away with a mere 720p webcam, which simply isn't acceptable in these days of hybrid and remote working.

Can gaming laptops be used for graphic design?

Absolutely! Gaming laptops are often equipped with powerful processors and graphics cards as well as lots of RAM and larger storage drives, which provide all the power and space you need to create digital paintings, logos, and even 3D models. They also tend to have faster refresh rates, which makes them a great choice for working with motion graphics and video.

What laptop specs do I need for graphic design?

To get the most out of your laptop when working in graphic design, you'll want to choose a model that has at least 16GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, a dedicated video card like an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050, and a newer processor like an 11th or 12th generation Intel Core, AMD Ryzen 5000, or Apple M1.

Related

The 6 best gaming laptop deals available now: June 2022
alienware-m15-r4.jpg

The 6 best gaming laptop deals available now: June 2022

Laptops
The 5 best laptop cooling pads of 2022
A TopMate cooling pad and laptop in a grey room. The laptop screen shows PUBG.

The 5 best laptop cooling pads of 2022

Laptops
The 5 best cameras for beginners in 2022
Placeholder product image alt text

The 5 best cameras for beginners in 2022

Home & Office