What is the best laptop for artists and illustrators?

best laptop for artists

As an artist and illustrator who has been doing this professionally for over 20 years, it’s always been discouraging trying to find laptop ideal for my needs. However, having recently been faced with the task of researching the best laptop for artists (because the one I had finally croaked), I was happy to realize that there are lot more really great options now.

These were the 5 that I was seriously considering:

  1. Lenovo Flex
  2. HP 17.3″ FHD
  3. 16″ MacBook Pro
  4. Acer Aspire 5
  5. Acer Chromebook Spin 311

For the record, these are the laptops that I would very much be comfortable (and happy) using today as a professional artist. I need a really great screen, I need it to be light-weight, and it’s got to be incredibly powerful (to handle rich 2D and 3D graphics). Stylus support would be nice as well.

All of these laptops have great features for people who create art with their computers. As a matter fact, I ended up purchasing one of them (and I’ve been happily using it 12 hours a day / 6 days a week with no problems at all). Scroll down to the bottom of the post to find out which one that is…

With that being said, here is an unbiased and objective look at what I (a professional artist) consider to be the best laptops are for illustrators and artists:

The Lenovo Flex is the best laptop for artists. Period.

One of the things that I want most in a laptop for doing artwork on is a really great display. Not only does it have to be big, it also has to be sharp, clear, bright – and flexible. Not flexible in a “flimsy” way of course, but in a way that allows me to interact with it differently than I could with a normal laptop.

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The Lenovo Flex has a great screen that offers both touch and stylus support. This means that you can interact with the screen directly by touching or drawing on it. That makes it absolutely perfect for creating art!

Why do I like it?

  • The stylus support means everything to me. Being able to draw directly on the screen makes it feel less like a computer and more like a blank canvas.
  • Not only is the screen as big and bright as I like, it also flips over so that you can prop up the entire laptop into the shape of an easel. It’s a position very suitable for drawing, sketching, and painting.
  • It’s actually quite affordable. Coming in at a price far (far) below the 16″ MacBook Pro (which I’ll discuss in a moment), it makes it hard to justify spending more for more expensive laptops (such as the MacBook).
  • It’s very highly rated. No matter where you see the Lenovo Flex for sale online, you’ll notice that the majority of the reviews are 4 and 5 stars. People like this laptop.

Important things you need to know about it

  • One of the biggest drawbacks to me is that it runs on windows 10. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is that I’m so deeply entrenched into the Apple ecosystem that it wouldn’t be easy for me to use a Windows device.
  • That being said, if you are perfectly happy using Windows, this is an excellent choice. As a matter matter fact, it’s my top laptop choice for artists!

Best runner up: HP 17.3″ FHD

When it comes to laptop computers for artists, designers, and illustrators, screen size is the first thing you really need to look for. Doing artwork on a small screen can be extremely frustrating at times – especially if you’re doing detailed and intricate work.

I focused on screen size heavily when I was searching for a laptop, and I kept going back to the HP FHD with the 17.3” screen. It’s an impressive looking device!

Why do I like it?

As much as an Apple fanboy as I admit to being, I can’t deny that this looks like a seriously good laptop. Heck, I wouldn’t mind picking one of these up as a secondary back up device sometime soon. Why? Well, it’s simple:

  • The massive 17.3″ screen is hard to resist. My highly-detailed side view aircraft templates require a lot of close-up (precision) work, and I prefer working on the biggest screen possible. This laptop has got one of the largest screens you’ll see anywhere in a portable computer.
  • Not only does it have one of the largest screens you’ll find on a laptop, it’s also extremely affordable. As a matter fact, I had a really hard time trying to find a laptop with a bigger screen for a lower price.

Important things you need to know about it

When it comes to features and attributes (especially in laptops), there are always trade-offs. In the case of this particular device:

  • Having the largest screen possible means that you’re going to have to give up a small bit of processing power. In other words, this laptop features a slightly slower processor than what you will find in other laptops in this price category. However, don’t worry. It will still be able to run powerful applications such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Affinity Designer, etc. without any issues.

The best artists laptop for (somewhat) unlimited budgets: 16″ MacBook Pro

As rare as they may be, there are artists out there with an unlimited budget for a new laptop. This is not exactly a profession known for generating a lot of income, but it is definitely possible to make it work (I’m living proof of this).

That being said, if you’ve got some cash to burn, and you want a really nice laptop for doing your artwork on, look no further than the legendary 16″ MacBook Pro.

Why do I like it?

Honestly, I could write an entire article about all the things that makes the full-size MacBook Pro great for artist and designers. However, to keep things short and to the point, I’ll list out my favorite features:

  • Not only is it built like a tank, it’s a piece of artwork on its own. Apple laptops are extremely well-engineered and very well built, and when holding one, it feels like cradling a fine piece of jewelry in your hand. I enjoy looking at it (and touching it) just as much as I enjoy using it.
  • It’s incredibly powerful. Honestly, it’s far more powerful than what I actually need for doing 2D illustration like airliner art. The only time I can really appreciate how powerful it is is when I’m rendering a high-definition 3D model in Maya (such as my Lamborghini Huracan 3D model). Other than that, it’ll handle 1 GB Photoshop files with ease – and I don’t even notice it struggling at all.

Important things you need to know about it

  • It’s expensive. As much as I love Apple products, I’m not blind to the fact that it’s possible get an equally-capable Windows laptop for half the price. However, you will be giving up things like build quality and overall longevity by doing so. FYI, every Apple computer that I’ve ever owned has lasted 10 years or more. I’ve never got that much life out of a Windows device.

Best budget option: Acer Aspire 5

To help bring you down from the shock of the horrifically-overpriced MacBook Pro, let me introduce you to the Acer aspire 5.

No joke – I was seriously considering this laptop after weighing the pros and cons of the MacBook purchase. Because when it comes right down to it, this little Acer is more than good enough for an artist and all the “artist” things that I do on a daily basis.

Why do I like it?

There are actually a lot of nice things to say about this cheap little laptop. The reason why it was so attractive to me is because:

  • It’s a fully-featured laptop which runs the desktop version of Windows. This means that you can run desktop version of Photoshop, illustrator, or any other high-end graphics editing software you want. Considering that there are tablets (with limited capabilities) that cost more than this, this is a very good bang for the buck.
  • The Large screen is a huge plus. You should know how I feel about screen size by now, so seeing that large 15.6″ screen made this Acer all the more tempting.
  • It’s actually a very highly-rated laptop. Again, you’ll find very high ratings on this device no matter where are you see it for sale online.

Important things you need to know about it

  • Caution: you get what you pay for! There’s a reason that this thing is so cheap, and that reason is very likely lower build quality.
  • It’s also worth noting that the screen resolution is not as sharp as what you’ll find on laptops costing just a little bit more.

Remember: as an artist, you want the best screen you can get for your money. That being said, if the type of artwork that you do isn’t very intricate, this may be a decently good option for you. The overall SIZE of the screen will make up for what it lacks in resolution.

Best alternative artists laptop: Acer Chromebook Spin 311

If you’re an artist who is not comfortable with technology, and you just want the simplest solution possible, look no further than a Chromebook. It’s basically a hybrid device situated exactly between a tablet and a laptop. For many artists, this may be all they really need.

Why do I like it?

The best thing about a Chromebook is that there’s very little set up and configuration involved. If you know how to use a smart phone or a tablet, you’ve got all the knowledge necessary to use a Chromebook. More specifically:

  • While the body of this device looks like a regular laptop, the operating system is Android. Broken down into the simplest terms possible, that means it’s essentially a mobile device – and it works exactly the way your phone does.
  • You’ll store all of your data and your apps in the cloud, and everything will sync automatically. You won’t have to do anything.
  • In terms of the specific Acer Chromebook that I’m showing here, the way that the screen flips over and into an easel-like position is a very neat feature. Again, this is perfect for artists.
  • The screen is a fully-interactive touchscreen just like the mobile phone and tablet you already have.

Important things you need to know about it

The most important thing to note about a Chromebook is that it’s not actually a laptop. It’s better to refer to it as a glorified tablet, meaning that you will not be able to run for desktop versions of your favorite apps (Photoshop, SketchBook, Affinity Photo, etc.).  You’re going to have to use the mobile-specific versions, which typically have less features.

That being said, tablets are actually a really good choice for illustrators and designers who want to learn how to digitize artwork. Having the ability to interact directly with the screen is a plus – as is having the option of drawing directly on the screen with a stylus.

Be sure to check out my list of recommended list of best drawing tablets that don’t need a computer to get you started.

What laptop do *I* use?

I chose the 16″ MacBook Pro. Although I decided go with the most expensive laptop on this list, I do not recommend it as the best laptop for general illustrators and artists. Don’t get me wrong – it’s an amazing machine, and I love it to death. As a matter fact, I’d buy another one without batting an eye if something happened to the one I have.

16" MacBook Pro
My trusty 16″ MacBook Pro (as seen as I was working on my Boeing 707 template). It’s a beast! I mean the laptop of course…not my template.

The reason why I can’t recommend it for everyone is that it’s extremely expensive. It’s also probably a bit overkill for most artists.

I went all-out with the maximum amount of processing power and memory (only because I do fairly extensive 3D modeling and rendering), but the truth is that you don’t really need it for just doing 2D illustrations and artwork.

I’m happy with the purchase because I’m a self-admitted Apple fan boy (and I love technology). But don’t worry. You don’t have to be like me. Any of the laptops in this list are ideal artists machines that I could be very happy using on a daily basis. You just need to weigh the pros and cons of each for your own needs.

Artist’s laptop FAQ’s

Picking the laptop that is the most ideal for you (and the type of work that you) do is something that only you can decide.

It took me a while to sort through all the choices and figure out what was best for me, but the effort was worth it. I love my choice, and I have no regrets.

That being said, here are a few frequently asked questions about laptops for artists:

What makes a good laptop for an artist?

In my opinion, it’s all about the screen! All laptops these days are capable of running the latest versions of your favorite software, so don’t spend too much time worrying about processors and RAM. Buy the most you can afford in that regard, but focus on screen size and resolution the most.

The screen on my 16″ MacBook Pro is absolutely gorgeous. It’s large, extremely sharp, and very bright. It was well worth the cost in my opinion.

What are the best brands of laptops for designers and artists?

I’m totally biased of course, so it’s no surprise that I’m going say that the Apple MacBook Pro is the best in terms of overall build quality and design. That being said, you absolutely do not have to spend all your money on a MacBook.

HP and Lenovo are making really good laptops these days, no doubt as a result of the pressure and competition that is in this space.

The fact of the matter is that you can’t really go wrong choosing a laptop from a well-known brand. Personally, I’d steer clear of the no-name brands you’ve never heard of before.

How much money should an artist spend on a laptop?

All depends on the kind of artwork that you’re doing. For me (someone who does very technical 2D and 3D illustration), I need a powerful laptop with a great screen. The screen is far more important to me than having the most powerful processor.

My wife is a traditional artist who is just starting to get into digital art. She has a 4-year old MacBook Air (an entry-level laptop), and it runs Photoshop perfectly fine. She doesn’t need a stronger computer – but she could use one with a better screen.

Which laptop has the best screen?

You already know that I’m going to say that the MacBook Pro has the best screen of pretty much any laptop on the market these days. However – I know that not everyone likes Apple products (or wants to spend that much on a laptop), so my choice for best-runner-up-laptop-screen is:

The Dell XPS 15. As a matter of fact, the XPS line of laptops have very nice high-resolution screens that rival that of the MacBook Pros. And for what it’s worth, I included the XPS 15 in my list of the best laptops for 3d modeling due it’s amazing screen. The reason why I didn’t include it in this list is because of how overkill of a machine it is for general artists and illustrators.

Comments (2)

  1. RICspotter

    January 13, 2021
    • Norebbo

      January 15, 2021

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