Top laptops and 2-in-1s for photo editing, Photoshop
You may be wondering what are the best laptops for Photoshop painting, or for photo editing in Photoshop and Lightroom. Certainly you need something powerful for working with large files in high quantities. You also need a high-res screen, and good color quality. You can use many laptops for this purpose, but certain features make for an optimal experience.
Best laptops for Photoshop and photo editing: what to look for
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 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 15 inch option and integrated graphics. It 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 is is equal to or even better for photo editing than the MacBook Pro.
ASUS ZenBook UX303UB
This is a compact beast of a machine with a 13.3 inch 3200×1800 screen, comes in models with 12 to 20 GB RAM with up to 2TB SSD, NVIDIA graphics. Whew!
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
Cintiq Companion 2 (see on Amazon)
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.