Before the advent of personal computers, graphic designers would have to do everything by hand. “Getting fingers burnt by hot wax was once all in a day’s work,” says Eye on Design.
These days, we have powerful desktop PCs and other devices to help do our jobs effectively (and avoid those burnt fingers).
Still, the decision of what computer to buy is an important one. Graphic design relies on software programs that need powerful hardware to operate smoothly.
There are various desktop computers on the market today with outstanding performance, but with so many different options, it can be difficult to choose the right one. That is why I have decided to outline the best computers for graphic design.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, and I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. To learn more, visit my editorial guidelines.
What Is the Best Computer for Graphic Design?
From the outside, Apple’s 2020 version of its 27-inch iMac computer looks almost identical to previous models, but don’t let that fool you. On the inside, it is a faster and more powerful professional workstation.
The 10th Gen Intel Core processor and all-flash SSD storage make this computer blazing fast. That means you will be able to access videos, photos, vectors, and other large files more quickly.
Graphic designers will especially love the stunning visuals of the 5K Retina display, which can produce a staggering one billion colors and 500 nits of brightness.
Another bonus is the 1080p FaceTime camera, which provides a clear, crisp image that will make you look more professional when video conferencing with clients.
- Display 27-inch 5K Retina display
- Graphics AMD Radeon Pro 5300
- Processor 10th-generation Intel Core i5
- Memory 8GB of 2666MHz DDR4
- Storage 256GB SSD
There are two main reasons why the iMac 27-inch is the best desktop computer for graphic design.
The first is speed. Designers often work with large image files and have several applications running at the same time. This computer will be able to handle intense workloads with ease.
The second is the 5K Retina display. According to ResearchGate, 62–90 percent of consumer decisions are based on color. So whether you are designing websites, print ads, or product packaging, you should give yourself every advantage when it comes to picking the right hues.
One of Apple’s first computers to use the M1 Chip, the 2021 iMac 24-inch is a big step up from its predecessor.
The first thing you need to know is that this is not simply a smaller version of the 27-inch iMac listed above. The 27-inch is a professional workstation, whereas this iMac is Apple’s consumer-grade “computer for everyone.”
Make no mistake, though. This machine is powerful enough to serve as an excellent computer for graphic design as well.
- Display 24-inch 4.5K Retina display
- Graphics 8-core GPU (part of Apple M1 Chip)
- Processor Apple M1 Chip
- Memory 8GB unified memory
- Storage 256GB SSD
The M1 Chip has allowed Apple to make the iMac more compact than ever (the display is only 11.5 mm thick.) Quite frankly, I think it’s amazing that something this thin can be so powerful.
If you do a lot of video editing work or gaming, the 27-inch iMac might be a better option. However, the 24-inch iMac will work well with graphic design apps such as Photoshop and InDesign.
Internal components should be the main reason to buy a computer, but the color options are also a nice bonus. Silver is available for anyone who prefers a more classic look.
Microsoft’s AIO (all-in-one) PC is an innovative, gorgeous piece of technology designed specifically with creative professionals in mind.
The most impressive feature is the 28-inch touchscreen display, which swivels down so you can draw directly on the screen like an old-school drafting table.
Illustrators and designers will appreciate the way you can sketch something out with the Surface Pen, then turn your artwork into a high-resolution vector file within minutes.
- Display 28-inch 4500 x 3000-pixel touchscreen
- Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB or GTX1070 8GB
- Processor 7th Gen Intel Core i7 7820HQ
- Memory 16GB or 32GB RAM
- Storage 1TB or 2TB SSD
The large adjustable display makes the Surface Studio stand out in today’s desktop computer market. There simply aren’t too many PCs quite like it, making it an attractive option for those who like to sketch ideas out as part of their workflow. It’s one of the best computers for creatives, hands down.
On the flipside, some of the internal specs (such as the processor) feel a bit outdated, especially in light of the high price tag. However, even with the 7th generation Intel Core i7 chip, this computer has plenty of speed and power to handle graphic design tasks with ease.
The Mac Mini M1 marks the long-awaited transition away from Intel Core processors, using Apple’s own silicon and M1 chip instead. The 8-core CPU delivers up to 3x faster processing and a 6x increase in graphics performance.
You’ll need to purchase a keyboard, monitor, and mouse separately, but this computer will serve as a solid foundation to build a fully customized workhorse of a machine.
Altogether, the Mac Mini M1 embodies many things we have come to know and love about Apple—sleek design, excellent performance, and reasonable price—making it an easy choice for anyone who has owned a Mac before.
- Display not included
- Graphics 8-core GPU
- Processor Apple M1 chip
- Memory 8GB unified memory (configurable to 16GB)
- Storage 256GB SSD (configurable to 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB)
The Apple Mac Mini M1 is a powerful yet affordable machine that gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
If you have the money, I recommend upgrading to 16GB unified memory and buying more storage. For graphic designers dealing with large image files, 1TB SSD should last for awhile.
The only drawback of this machine is that it only has two Thunderbolt ports. However, you can always get a USB hub to hook up more than two devices, and, at the end of the day, fewer ports is a small price to pay when considering the machine’s impressive performance metrics.
Apple computers have always been popular among graphic designers, but there are a handful of PCs on the market that are excellent alternatives.
Dell’s XPS Desktop sits near the top of my list of Windows PCs that have enough computing power to handle the heavy workloads of graphic design programs.
The XPS is highly expandable, which is also a plus. This means if your job changes and you need to buy more storage or a better graphics card, it should be relatively easy to upgrade the hardware as needed.
- Display not included
- Graphics Intel UHD Graphics 750
- Processor 11th Gen Intel Core i7-11700
- Memory 32GB DDR4 RAM
- Storage 512GB SSD and 2TB HDD
Dell has been around for nearly 40 years (since 1984), which tells you something about the quality of its products.
The XPS Desktop is an affordable, powerful PC that is an excellent alternative to the iMac for any type of creative work, including graphic design.
On an aesthetic level, I appreciate the late 1990s/early 2000s look of the CPU tower with its cheese grater cooling vents. It has a more industrial, heavy-duty feel than a lot of other modern PCs.
In recent years, the rise of gaming has given way to a new class of computers designed specifically for handling intense, graphics-heavy workloads.
Even though Alienware’s Aurora Ryzen Edition R10 is marketed as a gaming PC, it’s also well-suited for creative work.
The tower has a distinctively sci-fi look that might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but inside are some seriously powerful components that make this one of the best desktop PCs for graphic design.
- Display not included
- Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti 6GB GDDR6
- Processor AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
- Memory 8GB, 1x8GB, DDR4, 3200MHz, XMP
- Storage 1TB 7200RPM SATA 6GB/s
The components make this a great computer, especially if you’re looking for that sweet spot between low cost and high performance.
Depending on your work environment, the tower’s futuristic look may be a positive or a negative.
It’s worth noting that the cooling fan can get noisy at times, which is a byproduct of the computer’s robust hardware.
The good news is that you won’t have to worry about the tech becoming outdated anytime soon. With an industry-leading processor and graphics cards, this machine is future-proofed for years to come, no matter which configuration you choose.
Lenovo’s Yoga A940 is an intriguing (and slightly less expensive) competitor to the Surface Studio 2.
Like Microsoft’s all-in-one PC, the Yoga A940 has unique features that are particularly useful for graphic designers and illustrators.
First, the 27-inch touchscreen display can tilt forward, so it can be adjusted to an optimal angle if you want to draw directly onto the screen. This feature comes in handy for making quick sketches, marking up proofs, or any other activity where you want to get up close and personal.
Second, there is a content creation dial on the side of the display that can be synced to programs like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop to scroll, calibrate, and make small adjustments to your files.
- Display 27-inch 4K (3840 x 2160) IPS touchscreen
- Graphics AMD Radeon RX 560 4GB
- Processor Up to 9th Generation Intel Core i9-9900
- Memory Up to 32 GB DDR4 2667MHz
- Storage 1 TB 5400 RPM HDD + 256 GB PCIe SSD
This is an ideal graphic design computer for anyone who wants to use Windows and is looking for an alternative to Microsoft’s Surface Studio 2.
The 27-inch, adjustable 4K touchscreen display is one of the Yoga’s biggest selling points. If you’re the type of person who would rather be sitting at a drafting table drawing, you’ll love working with this computer.
What Is a Computer for Graphic Design?
While there is no such thing as a computer made specifically for graphic designing, there are several key components that make some machines better than others for graphics-intensive apps such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign.
Here are the main features you’ll want to consider when looking at graphic design computers for desktop.
For many people, the operating system (OS) is a crucial factor in deciding which computer to buy, the choice being between macOS and Windows.
A debate between the two operating systems has raged on for decades. People tend to feel very strongly about one or the other, but there is no clear winner, objectively speaking.
In 2020, PC Mag compared macOS and Windows based on factors such as performance, usability, security, and specific tasks. The results showed that they are more-or-less equal.
Ultimately, your choice of the operating system will come down to personal preference, compatibility with other devices you already own, and what your coworkers are using.
Another major factor to consider when shopping for a computer is the central processing unit (CPU), sometimes referred to as the processor or chip.
Most graphic design applications will require a powerful modern processor (CPU) to run smoothly.
One method you can use to determine whether a processor will be adequate for your needs is to identify the program(s) you will be using most, then go to the company’s website to find the minimum system requirements for that program.
Adobe lists the system requirement for its Creative Cloud desktop app here. It tells you how much processing power, memory, and storage you’ll need to run its programs successfully.
This is especially important if you do a lot of 4K or 8K video work, 3D modeling, or other demanding tasks. You’ll want to make sure you are buying a CPU with enough power, so be sure to check with the graphic design software company you’ll be using to find out the minimum system requirements.
Graphic designers often work with large files in Photoshop, Illustrator, and other image-based programs. These creative tasks require a processing unit dedicated to handling graphics. This is called a graphics processing unit (GPU) or graphics card.
The GPU helps you edit a vector file in Illustrator, render a video in Premiere Pro, or scroll through a document in InDesign (just to name a few).
As a graphic designer, you should get the best graphics card available for the system you are choosing. A powerful GPU will increase your computer’s performance and speed so you spend more time creating and less time waiting.
A computer’s short-term memory is called RAM (random access memory). Unlike your computer’s hard drive, which can store files for long periods, RAM provides short-term storage for data that your computer is currently using.
RAM assists with multi-tasking. Whenever you have multiple programs running simultaneously, your computer relies on RAM to seamlessly go back and forth between each app. For example, with sufficient memory you could be scanning your artwork, watching YouTube videos, and chatting with a friend without any hiccups.
If you use your computer for basic tasks like making lists or surfing the Internet, you can probably get away with less RAM.
However, graphic designers who work with large image files and have multiple apps running simultaneously will need more RAM to help their computers run smoothly.
That is why RAM is another good upgrade to make when buying a computer. So, if you have the money, buying more memory should be a no-brainer.
Whereas RAM deals with short-term memory, a computer’s drive stores files for extended periods. This is where work gets saved so you can access it later on.
There are two choices for storage: solid state drive (SSD) and hard disk drive (HDD). Though they both perform the same function, the technology behind each one is different. Each has pros and cons that should be weighed based on your specific needs.
There are no moving parts on SSDs, so theoretically they should have a longer life. SSDs also consume less energy, are quieter, and allow your machine to boot up faster. However, HDDs are better in terms of price and storage capacity.
If you take your computer with you to work, value speed over storage capacity, and don’t like your machine making a lot of noise, an SSD will be best for you.
On the other hand, if you are on a budget and deal with a lot of large media files, you might want to consider a system with hard disk drives.
Keep in mind that you can always buy external drives with more storage, so you shouldn’t feel too locked in with an SSD.
Graphic designers should evaluate computer monitors, aka displays, based on color accuracy, brightness, resolution, and screen size.
All-in-one PCs come with a monitor and other components, while others are sold as a tower alone, meaning you have to buy additional components separately.
Whether you are buying an all-in-one PC or simply looking for a monitor to pair with your system, you’ll want to make sure the specs are robust enough to accommodate your needs as a graphic designer.
That concludes my take on the best desktop computer for graphic design.
Whether you’re a designer working in-house, a freelancer, or a student, I hope you found this guide useful.
To recap, if you are looking for the best overall computer for graphic design, I recommend the iMac 27-inch.
For more casual use, I recommend the iMac 24-inch (2021). It is an excellent everyday graphic design computer.
If money is not an issue, and you like the idea of using your monitor like a drafting table, I’d get the Surface Studio 2. It’s one of the best computers for digital design, especially if you like to sketch ideas out.
The Mac Mini M1 is great for those who don’t mind buying components separately.
Dell’s XPS Desktop is an affordable option for those who prefer Windows over macOS.
Alienware’s Aurora Ryzen Edition R10 is a good option if you enjoy gaming on the side.
Finally, if you like the features of the Surface Studio 2 but find the price tag a bit too steep, the entry level Lenovo Yoga A940 might be a good fit for you.