Top laptops and 2-in-1s for photo editing, Photoshop
What’s the best laptop for photo editing? While desktops can pack a lot of power, laptops have come a long way. Many need the portability, lap-ability, and space-saving qualities of a laptop or 2-in-1. The best laptops for Photoshop painting, or photo editing in Photoshop and Lightroom, have to serve many purposes. Certainly you need something powerful for working with large files in high quantities. You also need a high-res screen, and good color quality. Some believe you need a laptop suitable for gaming in order to run Photoshop well, but this isn’t the case. What’s more important is having the power of a mobile workstation. You can use many laptops for photo editing, but certain features make for an optimal experience.
Best laptops for Photoshop and photo editing: what to look for
Here’s a handy chart showing our top choices so far for 2017.
|Best laptops for Photoshop and photo editing 2016-2017|
|MacBook Pro Retina 15||NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M||See it on Amazon|
|Dell XPS 15||Multitouch option|
Nvidia 960M graphics
|See it on Amazon|
|ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501 VW 15.6" 4K||Nvidia GTX960M GPU||See it on Amazon|
|Lenovo ThinkPad P40 Yoga||Quadro M500M Discrete Graphics with 2GB VRAM||See it on Amazon|
|Vaio Z Flip|
(Vaio Z Canvas, pictured, also recommended)
|Pen tablet with pressure sensitivity, N-trig, 1,024 levels||See it on Amazon|
See our Vaio Z Canvas review
|Surface Pro 4||Pen tablet with pressure sensitivity, N-trig, 1,024 levels|
128MB Intel HD Graphics 520
|See it on Amazon|
See it at Microsoft
Read our review
|Surface Book||Pen tablet with pressure sensitivity, N-trig, 1,024 levels, optional NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M 2GB GDDR5 memory||See it on Amazon|
See it at Microsoft
|Wacom MobileStudio Pro||Pen tablet with pressure sensitivity, Wacom, 8,192 levels|
NVIDIA Quadro M600M 2GB GDDR5 to NVIDIA Quadro M1000M 4GB GDDR5
|See it on Amazon|
An Intel i7 is the best option for handling the demands of Photoshop. You should at least get an Intel i5. Xeon E3 is another processor that’s strong enough. If an i7 is too pricey, an i5 will work.
At least dual core, quad core is fine too. Photoshop doesn’t always take advantage of all the cores available.
An SSD, or solid state drive, is faster, quieter, and more reliable than a hard drive (HDD). It does cost more. Another option is a hybrid SSD/HDD is more affordable and delivers most of the benefits of an SSD.
If you don’t want to spend a lot on a computer with a ton of storage, you could get a 256 GB or 512 SSD, and a 1TB external hard drive to store your art and photos for the long term. It’s a good idea to have multiple backups, on drives as well as in the Cloud.
Keeping layers makes files much larger, so flatten layers when you can. Some laptops have space for additional storage drives.
A high screen resolution such as Retina, 4K, or UHD will really let you zero in on pixels. You’ll be able to see some large files in actual size instead of partial. Most programs by now have adjusted scaling so text and icons won’t show teeny-tiny on a high-res screen. This may still be an issue with older software. With programs that have not adjusted, you can dial down the resolution by adjusting it in your display settings.
Matte vs. glossy
Matte is better for screens because it’s less reflective. If you work indoors and can control lighting, then glossy is okay, but outdoors it can be hard to see. It also tends to exaggerate brightness.
An IPS display is important because it provides good viewing angles. You don’t want your image to become invisible to you because you looked at it from the side.
Laptops mainly go from 11 to 17″. We favor 15,” as being portable but large enough to see what you’re doing. If compactness is a priority, then 13″ is OK. Eleven is too small to be very productive.
Mac or Windows will both do equally, it’s a personal preference. They both support Adobe programs. Chrome OS does not.
While average laptops cover about 60-70% of the sRGB color gamut, for Photoshop, you’re better off getting one that has around 100%. Some also have some or all of Adobe RGB color gamut. Adobe RBG can look oversaturated; if you have one with Adobe RBG, it will allow you to switch to sRGB.
You also have the option of using a good external monitor for color-sensitive work, and using a calibrator on your laptop. I don’t think it’s necessary to get all the Adobe RGB on a laptop, as working on a larger external monitor is preferable. Some of the best laptops for Photoshop and photo editing include the Adobe RGB gamut, and others do not.
As you can see, this site focuses on pen tablets. But many people attach tablets to a computer, so this post includes laptops that have no pen.
A pen allows accurate input without attaching an additional tablet. It’s an option in deciding what features you want in the best laptops for Photoshop. When photo editing, it’s easy to cut out backgrounds, make quick masks, and selectively do things like burn in small areas. If you don’t get a pen tablet, you can attach a separate graphics tablet to your laptop.
Battery life is important, unless you always work indoors. The same features that boost performance also drain the battery, including high-res screens, fast graphics, and a fast processor. So you want to get a balance of features and good battery life.
To connect an external monitor you will need an HDMI, DisplayPort, or, older, a VGA. To connect a Cintiq, you will need an HDMI. If your laptop has a VGA, you can use a VGA to HDMI adapter. To connect a graphics tablet, you just need a USB. All laptops have full USB ports, usually USB 3.0 or USB-C.
Do I need dedicated graphics?
This is a common question and one surrounded by confusion and misinformation. In short, the answer is no. Discrete, or dedicated, GPUs are more important for gaming and 3D rendering and intensive video editing than they are for digital art and photo editing. They will give you a performance boost in Photoshop, but are not required.
Photoshop doesn’t access the regular GPU that much–it’s there for certain functions, including blurs and image rotation. If you do want the discrete GPU, preferably use an NVIDIA with 2 GB or more memory.
There are many great laptops for photo editing and creating art in Photoshop. Here are our favorites in 2016-2017:
MacBook Pro Retina
Many creatives opt for Macs. Using Photoshop on a Mac is not any different than using it on a PC. A long time ago, it was, and, largely from tradition, graphic designers have largely stuck to Macs. Also, the MacBook Pro is color-managed. There’s a 13- and 1- inch option, and integrated graphics. The MPB covers about 99% of sRGB and 88% of Adobe RGB. With its beautiful display and powerful processor, it’s a top laptop for Photoshop.
Dell XPS 15 Touch
The Dell XPS Touch and non-Touch are also top choices. It has over 100% of both Adobe RGB and sRGB. It also has discrete NVIDIA graphics. The highest end has a 4k touch IPS display (3840 x 2160), 3 million more pixels than the Macbook Pro. Spec-wise, this Dell laptop is is equal to or even better for photo editing than the MacBook Pro.
Read our review of the newer Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 if you’re wondering. In short, it’s a fine laptop but a bit less powerful than the first XPS.
ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW
This 15.6″ Touch IPS sports and 4K Ultra-HD display, 3840 x 2160 resolution, Intel Skylake Core i7-6700HQ 2.6 GHz Quadcore CPU and Nvidia GTX960M GPU graphics suitable for gaming. You shouldn’t have any problem tackling photos or with demanding rendering tasks such as using filters.
Do you want the added function of a pressure-sensitive pen? These laptops have touchscreens that are like Wacom tablets, delivering great accuracy and allowing you to sensitively edit your work how you like using a stylus.
Surface Pro 4
If you want a laptop with a pressure-sensitive pen, the Surface Pro 4 is an excellent choice, though the screen is pretty small. Its compact size is perfect for when you’re scrunched into an airline seat.
Same with the Vaio Z Canvas (read our review)–which has a healthy battery life. This remarkable 2-in-1 is as powerful as a mobile workstation and good for video editing as well as Photoshop. Drawbacks? The display isn’t very big (that can be good or bad, depending) and the keyboard lacks a backlight. But it’s a powerhouse.
Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga X1
The Yoga X1 has a Wacom digitizer, but the computer is not made by Wacom and doesn’t have the controls that make for the Cintiq workflow. Cintiq controls can really speed up your work whether you’re painting or photo editing.
Wacom’s new Mobile Studio Pro (due out in Nov. 2016) and Cintiq Companion 2 provide these express keys and rocker ring. While some criticize the CC2’s less than stellar battery life and noisy fan, it’s still great for digital painting and photo editing.
Wacom MobileStudio Pro
This recent offering from Wacom comes in two sizes, the 13 and 16. It’s a very powerful slate tablet. The 16 has an option with dedicated graphics and even a 3D camera. If you want to be able to carry just one thing around, this will serve your needs. You can also purchase the Wacom Link and use it as a Cintiq, attached to a Mac or PC. See our review of the MobileStudio Pro.
Cintiq Companion 2 (see on Amazon)
The Cintiq Companion 2 is the predecessor to the Wacom MobileStudio Pro. It comes with more extras than the MobileStudio Pro. While it doesn’t deliver all the power of the MSP, it’s still very good for photo editing and Photoshop.
You also have the option of using any Mac or PC with an attached pressure-sensitive tablet.
Hope this article has helped you pick one of the best laptops for Photoshop and photo editing for your needs. If you’ve got further suggestions, leave them in the comments.