Best Laptops for Design Students in 2021

macbook pro sitting on wooden table

If you are a student studying graphic design you would know how important it is to have a good laptop. Your laptop is going to be your best friend throughout your career so it’s important to know which one is the best to make a worthwhile investment.

You would need a laptop that is portable to carry around the school halls and can run industry-standard graphic design software such as, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. It has to be fast and spacious so you can complete your assignments on time and have a place to store them.

In this article, I have gathered the best laptops for design students in 2021 which you can depend on to excel in your academic and professional career. The list comprises of a different range of prices so even if you are strapped of cash you’ll definitely need to read through.

Best Laptops for Design Students in 2021

Below is a breakdown of the top 9 best laptops for design students. The laptops range from high to low prices so scroll through the list to find the one that fits your budget.

IMAGE PRODUCT DETAILS Buy Now
Apple Apple Apple MacBook Pro
  • CPU:10-core Apple M1 Pro
  • GPU:16-core Apple M1 Pro
  • Battery life:21 hours
  • RAM:16GB
  • Storage:512GB SSD
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Dell Dell Dell XPS 15 7590
  • Screen:15.6" 4K UHD DIsplay
  • CPU:Intel Core I7-9750H
  • GPU:NVIDIA GTX 1650
  • RAM:32GB
  • Storage:512GB SSD
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ASUS ASUS ASUS Zenbook
  • Screen:14" FHD Nanoedge Display
  • CPU:Intel Core i5-1135G7
  • GPU:Intel ‎Iris Xe Graphics
  • RAM:8GB
  • Storage:512GB SSD
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Apple Apple Apple MacBook Air
  • Screen:13.3" Liquid Retina Display
  • CPU:8-core Apple M1 Chip
  • GPU:7-core Apple M1 Chip
  • RAM:16GB
  • Storage:256GB SSD
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Microsoft Microsoft Surface Book 3
  • Screen:15" Touchscreen Display
  • CPU:10th Gen Intel Core i7
  • GPU:NVIDIA GTX 1650
  • RAM:32GB
  • Storage:1TB SSD
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Acer Acer Acer Swift 3
  • Screen:14" Full HD IPS 100% sRGB Display
  • CPU:AMD Ryzen 7 5700U Octa-Core Processor
  • GPU:Radeon Graphics
  • RAM:8GB RAM
  • Storage:512GB SSD
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HP HP HP ENVY x360
  • Screen:15.6" Full HD Touchscreen
  • CPU:AMD Ryzen 5 4500U Processor
  • GPU:Radeon Graphics
  • RAM:8GB RAM
  • Storage:256GB SSD
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Acer Acer Acer Aspire 5
  • Screen:15.6 inches Full HD IPS Display
  • CPU:AMD Ryzen 3 3200U
  • GPU:Vega 3 Graphics
  • RAM:4GB
  • Storage:128GB SSD
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LG LG LG Gram 17
  • Screen:17" FHD IPS Display
  • CPU:Intel Evo 11th gen Core i7
  • GPU:Intel Xe Graphics
  • RAM:16GB RAM
  • Storage:1TB SSD
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Here are the detailed reviews of the best laptops for design students in 2021.

1. Apple MacBook Pro (Best Laptop for Design Students)

apple macbook pro M1 best laptop for design students
Pros Cons
Industry-standard Expensive
Amazing liquid retina display Might be too large for some
Powerful processor and GPU
Long battery life

It is no surprise that the Apple MacBook Pro is the best laptop for graphic designing. Graphic designers consider the Mac as the industry-standard laptop for all kinds of design work because of its high-quality build, design and performance.

The MacBook Pro features Apple’s own 10-core M1 chip processor with a 16-core GPU. These two combined give you faster performance to complete tasks and amazing speeds for all your graphic design applications.

The main shining star for the Mac would be its beautiful 16” Liquid retina display that gives you a rich color contrast making all your colors pop. With 1600nits peak brightness the Mac is insanely bright and can be used in sunnier settings if you like to work outdoors.

It has a long battery life of up to 21 hours and a 1080p facetime HD camera so you don’t have to worry about attending online classes with a poor-quality webcam.

The MacBook Pro is the ultimate laptop for design work and once you make this investment you’ll probably never want to use any other laptop again.

2. Dell XPS 15 (Best Non-Apple Laptop for Design Students)

dell xps 15 Best Non-Apple Laptop for Design Students
Pros Cons
4K UHD Display Weak GPU in this price range
Great quality RAM Limited connectivity options
Backlit keyboard Average audio quality
HD webcam

If you’re not very fond of Apple’s Mac OS and want to opt for a windows laptop instead the Dell XPS 15 is going to be your best pick. With its 15.6" 4K UHD Display it will display all your photos and work clearly and has a good range of colors which will give you sharper resolutions.

It has a 9th gen i7 processor which would give you faster boot ups and loading times so you can quickly get started on your assignments with lesser fuss. The NVIDIA GTX 1650 dedicated graphics card isn’t the best compared to other brands in this price however, it can still handle most graphic rendering tasks in apps like Photoshop and Blender.

The 32GB RAM doesn’t only make this computer super responsive but also makes it possible to multitask with multiple tabs and windows open. The 512GB SSD is also not going to run out of space anytime soon so you have a good storage for placing all your files.

It has a cool looking backlit keyboard which would help you see the keys when you’re going for all-nighters before exam day and a 720p HD webcam for all your zoom calls.

The laptop does have only a few connectivity options which might be a problem if you use anything more than a mouse and keyboard with your laptop. The audio is also somewhat average and not the best compared to some other laptops listed here.

3. ASUS Zenbook (Best Budget Laptop for Design Students)

asus zenbook best budget laptop for design students
Pros Cons
Slim stylish design irreplaceable RAM
Lightweight
Latest processor

The ASUS Zenbook is a great ultra-slim budget laptop for design students. 14” Full HD display with a bright screen that would display everything clearly. Its ultra-slim design make the laptop portable as it is light to carry, doesn’t take up much space, and can be carried around in your backpack all day long.

It has a quad-core i5-1135G7 processor which is part of the latest 11th gen series making it very fast and efficient for design work. It has integrated Intel IrisXe Graphics which isn’t ideal but will get the job done.

The 8GB fixed RAM and 512GB SSD is great for running power-hungry apps such as, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. The spacious storage will also help you store all your precious files on your computer without going over the limit.

The keyboard with numpad might come useful in some situations like accounting and finance and the thunderbolt 4 port will allow you to transfer files from your laptop to your phone or drive instantly.

4. Apple MacBook Air (Highest rated Laptop for Designing)

apple macbook air highest rated laptop for designing
Pros Cons
Affordable compared to Macbook Pro Lesser storage
Powerful M1 processor and graphics
Long battery life

The Apple MacBook Pro might be the best laptop for design purposes but not everyone can afford it and this is where its brother the Apple MacBook Air steps in.

The 13.3” colorful display might not be as bright and sharp as the pro version but can still give you a much better display than most laptops in this price range.

The MacBook Air is also fitted with Apple’s 8-core M1 chip processor with a 7-core GPU which will give you fast speeds for all your photo and video editing projects. Partnered with the 16GB RAM this laptop is never going to disappoint you in terms of performance and quality.

The 256GB storage might not be very spacious since you’ll be using this laptop for your whole school life. I’d suggest you get an external hard drive to make up for it or test it out yourself who knows maybe it’ll be enough for you.

The 18 hour long battery life and the high resolution display really sell this laptop as a great choice for design students.

5. Surface Book 3 (Most Innovative Laptop for Designing)

surface book 3 most innovative laptop for designing
Pros Cons
Detachable screen becomes a tablet Expensive
Multiple upgrade options Not worth it if you don’t plan on using a tablet
Excellent memory specs Accessories sold separately

The Surface Book 3 by Microsoft is the coolest and most unique laptop you can get your hands on. It has a 15" touch-screen display which can be detached from its keyboard into an individual tablet.

A 10th Gen Intel Core i7 processor with 32GB RAM and 1TB SSD makes this convertible laptop a performance powerhouse giving you super-fast speeds when working on your design projects. Also if you want to ditch the keyboard or just want to use it as a tablet, just take the screen off and voila now you can draw as you go.

The amount of power this machine offers might be overkill for some so the laptop comes with multiple upgrade options so you have a wide choice between processors, graphics and memory to choose the specs suitable to you.

A laptop this premium is expected to come with a hefty price tag and might be out of budget for most college going students and you even have to buy the accessories separately which just adds to the already expensive price.

6. Acer Swift 3 (Best Compact Laptop for Graphic design)

acer swift 3 best compact laptop for graphic design
Pros Cons
Lightweight and slim design Limited upgrades
Good-quality AMD processor
Wi-Fi 6
Fingerprint reader

The Acer Swift 3 is a great compact laptop for those students looking for a no-nonsense computer that can handle most of their design work and assignments with minimal complications. It features a 14” FHD anti-glare display which will keep it clear under bright settings and a 100%sRGB color gamut giving you a richer color display.

It has Wifi-6 which will give you faster wireless speed for most of your online tasks and an octa-core AMD Ryzen 7 5700u with Radeon graphics which can easily process most graphics in power-intensive apps.

The 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD make this computer a great performer in just $700. It also has a fingerprint reader for stronger security so you don’t have to worry about your classmates messing with your files.

7. HP Envy x360 (Best 2 in 1 Budget Option)

hp envy 360 best 2 in 1 laptop for design students
Pros Cons
Affordable 2-in-1 laptop Heavy when used as a tablet
Highly responsive touch screen Stylus not included
Fingerprint reader

The HP Envy x360 is a 2-in-1 Laptop that can be used as a laptop and tablet by rotating the screen 360 degrees thanks to its 15.6" Full HD touchscreen display. Unfortunately, a stylus is not included meaning you would have to buy one separately.

It has a 4GHz AMD Ryzen 5 4500U processor which can run all your photo editing, video editing, and animation software efficiently and quickly. The 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD is also good but just like the MacBook Air it doesn’t have a spacious storage.

It does however have a backlit keyboard and a fingerprint reader which are excellent features in this price range.

If you plan on using this laptop as a tablet you should know that the screen does not detach like the surface book so you’ll be carrying your 4 pound laptop in your hands which could wear you out by holding it long enough.

8. Acer Aspire 5 (Cheapest Option for Design Students)

acer aspire 5 cheapest laptop for design students
Pros Cons
Cheap Average specs
Portable
Fast

Another slim, lightweight laptop from Acer that is great for design students is their Aspire 5. It is the cheapest laptop you can find with good performance for designing. It has a 15.6” Full HD IPS Display and an above average color range.

The AMD Ryzen 3 3200U processor with integrated Vega 3 Graphics surprisingly gives you a pretty fast response and good graphic rendering for photo and video editing as well.

The main reason for the low price tag would be its 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD. Even though the internal memory of the laptop isn’t attractive it does match the minimum requirements to run most graphic design software. If you do feel the need to upgrade it you can add some extra storage and RAM.

It has a 7 hour battery life with a backlit keyboard and Amazon Alexa built-in making this a good portable budget laptop for designers.

9. LG Gram 17 (Biggest Display Option)

lg gram biggest display laptop for design students
Pros Cons
Military grade durable design Glossy screen
Latest processor Might be too large for some
Highly capable memory
Ultra-lightweight

The LG Gram is a beast when it comes to performance and durability. It has a large 17" Full HD display and surprisingly weighs only around 3 pounds. It is an ultra-lightweight laptop which you can carry around the campus without it getting too heavy.

It has the latest 11th gen i7 processor powered by Intel EVO, 16GB RAM, and a 1TB SSD meaning not only this computer fast but also has enough storage to store all your projects, tasks, homework, assignments etc. Conveniently

The Gram is also highly durable lasting a lifetime because of its full metal body military grade design.

This laptop also comes with some downsides though. It has a glossy screen which is kinda disappointing since every other aspect of the display is great. But, despite that, you could get a matte screen protector to avoid glare.

How to Choose the Best Laptop for Design School

Choosing the right laptop for your academic life is important as you need a laptop that you can rely on for every semester. There are several factors to consider when you are choosing a laptop for design school but most of it comes down to budget, speed, portability, and functionality.

Budget

When I sat down to make this list of different laptops for design students I had different budgets in mind. Some students are fortunate enough to pay for a higher-end laptop whereas others struggle with finances and could only afford a cheaper model.

For the hustlers out there looking for a budget option to get you through uni these are some great options:

If you have a lower budget you would have to compromise on speed, functionality, graphics, and some features but the above laptops would give you a good experience

If you are after a higher-end laptop that isn’t just limited to school work and your academic life here are some of the best options:

These laptops above would give you faster speeds, loading, boot up times, and an overall better experience.

Speed

The speed of your laptop is mostly dependent on its CPU (central processing unit), GPU (graphics processing unit), and RAM (random access memory).

CPU

The CPU or central processing unit is the main way through which the computer reads and executes tasks. It is responsible for taking input from the user and gives some output. Most graphic design software doesn’t have specific requirements for a CPU as long as it is reliable and has a clock speed of 1.5GHz or faster.

GPU

The GPU or graphics processing unit is responsible for displaying whatever you see on your screen. It renders the graphics for the computer to display elements. I recommend having a discrete graphics card with at least 2GB video memory. An integrated graphics card will also allow you to complete most tasks but a discrete graphics card will be able to better render graphics making it faster.

If your degree focuses more on video editing and animation you would need a higher video memory preferably 4GB or higher. If you want to be able to game on your laptop as well I recommend checking out a laptop with a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce graphics card which will easily handle apps such as, blender and Photoshop and let you play your favorite games as well.

RAM

The RAM or random access memory is part of your laptop’s internal memory and unlike your SSD isn’t a permanent storage.

Your RAM makes copies of files you open or tasks you perform so that when you access them later you can instantly switch between them. This helps you to multitask and stay productive making your workflow much more efficient. 

Adobe recommends at least 8GB RAM for most of their creative suite apps and 16GB RAM as the ideal.  

Portability

Chances are that most of the time you are going to be roaming around the campus with your laptop when going from one class to another. It’s important you get a light, portable laptop so that you can easily carry it around without getting worn out.

Most modern laptops have a weight of 4 pounds so that is a good size, anything below that however is just a bonus.

You would also require the battery to be long lasting so your computer doesn't die on you in the middle of a lecture.

Functionality

The thing I love about the design field is the vast amount of career opportunities it provides. This means that no laptop would be a one-size-fits-all and you would have to look for a laptop that can fulfil your needs.

This means taking a closer look at the functionality of the laptop.

Your dream laptop might have some features that might not be necessary for the type of work you do e.g. do you really need a tablet for graphic design? It would depend on your niche. 

Illustration? Yes

Typography? Probably not.

Buying the surface book 3 or the HP Envy x360 might not be a smart purchase as they are expensive due to the fact they turn into a tablet and if you don’t need one why not pay for a laptop with better specs and same price that doesn’t turn into a tablet?

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