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Best Apple Laptop For
Graphic Design

If you are looking for the best Apple MacBook for Graphic Design, chances are I can’t convince you to get a PC. Jokes aside, while there are compelling PC options out there, I get why you want a MacBook. Honestly, I do too.

So what is the best Macbook for Graphic Design? We can probably assume it would be the newest, most powerful and expensive option. Which is likely true. But everyone’s needs are different. So let’s set some guidelines or judging criteria.

What should be considered when defining the best laptop?

Your Usage:

In order to determine what is the best Apple laptop for you, knowing how you plan on using it is a must. First, what kinds of graphics work will you be doing? This will help guide what performance specs you need.

Second, will the laptop be your main work computer, or will you use it on the go? This might dictate the size you end up going with.

What is your budget? This will dictate which model you can afford. Let’s get into the more technical considerations.

Performance:

The Processor or CPU is the central processing unit. Its basic job is to receive and deliver the appropriate output. Having the right processor is key for graphic designers, as they need to run multiple applications and processes at the same time.

Suitable processors for graphic design are, Intel Core i5, i7, and i9. Also Intel Xeon and AMD Ryzen.

RAM, or Randon Access Memory is where a computing system stores data that it is actively using. Running apps like Photoshop smoothly takes up a lot of RAM.

If you don’t like watching the loading wheel or Photoshop taking forever to launch, you’re going to want as much RAM as possible.

Storage or Hard Drive is where you store data permanently. Nowadays, SSD (Solid State Drives) are the best option for graphic design computers, as they are more durable, run cooler, and use less energy.

You can get away with 256 GB storage. Although with the file sizes designers work with, space can get taken up quickly. I recommend a minimum of 512 GB or greater, if you can afford it.

Screen/Display:

Having a quality display is so important for graphic designers. When it comes to judging color and levels, or presenting to clients, having a good screen will make you more confident about your work.

All three MacBooks we recommend have great screens with high resolution and color accuracy. So it’s really down to size.

When designing on a single screen laptop, sizes does matter. In this case, the bigger the better holds true. A minimum of 15 inches is my preference. However, you get away with a 13 inch when designing on the go or presenting.

Keyboard:

No matter what kind of graphic design work you do, having a good keyboard is crucial. Us designers need to type emails and change layer names. Therefore you want an ergonomically sound keyboard.

Both the Butterfly, and Magic keyboards feel great. However, my preference is definitely the Magic Keyboard. It is simply built better than the Butterfly Keyboard, and gives a more stable tactile feel.

Battery Life:

There are some situations where you are not around plugs and you need to rely of battery. Having a long-lasting battery is good piece of mind, that you can work anywhere.

Generally speaking, newer MacBooks have good battery life ranging from 9 to 11 hours.

Best Apple Laptops for Graphic Design 2020

I will first cover the 4 main contenders that are readily available. These three MacBooks range in price, features, and benefits. All have pros and cons that you should weigh up, in order to know what will best meet your needs as a Graphic Designer.

  1. Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch (Pro Choice Highest Budget)
  2. Apple MacBook Pro 15-Inch (Pro Choice)
  3. Apple MackBook Pro 13-Inch (Balanced Choice)
  4. Apple MackBook Air 13-Inch  (Affordable Choice)

Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 16GB RAM, 1TB Storage) – Space Gray

Pro Choice (Current Model)

PROS
  • New 16-inch display
  • New Magic Keyboard
  • Great performance
  • Improved battery life
  • Enhanced audio
CONS
  • Expensive
  • No user upgrades
  • Slightly heavier than the 15

If you are a designer who loves Apple as a brand, and wants the best laptop for graphic design, the new 16-inch MacBook Pro is the only choice. From a new screen, and longer battery life, to the new Magic Keyboard and massive storage options, the newest Apple laptop is a compelling package for graphic designers.

Overall, the new 16-inch has a number of improvements over the outgoing 15-inch. Read on to find out more.

Design Overview – 16-Inch MacBook Pro

Pro Choice (Current Model)

The new 16-inch MacBook Pro doesn’t look that different from the 15-inch. Well, to be factual, the 15-inch MacBook Pro actually has a 15.4-inch display.

So in reality, the 16-inch display isn’t that much bigger. However, the value is in the higher-resolution Retina display.

Looking at the exact specs, the new 16-inch MacBook has minor increases in dimensions, width, depth, and weight. Overall, the 16-inch just feels slightly more substantial, in a good way.

As a designer, I mainly care about performance improvements. And the new 16-inch MacBook Pro has a lot that designers will appreciate.

From improved CPU, GPU, memory and storage options, to longer battery life, there’s a lot to like if you want to better your workflow.

Features & Benefits – 16-Inch MacBook Pro

Pro Choice (Current Model)

Retna Display (New and Improved)

The most important new feature, especially for graphic designers, is the new 16-inch Retina display. The improved display now offers 3072 x 1920 (226 ppi) resolution, where-as last years had 2880 x 1800 (220 ppi).

In addition, the P3 wide color gamut enables perfect, true-to-life images and video. Overall, this new and improved display will be the best possible way to show your work.

Performance (Super Powerful, With Options)

CPU performance is crucial for Graphic Designers who need to work with multiple programs and large files. The new 16-inch MacBook has got you covered with an Intel Core i9 processor.

This CPU features improved thermal design with up to 8 cores and 16 threads of processing power. Altogether, this CPU will keep you knocking out your design work in no time.

For Graphic Design, you really need at least 16 GB of RAM/memory. The 16-inch model I recommend comes with 16 GB of RAM. However, you can option this laptop with up to 64 GB, which I always say more RAM is better for design work.

Let’s take a look at the graphics card and video support. The new 16-inch MacBook base model has an upgraded AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB or GDDR6 memory and automatic graphics switching, Intel Graphics 630.

This new graphics setup, in the base model, gives you speed and performance gains over the previous Radeon Pro Vega 20 (used in the outgoing 15-inch base model).

In terms of storage, the base model comes with 512gb or 1TB SSD, which is better than 256GB to 512 in the predecessor. In addition, the new MacBook can be optioned with up to 8TB SSD, depending on your needs and budget.

New Keyboard and Touch Bar

Apple has replaced the problematic butterfly keyboard with a new and improved Magic Keyboard. They brought the Magic Keyboard design over from Mac desktops, with a few refinements.

You still get a sleek low-profile aesthetic, with a more stable mechanism beneath each key. Overall, the new design feels a bit firmer and responsive with slightly more tactile feedback.

Another nice improvement is around the touch bar. There is now a dedicated escape key separated from the touch bar. This completely resolves the usability issues with the previous design.

Battery Life (Most Powerfull Yet)

The new 16-Inch MacBook Pro has the most powerful battery yet. It boasts a 100-Wh lithium-polymer battery that provides sustained power – up to 11 hours. Whereas the 15-Inch predecessor has 10 hours. Overall, even 1 hour more is a welcome improvement.

Audio (Bigger Bass, Better Mic)

Perhaps not as important for graphic designers, but still a welcome improvement is the upgraded audio system. You will notice 2 large grills on each side of the keyboard.

These hold a new 6 speaker audio system. You get 2 woofers and 1 tweeter on each, left and right channel. All-in-all, this is the best audio system I have ever heard on a laptop.

Apple has also enhanced their mic on the new 16-Inch notebook. The studio-quality three-mic array has comparable quality to professional third-party microphones, for creating clean recordings on the go.

These new audio features should be mistaken as replacements for external speakers and microphones. However, they won’t let you down when you are without your studio setup.

Ports

The new 16-Inch MacBook Pro comes with 4 Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports.

Conclusion

The new 16-Inch MacBook Pro might be a good fit for you, if you meet any of these conditions:

  • Have a high budget
  • Need highest performance (CPU, GPU)
  • Want the biggest/best Retina Display yet
  • Want most internal storage
  • Want the new Magic Keyboard
  • Needs to do multitasking

Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 16GB RAM, 512GB Storage) – Space Gray

Pro Choice (Previous Model)

PROS
  • 15″ Retina display
  • Great performance
  • Good battery life
  • Excellent build quality
CONS
  • Still expensive
  • No user upgrades
  • Same Butterfly Keyboard

If you need a high-performance MacBook, but can’t quite afford the new 16-Inch, this 15-Inch MacBook Pro is still a great choice.

A lot of the internals/components are the same as the new 16-Inch. Therefore the performance is on par. The only couple of things you might wish you had is the newest Retina display and improved Magic Keyboard.

Overall, there’s still a lot to like about this notebook, such as great performance, the previous-gen Retina is still amazing, and long battery life.

Design Overview – 15-Inch MacBook Pro

Pro Choice (Previous Model)

The 15-inch MacBook Pro is the latest iteration of a design that has been out since 2016. Some aspects have aged well, and others haven’t. The look and feel remain timeless.

Its portability is still a strength, at 0.61 inches and just over 4 pounds. In addition the performance in great. However, there are a couple issues that are still not resolved.

The most talked-about by Apple enthusiasts is the lack of reliability with the butterfly keyboard. Apple has made modifications to the Butterfly key switch to help reliability. But that still doesn’t fix the design flaw, which is shallow key travel.

Thankfully Apple has listened and implemented the new Magic Keyboard in the new 16-Inch.

Next is the Touch Bar, which I feel is a bit of a gimmick. Sure you can scroll through images, or select a web site without using the screen. However, as a Graphic Designer, I honestly never use it, and I would prefer they invest their time and money into something that provides more user benefits.

In terms of performance, which is what designers should care about most, the 15-Inch MacBook is super fast. With an Intel Core i9 processor, 16GB of RAM and un ultra-fast SSD, you can multi-task and crush design tasks without any slowdowns.

Features & Benefits – 15-Inch MacBook Pro

Pro Choice (Previous Model)

Retna Display

For Graphic Design, the 2880 x 1800 (220ppi) 16:10 aspect ratio Retina Display is still one of the best on the market.  It features bright LED backlighting and a high contrast ratio, delivering deep blacks and bright whites.

The display supports P3 wide color for even more vibrant greens and reds than with sRGB. And every MacBook Pro features True Tone technology.

The white balance automatically adjusts to match the color temperature of the light around you — for a more natural viewing experience.

Performance (Super Powerful, With Options)

CPU performance is crucial for Graphic Designers who need to work with multiple programs and large files. The 15-inch MacBook features a Intel Core i9 processor.

This CPU features improved thermal design with up to 8 cores and 16 threads of processing power. Altogether, this CPU will keep you knocking out your design work in no time.

For Graphic Design, you really need at least 16 GB of RAM/memory. The 16-inch model I recommend comes with 16 GB of RAM. However, you can option this laptop with up to 64 GB.

Let’s take a look at the graphics card and video support. AMD Radeon 560X with 4GB or GDDR5 memory and automatic graphics switching, Intel Graphics 630.

In terms of storage, 256GB or 512GB SSD options are readily available. You can special order up to 4TB SSD.

New Keyboard and Touch Bar

Unfortunately, Apple still uses the Butterfly Keyboard design in the 15-Inch MacBook. Don’t get me wrong, this keyboard is ok and looks great (sleek, and low profile).

The issues with this keyboard as well documented, such as the thin mechanism can get jammed up with crumbs, dust, and other particulates, resulting in keys that malfunction. Also, the shallow key travel doesn`t feel great to type on.

While some people, including me, think it`s a bit of a gimmick, the Touch Bar offers convenience when using some apps.

For example, this narrow secondary display lets you skim through photos by sliding your finger. When using Safari, you can click on one of your favorite sites without looking at the main screen.

Battery Life (Most Powerfull Yet)

The 15-Inch MacBook Pro has impressive battery life. It provides sustained power – up to 10 hours.

Audio (Bigger Bass, Better Mic)

The 15-Inch MacBook has an improved audio system from the past gen that features stereo speakers that are connected directly to system power. The beautifully balanced, high-fidelity sound with wide dynamic range and more bass can fill a medium-sized living room.

As for audio inputs, the 13-Inch now has three microphones, for creating clean recordings on the go. Audio quality is good for Facetime or talking to Siri.

Note: I recommend third party microphones for professional use.

Ports

The 15-Inch MacBook Pro comes with 4 Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports.

Conclusion

The 15-Inch MacBook Pro might be a good fit for you, if you meet any of these conditions:

  • Cannot afford the 16-inch, but still have a high budget
  • Need high performance (CPU, GPU)
  • Want most internal storage
  • Multitasking

Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 8GB RAM, 512GB Storage) – Space Gray

Balanced Choice (Cost, Performance, Portability)

PROS
  • Thin and light design
  • Retina display
  • Decent performance
  • Good battery life
  • Good build quality
CONS
  • Expensive
  • Not the most powerful
  • Same Butterfly Keyboard

If you are looking for an Apple laptop for graphic design, but can’t quite afford the 16-inch, or you just want a light-weight MacBook for on-the-go, the 13-inch is a great option.

The performance is still decent for graphic design. Especially if you are using it on the go, or as a second computer. If you are a fan of the previous Apple laptops, this 2019 13-inch notebook is a solid choice.

You get Apple`s excellent build quality, and a host of improvements from the previous gen. Read on to find out more.

Design Overview – 13-Inch MacBook Pro

Balanced Choice (Cost, Performance, Portability)

The 13-inch MacBook Pro is due for a refresh and I expect that to come later in 2020. Mainly the keyboard and screen can get updates like the new 16-inch.

Regardless, this 13-inch is still a compelling package. It features a 2560 x 1600 Retina display, and solid performance specs for graphic design. We break down the features and benefits below.

Features & Benefits – 13-Inch MacBook Pro

Balanced Choice (Cost, Performance, Portability)

Retna Display

As a Graphic designer, the 2560 x 1600 (227ppi) Retina display is still one of the best on the market.  It features bright LED backlighting and a high contrast ratio, delivering deep blacks and bright whites.

The display supports P3 wide color for even more vibrant greens and reds than with sRGB. And every MacBook Pro features True Tone technology.

The white balance automatically adjusts to match the color temperature of the light around you — for a more natural viewing experience.

Performance

While the 13-inch isn’t quite as good performance-wise as the new 16-inch MacBook. It is still one of the best performing laptops in its class. It comes with a 2.4Hz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, which is good for 2D Graphic Design work.

The 13-Inch MacBook comes with 8GB of RAM. This is ok for on the go usage, or more light-weight design tasks. However, I do stand by my point above, ’16 GB of RAM/memory is preferred’.

The 13-inch MacBook comes with a Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655. With Photoshop, Indesign, and Illustrator mainly using CPU, this graphics card is fine for most graphic design tasks.

If you need to go any 3D or video work, you might want to consider the 16-inch, that comes with a better graphic card.

In terms of storage, the base model comes with 128gb, 256BG, and 512GB SSD options. I recommend the 512GB SSD  for 2 reasons; piece of mind having more storage, and higher resale value. However, it really comes down you your budget.

Keyboard and Touch Bar

Unfortunately, Apple still uses the Butterfly Keyboard design in the 13-Inch MacBook. Don’t get me wrong, this keyboard is ok and looks great (sleek, and low profile).

Yet the issues with this keyboard as well documented, such as the thin mechanism can get jammed up with crumbs, dust, and other particulates, resulting in keys that malfunction.

I’ll say it again; some people think it`s a bit of a gimmick, and in my experience, it doesn’t do much for Graphic Deisgners, the Touch Bar offers convenience when using some apps.

For example, this narrow secondary display lets you skim through photos by sliding your finger. When using Safari, you can click on one of your favorite sites without looking at the main screen.

Battery Life

The 13-Inch MacBook Pro has an impressive battery life at, up to 10 hours (says Apple). However, a number of tests yield 8 – 9.5 hours of continuous usage (web browsing, playing videos, etc). Either way, still impressive battery life.

Audio

The 13-Inch MacBook has an improved audio system from the past gen that features stereo speakers located on both sides of the keyboard. I was impressed by the incredible amount of bass and clarity from such a small machine. As a result, the sound filled my medium to large living room.

As for audio inputs, the 13-Inch now has three microphones, for creating clean recordings on the go. Audio quality is good for Facetime or talking to Siri. However, I recommend third party microphones for professional use.

Ports

The new 16-Inch MacBook Pro comes with 4 Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports.

Conclusion

The 13-Inch MacBook Pro might be a good fit for you, if you meet any of these conditions:

  • Have a tight budget
  • Require portability
  • Balance of portability and performance

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 8GB RAM, 256GB Storage) – Space Gray

Most Affordable

PROS
  • Affordable
  • Thin and light design
  • Retina display
  • Great battery life
CONS
  • Still expensive
  • Underpowered
  • Same Butterfly Keyboard
  • Lack of storage space

If you have a limited budget, the refreshed Apple MacBook Air is probably your answer. It might not be as powerful as what the Pro line serves up. And for some Graphic Designers, this could be a problem down the road.

If you need an entry-level MacBook to get you through school, or use when designing on the go, the 13-Inch MacBook Air will get the job done at an affordable price.

Design Overview – 13-Inch MacBook Air

Most Affordable

The 2019 MacBook Air has a few choice updates that include a newer version of the Retina Display (13.3-Inch, 2560 x 1600 227 ppi) which is better for designing graphics and photo editing,  Touch ID and a 20% larger Force Touch Trackpad.

Not to mention the Core i5 processor is more than enough to handle programs like Photoshop and Illustrator.

Features & Benefits – 13-Inch MacBook Air

Most Affordable

Retna Display

Same as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the 2560 x 1600 (227ppi) Retina display is still one of the best on the market for Graphic Design.  It features bright LED backlighting and a high contrast ratio, delivering deep blacks and bright whites.

The display supports P3 wide color for even more vibrant greens and reds than with sRGB. And every MacBook Pro features True Tone technology.

The white balance automatically adjusts to match the color temperature of the light around you — for a more natural viewing experience.

Performance

While the 13-inch MacBook Air isn’t as good performance-wise as the Pro line, the 1.6Hz dual-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor is still enough to handle basic Graphic Design work.

The 13-Inch MacBook Air comes with 8GB of RAM. This is ok for on the go usage or more light-weight design tasks.

In terms of GPU, the 13-inch MacBook Air comes with an Intel UHD Graphics 617. With Photoshop, Indesign, and Illustrator mainly using CPU, and RAM, this graphics card is fine for most graphic design tasks. If you need to go any 3D or video work, you would want a more powerful laptop altogether.

In terms of storage, the base model comes with 128Gb, and 256GB SSD options. With only 256GB, you will probably have to buy an external hard drive.

Keyboard and Touch Bar

Unfortunately, Apple still uses the Butterfly Keyboard design in the 13-Inch MacBook Air. This keyboard looks great (sleek, and low profile). Yet the issues with this keyboard as well documented. 

The 13-Inch MacBook Air has Touch ID, which is convenient and secure for entering passwords. This laptop does not have the Touch Bar, and this is a good thing. The mixture of Touch ID and physical function keys is the best set-up.

Battery Life

The 13-Inch MacBook Air has really impressive battery life at, up to 12 hours (says Apple). This is great for this laptop that targeting users who value portability.

Audio

The 13-Inch MacBook Air has s strong legacy audio system. The speakers amplify music well enough to fill a medium-sized living room. That said, if you want better sound, you probably want some noise-canceling headphones.

Audio mic quality is good for Facetime or talking to Siri. However, I recommend third party microphones for professional use.

Ports

The 13-Inch MacBook Air comes with 2 Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports.

Conclusion

The 13-Inch MacBook Air might be a good fit for you, if you meet any of these conditions:

  • Have a very tight budget
  • Require portability
  • Light usage (Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign)
Camden Taylor

Author Camden Taylor

Camden is Arturth's founder. A Senior Graphic Designer from the Pacific Northwest, he has a passion for art, design, and bringing people together through the creative process.

More posts by Camden Taylor

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