Looking for a new computer for graphic design? You're in the right place. If you require better ergonomics, a bigger display and more power for less cash, you're better off going for a desktop than a graphic design laptop.
Creating great work is all about having the right skills – but a machine with sufficient specs is also important for creating work that will please your clients and take pride of place in your portfolio. There's a lot of choice out there, however, which is why we've put together this guide.
- The best 4K monitors for designers
- The best mouse for designers
Here, we've selected six of the best computers for graphic design. Whether you're a Mac user or a Windows wizard, you'll find something in this list that suits your needs.
Generally speaking, the more you pay the better the machine. But don't worry if you're on a tighter budget – we've picked the best cheap computers for graphic design, too. Read on for our selection of the best desktops out there…
It's easy to see why the 2017 refresh of Apple’s classic 21.5-inch iMac all-in-one gets our vote for the overall best computer for graphic design. It packs impressive processing power, speedier storage and dedicated graphics into a brilliantly engineered body that takes up very little space on your desk – and it's dramatically cheaper than the iMac Pro (at number four in this list).
Sure, it might not be 5K – like the astronomically expensive iMac Pro – but this iMac’s stunning 4K Retina display is 43 per cent brighter than before and boasts a wider range of colours (one billion, says Apple) than some competitors' monitors thanks to its DCI P3 colour space. All this means you get extremely accurate colours, deeper blacks and a greater vibrancy, which is perfect for anyone working in design.
Connectivity-wise, there are four USB 3 ports, two high-speed Thunderbolt 3 ports that can handle data at up to 40Gbps, an SDXC card slot, Gigabit Ethernet and headphone jack, and the machine ships with a wireless Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2. You don't need to buy the 27-inch model to get a decent Mac: the 21-inch is a compact desktop powerhouse that’s ideal for graphic designers.
Intel’s latest eight-generation desktop processors have had a significant performance bump, thanks to their default six CPU cores. This means even the most affordable desktop workstations in Scan’s 3XS Design range pack a real punch when running content creation applications. The Scan 3XS WI4000 Design is our favourite, offering a very generous specification that delivers significantly more graphic design performance than a laptops or all-in-one system. This includes using Nvidia Quadro professional grade graphics cards, certified to work flawlessly with design software and capable of driving multiple displays.
Opting for a desktop tower does mean you’ll need to buy a display to work alongside it (you'll find the best 4k monitors here). But it also gives you greater freedom to upgrade components, with a range of even more powerful CPUs and graphics cards, extra memory and storage available from Scan, either as one-off modifications or in the rest of the 3XS range.
Update: The Microsoft Surface Studio 2 has been announced – and will possibly ship from as early as 15th November. The original Surface Studio remains an incredible computer for graphic designers and artists, but right now it's under specced compared to the competition, so hold fire for the Studio 2 or for prices of the original Studio to drop.
It might sound clichéd to say that the Microsoft Surface Studio is the Windows-based answer to the best iMacs on the market, but clichés are generally rooted in truth. This is no inferior substitute, however – it's the go-to workstation for Windows users. Check out the paper thin 28-inch PixelSense Display that puts the vast majority of other 4K screens out there to shame.
But that's not the best bit – it's touchscreen as well, meaning you can actually draw straight onto the monitor with the superb Surface Pen. If you've not used it before, you'll be surprised just how accurately the 4,096 levels of pressure-sensitivity allow you to sketch and draw. Saying it's just like a pencil and paper isn't really too much of an exaggeration.
Read more: Surface Studio review
Let's be clear: this computer isn't necessary for most of us. The majority of graphic designers simply don't need this amount of power in a machine – and the cost is astronomical. But there's a reason why Apple's newest powerhouse workstation, the iMac Pro, is so darn expensive – in fact, there are several. And if you're one of the minority of professional users that need this level of power, and can afford the price tag, this is currently the best machine on the market.
First, there's the display – that incredible 27-inch 5,120 x 2,880 resolution display. Apple says it can produce in excess of one billion colours. If you've ever wondered whether you're really seeing your designs at their best, then this iMac's screen is about as true as you're going to get. Combined with your choice of either 8GB or 16GB HMB2 AMD Vega graphics, the full beauty – and, of course, any errors or flaws – of your work will be seen in dazzling 5K quality. This is the fastest and most powerful product Apple has ever made. And as you'd expect from Apple, keen attention has been paid to the ergonomics of the peripherals. The wireless Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad and Magic Keyboard mean you have all the control and nuance you can handle.
The iMac Pro is overkill for all but the most professional of users. If your workflow doesn't involve intense creative tasks, huge file sizes, major editing or 3D rendering at very fast speeds, you won't need this amount of power. (And if it does, but the price tag rules you out, try looking at a high-spec 5K iMac). However, if you need its power and can justify the cost, the iMac Pro is an incredible computer for graphic designers.
Read more: Apple launches the iMac Pro
It's hard not to be wowed when you first lay eyes on the monumental 34-inch curved screen of the HP Envy all-in-one. The ultra-wide QHD (3,440 x 1,440 pixel) LED backlit Micro Edge display is unlike pretty much anything else you'll currently see on the shelves. It's an astonishing amount of room to let your creations breathe, and displays plenty of screen furniture to let you make edits and changes with the utmost convenience. It's like having a dual display, but without the clunky hardware. Pretty nice for catching films and TV box-sets on your downtime, too. Inside there's 8GB of RAM, a quad-core seventh generation Intel Core i7 processor and a 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD combination hard drive. A top spec for your cash.
The Aspire S24 is a gorgeous looking all-in-one that can handle the rigour of graphic design work, but carries a slightly smaller price tag than the competition. They key is the inclusion of an eighth-generation Intel quad-core processor across the range, which will certainly cope well with design software tasks, from editing video and animations to processing complex high resolution images with multiple layers and filters.
It has a 1080p, full HD IPS display that carries tiny bezels and is just 6mm thick, with the computer housed in the base, using a very attractive gold and black design that will really stand out on your desk. And as an all-in-one, it has everything a graphic designer will need right out of the box.
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