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I have talked a lot about what computers may be best for digital art, and in my recent article – The Ultimate Guide for the Self-Taught Artist – I gave some specific recommendations for the best Apple and Windows laptop computers.
But I still get a lot of questions from both established and new aspiring artists about what computers, and especially notebook computers, are best for digital art, and so I decided to put this guide together to answer some basic questions:
I will talk here a little about Windows versus Apple, tablets versus laptops, and even about how much RAM and storage an artist needs on their computer as well as some other basic specifications.
Then we will get into the computers themselves, several different recommendations for the best Windows notebook computers for digital art and the best Macintosh notebook computers for digital art, with a few brief words about each of the recommended laptops.
Having a good, high quality laptop computer can make all the difference. Yes, there are lots of computers out there at very low prices, and they are generally fine for most uses – binge watching, surfing the internet, playing most games and using basic programs like word processors.
But artists need more from their computers. We need fast processors, good storage and bright, high resolution screens with excellent color fidelity.
And there’s another thing, and that’s durability and reliability. Artists are not necessarily rougher on their computers than normal people, or more clumsy or heavy-handed – in fact, maybe the opposite is true. But we do tend to fall in love with our tools, and if we get a good laptop computer that really works well for us, and supports and even enhances our creativity, we will use it more and more and want it to last forever.
So, bottom of the line opening model computers are out for us, and I can’t stress this enough. Even if you’re on a budget, or just starting out, don’t skimp on your workhorse. You need to run any and all art software without problems or delays, see your work (and possibly show it to clients) with accurate colors and in real detail, and keep your entire portfolio on your local drive if you choose
You may not even think you are going to do actual artwork on your new laptop – maybe you have a tablet for that, or are more into traditional media – but you will still want a computer which displays your (and others’) art beautifully, opens files immediately, never runs out of storage, looks great and lasts forever. Well, maybe not forever, but long enough for it to actually be cheaper in the long run than a budget model.
A final thought about cost: If you are a new, aspiring artist, you don’t have much money and/or haven’t yet established a clientele or reliable income, please don’t over-spend on a computer! At the same time, really pay attention to, and follow, the minimum requirements I’m suggesting.
To spend too little on your laptop can even be a worse idea than spending too much – you can easily end up with a machine that will be frustrating to use, that will discourage you and even hold you back in your learning, advancement and enjoyment. And one that might even cost you more in the long run due to wasted time, missed opportunities and maintenance costs.
Even though I’m not into specifications that much, I still know that performance is extremely important for an artist’s computer, and lack of performance often drives a working artist crazy – and can even frustrate and block creativity.
As such, the best laptop computers for artists should have, at a minimum:
Now a computer with 32 GB memory, 1 or 2 TB of onboard storage and full 4K display may cost more than some of us paid for our last car. But if we stick to at least the minimums (like every laptop computer on my list) we can find great laptop computers for artists, which is actually reasonably priced and which will fully support our work (and even our occasional play) and never stand in our way.
Because, believe me, there is nothing worse than being in the flow and having your computer, or any artist’s tool, stand in your way.
Many people want to get some sort of tablet, or even a phablet (I love new words!), so they can work directly on the screen – drawing or painting, retouching, stuff like that – and then they end up trying to do everything else on it as well.
This can end up being pretty frustrating and limiting, and the way I see it, every artist should have a good laptop computer. You can also get an attachable display tablet or drawing pad (see my article Which Tablet is Better – Wacom or Huion?), and do incredible work on it, or even get a laptop with a touchscreen, or a 2 in 1 (convertible laptop/tablet), and work right on its screen.
But an artist – and a professional artist in particular – will also need to use their computer for administrative tasks as well as lots of other work, and no matter how adept you are with thumb typing this can get little frustrating on a tablet.
Besides, true Apple or Windows computers will run lots of the best and most industry standard art software that iPads or Androids won’t, and will allow you (or, again, clients and prospective clients) to see your work in all its glory on their big, beautiful screens.
I myself have a very nice iPad, and I use it all the time, but I couldn’t get by without my MacBook!
As you may imagine, one of the questions I hear most often is should I get a Mac or a Windows computer for my artwork?
For many years, decades now even, the Mac was always considered the “artist’s computer” and the Windows PCs to be more for… Well, I don’t know – the sort of mysterious daily activities that all those non-artists get themselves up to all the time. Spreadsheets? Databases? Coding?
But that is definitely not the case anymore. In fact, there are now (I hate to admit it) more of the very best, most advanced and most capable professional art programs available for Windows than for Apple.
That said, the most important high end art software is now being made available for Macintosh as well – the brilliant Adobe Suite, for example – and many fantastic art programs available on Apple – like my favorite, Procreate – are not available on Windows computers.
At the end of the day, either the right Windows laptop or an Apple MacBook can be a fabulous computer for any artist. Both can have extremely high performance, incredible high resolution screens and all of the best art software (from the simplest to the almost absurdly complex and advanced) you could want or need.
So, if you know and love Macintosh, get a MacBook, and if you are a Windows fan – even if you’re not really sure what a spreadsheet is used for – get a Windows laptop. Either way, you will be amazed at how the right computer can help, inspire and even advance you and your art.
BEST WINDOWS LAPTOP FOR DIGITAL ART
BEST MAC LAPTOP FOR DIGITAL ART
BEST MICROSOFT LAPTOP FOR DIGITAL ART
BEST 14" LAPTOP FOR DIGITAL ART
BEST 13" LAPTOP FOR DIGITAL ART
BEST TOUCHSCREEN LAPTOP FOR DIGITAL ART
BEST 2-in-1 LAPTOP FOR DIGITAL ART
CHEAPEST LAPTOP FOR DIGITAL ART
Back to the basic question: What is the Best Laptop for Artists and Digital Art in 2021?
I have put together a list of a dozen different notebook computers, both MacBooks and Windows PC, any of which would be a great choice for any artist – whether you are a fully established working professional artist, a fine artist, or even if you’re just starting out.
I am choosing brands and models which I know to be extremely well made and reliable, and which work especially well for artists – based on my own experience, on the feedback and recommendations of many of my colleagues and artist friends, and on countless Amazon verified customer reviews I pored through to prepare for this article.
They all are available with at least the minimum specs and performance you as an artist will need, and as you go up in cost you will see a proportionate increase in performance (not necessarily, though, in reliability, as they are all well made and high quality laptop computers).
They all also have really good monitors, with superb color fidelity and resolution and low distortion. Most of them (though not the Macs) also have fully accurate and sensitive fine-detail touchscreens, even though most working artists will have some kind of drawing pad or display tablet attached to their computer as well. Still, the best touch screens definitely are fine enough to do even quite exacting and precise work, and they can make interacting with the computer itself – windows, menus and commands – quite intuitive and cool.
Whichever computer you choose from this article – Best Laptops for Artists and Digital Art in 2021: An In-Depth Buyer’s Guide – you will end up with a great and useful tool. Really, you can’t go wrong!
So here’s my selection of best laptop computers for artists available in 2021, presented here from highest to lowest price:
Many artists say that you shouldn’t try to make art directly on your laptop’s screen, but I’m sure none of them ever tried this incredible machine, with its amazing dual screen, beautiful 4K resolution and high sensitivity pen.
An expensive computer, the Asus Zenbook Pro Duo is also one of the most innovative, advanced and genuinely useful laptops ever made, and incredibly fast and powerful, and even at this price users consistently report that it is well worth the money – and then some!
The ZenBook Pro comes standard with 16 GB of ultra-fast RAM and 1 TB of internal SSD storage, so even the most serious or advanced artists, animators, 3-D modelers or photographers will have the memory, processing power and storage space they need.
And that screen!!! Someday all computers will be this cool and clever, but for now you will have to pay to get what might well be the best computer for artists ever made – a true advancement and a brilliant tool, this should be a serious consideration for any advanced artist.
The best Apple laptop made, the MacBook Pro has an absolutely top-notch screen – so good, in fact, with so much depth, resolution and energy and such beautiful colors that it can make any artist better (and any prospective client more appreciative).
The Apple MacBook Pro is also extremely fast and powerful and incredibly well built, and in my experience is so glitch free and problem free that it never stands in my way when I’m working. It just supports me and allows me to do whatever I want to do, and shows me the results exactly and beautifully.
Capable of running any and all art software on the Macintosh platform, and able to store the largest files and even complete portfolios and display that work with awesome detail, color and life, the Apple MacBook Pro is definitely the best Apple computer for artists in 2021.
I’ve already talked a couple of times elsewhere about the Microsoft Surface Pro 7, which is a 2 in 1 convertible tablet/keyboard and a really great computer for artists (and itself highly recommended).
But here we’re going to include the new Microsoft Surface Pro laptop, which is a beautifully built computer – light, sleek and sturdy – with a bright, striking high resolution touch screen and plenty of processing power and memory for even the most advanced art or animation software.
Along with its highly accurate and sensitive 15 inch touch screen, the Surface Pro laptop has the fastest, latest generation processors, Radeon graphics co-processor and hyper-fast DDR4 RAM, and is a perfect choice for even the most complex work – animation, high resolution graphics, professional photography editing and all types of large files.
And it has a removable SSD drive, which can be very handy and especially useful to artists and photographers and makes the computer easy to upgrade.
Also available is the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 13.5” – smaller screen, slightly different specs and hardware, but still a powerful and highly desirable computer for any working professional or fine artist.
And as the perfect accessory – pretty much required, in fact – you should consider getting the Microsoft Surface Pen, which doesn’t come standard with the Surface Laptops.
Ok, so maybe you can’t afford a ZenBook Duo Pro – does this mean you should miss out on what may be the coolest, most innovative and useful screen design for artists?
Not with the next computer in my best laptops for artists buyer’s guide, the Asus ZenBook Duo. Not quite the jaw-dropping 4K resolution of the Pro, but still full high definition, and way more than sufficient for even the most detailed and complex images to really come to life, and for you to be able to work at the highest levels and always see perfectly what you’re doing.
It’s also way more powerful and faster than virtually any artist might need, and will run all professional art and photography software with no problems.
And really it’s pretty much just as cool as the Pro – and at around half the price!
This is the lowest priced Macbook currently available, and for the price you get a whole lot of computer.
It should be said right up front that this is a smaller screen than I would normally recommend, but this 13.3 inch full HD+ monitor is so bright and clear as to make it quite usable, and this cool little notebook is absolutely perfect for working on the go, for taking to clients’ offices or for even just moving around your home or studio.
To make the “work on the go” experience even more fun and productive, you might also consider the brilliant new Wacom One digital pen display and stylus to plug into your new MacBook Air – a complete working mobile art studio in your rucksack!
Inexpensive and yet fully up to Apple’s high standards of quality and performance, and able to run, and nicely display, any professional art software on the Macintosh platform, the Apple MacBook air is the perfect small computer for any artist.
The HP Pavilion is a great example of the cool new generation of touch screen notebook computers.
Not a convertible, the Envy’s keyboard cannot be detached from the beautiful FHD (Full High Definition) screen, but it will fold all the way over, making it effectively a slightly weighty but solid tablet, and the screen will also fold to any angle, so you can use it as a stand for watching videos… I mean, ahem, working on art.
This system does not give you quite the control, or the paper-like feel, of the best art tablets (see my article xxx), but it is definitely a nice and accurate enough pen and screen interaction for all but the most detailed and demanding work (the excellent HP Tilt Pen is sold separately).
And, like all the items on this list of best notebook computers for artists in 2021, it has more than enough processing power, memory and storage to meet any artist’s needs. This model in particular also features that legendary HP reliability and over-engineering.
Another great touch-screen 2 in 1 notebook computer, the Lenovo Flex 5 has a slightly smaller screen than the HP listed just above, which is normally not always desirable, but in this case actually makes this nice little computer even more portable and usable on the go.
And, with a sufficient 256 GB SSD drive, and a huge amount of RAM – 16 GB!, the Lenovo Flex 5 is a great computer for even the most advanced artists and art software, and a great value too – especially considering that the nice Lenovo Active Pen is included in the price!
The least expensive notebook computer on our list of best laptops for artists in 2021, the Microsoft Surface Go is also one of the most gorgeous, with its sold feel and sleek profile.
The Surface Go laptop screen does not have full HD resolution, but it still manages to be one of the best looking, clearest and brightest displays on the market, with numbers still well above the normal HD resolution standards.
This is also not a fully fold-away screen, like on the 2 in 1 laptops above, but rather a standard notebook computer with a nice touch screen. This makes actually doing artwork on the screen a little awkward, but in combination with the brilliant new Wacom One digital pen display and stylus you can have a whole working mobile art studio for still a very low price.
With plenty of memory – 8 GB – and the fast, powerful latest-generation Intel i5 processor, it is more than up to the challenge any commercial artist or illustrator can throw at it.
Please note that the Amazon page my link will take you to is for the higher level 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD drive configuration at the lowest current price – you can also opt for 4GB and a 128GB drive, but I would not recommend this only slightly less expensive option for an artist.
Microsoft is known as one of the true leaders in design and quality, and I think this new laptop is a great example of why!
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You still may be wondering which manufacturer makes the best, highest quality and most reliable notebook computers, and the short answer is – everybody on the list above.
But to be a little more specific, Microsoft and Apple are known for the extremely high material quality, workmanship and reliability.
At the same time, Asus, HP, Lenovo and some other brands are also well known for quality. And these days, with so many new notebook computers coming with solid state drives and basically no moving parts or mechanical processes (again, like all the computers above), they can all be expected to last a good long time without any problems, and to be a really good investment.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my new article – Best Laptops for Artists and Digital Art in 2021: An In-Depth Buyer’s Guide – as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together. Please be sure to check out my site – Art Side of Life – for more buyer’s guides, articles, online art courses and all kinds of other resources for artists!
If you are on a lookout for a great 2 in 1 laptop for drawing, check out my other article: Best Laptop for Drawing in 2012