Which Mac Should You Buy for Graphic Design? Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

So many options to choose from but which is the Apple of your graphic design eye? This article will help you choose your next Mac for graphic design.

Apple’s Mac laptops and computers are synonymous with graphic design. With their futuristic sleek design, down to the very components that power them. Apple’s Mac laptops and computers are a graphic designer’s best friend. But with so many different options, how do you choose which Mac is the best for you to buy for graphic design?

The best Mac to buy for graphic design should take into consideration your budget and daily workflow. An all-around great Mac laptop to use for graphic design at an awesome price is the 13” M1 Macbook Pro with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of hard drive storage.

If you’re looking to learn more about how to choose the best Mac laptop or computer to buy for graphic design then make sure to read through the rest of this article. I go into detail about the exact things I look for when I buy a Mac for graphic design. I also include my recommendations with exact build-outs for every type of graphic designer.

What Is The Best Mac to Buy for Graphic Design?

Well this can be a tricky question and to be honest, I believe that there are a lot of Mac laptops and computers out right now that are awesome for graphic designers. So how do we choose the best Mac to buy for graphic design? Well, this is a question I get asked a lot from designers just starting and this is what I tell them. Buy the best Mac laptop or computer you can afford today. Sure it would be nice to have the ability to purchase the most maxed-out version of a Mac laptop or computer but that isn’t always the case. This can come down to being honest with yourself and what you will need your new mac laptop or computer for. This may help you realize that you don’t need the most expensive version of a Mac laptop or computer. If you’re looking for an all-around great Mac laptop to use for graphic design at an awesome price then I recommend the 13” M1 Macbook Pro with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of hard drive storage. This was the exact setup I had in my previous full-time role as a graphic designer and I had no problems completing my daily tasks with it. 16GB of RAM allowed me to have multiple applications open at once while working on multiple files without any hiccups. 512GB of storage was plenty of space to store files. But my favorite thing about the 13” Macbook Pro was the size and portability. I was able to carry my laptop with me on all my travels while working remotely and I barely even noticed a weight difference in my backpack when carrying it. The 13” M1 Macbook Pro is by far one of the best setups for graphic design while considering the price and the value you get with it.

If you think you need something more than the 13” M1 Macbook Pro, in the rest of this article I go into detail about whether you need a Mac for graphic design, the categories I pay attention to when purchasing a new Mac laptop or computer, and also some buying options depending on where you are in your graphic design career.

"Buy the best Mac laptop or computer you can afford today."

Do You Need A Mac for Graphic Design?

The simple answer is, no. If you want to get started or have a career in graphic design, you do not need to only use a mac laptop or computer. You can choose to use a windows laptop or PC and still achieve the same outcome. Some graphic designers choose to purchase a Windows laptop or computer for many reasons. One is the price difference. If you were to compare a Windows laptop and an Apple Mac laptop with the same specifications and internals, the Windows laptop would most likely have a cheaper price tag. Another reason some choose Windows over a Mac is the operating system. While I have used both in the past, some tend to side with Windows and prefer to use that instead of Apple’s macOS. In addition, Windows laptops and computers tend to be self-repairable. In the situation that something goes wrong internally, most users can buy a replacement part and fix it themselves versus the opposite with Mac laptops and computers. Most internal problems with Mac laptops and computers will require an Apple service visit or for you to seek out a third-party specialist that can diagnose the problem.

On the other hand, many graphic designers choose a Mac for graphic design. I’ve written a whole article about why 99.9% of the industry seems to choose Mac over PC here. While there may not be anything unique to Mac or PC that would give a graphic designer an advantage over the other. I believe there is a certain understanding that Apple has created with their products that generally makes tasks easier to do. You can read more about what I mean here if you want to learn more.

Things to Consider When Buying A Mac for Graphic Design

Just like when you’re purchasing any other brand of computer, there are a few categories you want to pay attention to when buying a Mac for graphic design. Those categories for me are RAM, CPU, hard drive storage, graphics, and device size. Below I will discuss each category more in-depth so you can have a better understanding of how to evaluate the next Mac computer you buy for graphic design.

RAM

While there are many articles on the web that can provide a technical explanation of what RAM is. When it comes to graphic design, this is how I like to look at it. RAM ultimately determines how fast your computer reacts when it comes to handling tasks. As a graphic designer, it’s not uncommon to have multiple Adobe applications and browser windows open while doing work. Having enough RAM helps your computer to switch between those tasks without taking too much time to process the information from one task to the other. Now, this doesn’t necessarily translate to mean that more is better. Determining how much RAM you will need will come down to understanding your daily workflow and budget. For example, I am a graphic designer who primarily works between Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere, and occasionally a 3D program like Blender. There are times when I only have one of those programs open, and then there are times when I can have three or four of those programs open simultaneously. In my situation, adding more RAM allows my Mac computer to have more space to process more tasks from different applications at the same time. It is also important to note that adding more RAM to a Mac computer can increase the price which is why knowing your budget ahead of time is important.

Whenever a reader messages me on Instagram or TikTok about how much RAM they should get, this is what I say. As a baseline for graphic designers, you should not go below 16GB of RAM for your next Mac computer if you have the budget. 16GB of RAM will allow you to have multiple Adobe programs, browser windows, and background applications open while working without any problems. If you will be working with more intensive workflows like 3D sculpting or graphics rendering applications, then consider taking the next tier up. If you have more room in your budget, again consider what your daily workflow will be before spending the money on more RAM. That extra budget can potentially be spent on more hard drive storage which can sometimes be more effective. For reference, my current Mac setup contains 32GB of RAM. At the time of purchasing my new Mac, I had a complete understanding of my workflow and I had also saved up a little more for this purchase.

CPU

The CPU or the central processing unit is the brain of your computer or laptop. The CPU helps process information and instructions given to it by the applications you are using. Concerning Apple Mac computers, Apple recently decided to produce their own CPUs to better optimize their operating system when handling tasks from applications. But what does this all mean when it comes to you as a graphic designer? Well, for the most part, there isn’t much decision-making that needs to happen on your side when it comes to picking a CPU for your next Mac computer. Depending on the Mac model you choose from the Apple website, the CPU is almost pre-determined for you. Apple does this to simplify the process of buying a Mac computer or laptop. However, in October of 2021, Apple released two new CPUs for their pro line of Mac laptops called the M1 Pro and M1 Max. The difference between these two CPUs and what you should know as a graphic designer comes down to what you will be needing these devices for. While I would’ve loved to spend the extra money on a fully maxed out M1 Max Mac laptop. The extra cost for the upgraded chip and what I would be doing for my graphic design work didn’t entirely make sense. M1 Max Mac computers are meant for intensive workflows that involve processing a lot of information at once. For example, this could good rendering out 3D graphics from programs like Cinema 4D. This could also involve exporting dense video productions with large video files. Instead, I went with the M1 Pro CPU and used the remainder of my budget to upgrade items like the RAM and storage of my new Mac laptop.

If you are looking at a Mac computer or laptop that is not in Apple’s pro lineup you will notice that Apple only includes one chip option which at the time of this article is either the M1 or M2 CPU. These are also great options for graphic designers as they have been optimized for long battery life and can handle all the day-to-day tasks a graphic designer may come across. Additionally, this line of CPUs from Apple is less expensive than Apple’s pro lineup of computers which means more money back in your wallet.

Hard Drive Storage

Hard drive storage is a category that many people can sometimes overlook and try to save on cost. This can put you in a situation that may cost you more money in the future. While many look at hard drive storage as simply how many files your laptop or computer can store on it. This is a mistake as hard drive storage can also affect the speed of your computer. Equipping your next Mac laptop or computer with enough storage can help to keep your Mac feeling snappy when it comes to creating, opening, and finding the files you need as a graphic designer. If you fill up your Mac too quickly with working files, your Mac laptop or computer will begin to slow as it tries to process the information and instructions given to it by the applications you are using. In previous Mac laptops that I have owned, I never went below 512GB of hard drive storage. For my most recent Mac laptop purchase, I went ahead and upgraded to 1TB of hard drive storage knowing that I would keep this Mac laptop for a while before having to purchase a new one. This would allow me to worry less about how many files I am creating and saving from client projects and how much storage those files are taking up on my Mac laptop. 

Graphics

Graphics is a somewhat easy category to deal with when purchasing a new Mac laptop or computer. For the most part, similar to the CPU, Apple eliminates the decision-making process based on the model you select. However, with Apple Mac laptops and computers, this can also refer to the quality of the screen you receive with your device. For example, the new pro lineup of Macs we discussed above that use the M1 Pro and M1 Max CPUs come with Apple’s new liquid retina XDR display versus the regular retina display in the other Mac models. Both screens that Apple offers in their Mac laptops and computers are awesome to use and something I have always enjoyed whenever purchasing a Mac laptop or computer. However, it is also worth noting that some Mac computers don’t come with a display. The Mac mini, Mac Studio, and Mac Pro are all Mac desktop computers that you have to purchase the display separately. Whereas the Mac laptops all come with displays attached.

Device Size

Finally, the last category and the one that matters to me a bit more than the others is the actual size of the Mac laptop or computer you are purchasing. For me as a graphic designer that has taken advantage of working remotely as much as possible, portability is key when I am in the market to purchase a new Mac laptop. However this may be different for you, you may enjoy working from a home office, or you may need to carry your Mac laptop to the office. Whichever it may be, this is something I like to also consider when purchasing a new Mac laptop or computer. With Apple’s new release of pro-Mac laptops, they changed the form factors of their devices. Usually, I would purchase the 15-in laptop for its larger screen real estate as I found the 13-in to be a bit small at times. However, after Apple released the new 14in Macbook Pro, I jumped immediately at the opportunity to finally have a device that to me was the perfect in-between size. The new 14in Macbook Pro allows me to still have a larger screen and easily pack it away while I am traveling. So far this has been one of the best Mac laptops I have ever purchased and I haven’t thought of returning it once!

To help you choose the right Mac laptop or computer I have put together different categories below that should help you choose the best Mac for you to use for graphic design. 

Best Budget Mac Laptop for Graphic Design

This category is for graphic designers that are on a budget and don’t want to spend too much. For graphic designers on a budget, I recommend the 13" M1 Macbook Pro. Full specification build and description below.

13” M1 Macbook Pro
16GB of RAM
512GB of Hard Drive Storage
Total Price: $1,400 + Tax 

Purchase new (Amazon)

The 13" M1 Macbook Pro is the perfect lightweight Mac laptop for graphic designers on a budget. In addition to the 16GB of RAM and 512GB of hard drive storage, the 13" M1 Macbook Pro comes with a 13” retina display that is perfect for viewing graphics and editing images. The small form factor makes the 13" M1 Macbook Pro the perfect size for portability to bring with you wherever you may need to work and it won’t cost you much.

Best Mac Laptop for Graphic Design Students

This category is for graphic design students that are currently taking classes to become professional graphic designers. For graphic design students, I recommend the 13” M1 Macbook Pro. Full specification build and description below.

13” M1 Macbook Pro
16GB of RAM
512GB of Hard Drive Storage
Total Price: $1,400 + Tax 

Purchase new (Amazon)

For graphic design students, it is important to have a Mac laptop that is portable but also powerful enough that it can last through a full day of classes. The 13” M1 Macbook Pro is all of that plus more. The 13” M1 Macbook Pro has an amazing battery life that will allow graphic design students to use it for a full day's worth of classes, note taking, and homework with still some left over. In this build specifically, we have opted for the 512GB of hard drive storage so that graphic design students will be able to take this Mac laptop into their professional careers and continue to use it beyond their classes finishing. The 13” M1 Macbook Pro is the perfect option for graphic design students and will also save them some money by not having to purchase a completely new Mac laptop when they enter the professional industry.   

Best Mac Laptop for Graphic Design Freelancers

For graphic design freelancers looking to purchase a new Mac laptop or computer, I recommend the 14” M1 Pro Macbook Pro laptop. Full specification build and description below.

14” M1 Pro Macbook Pro
8-core CPU
16GB of RAM
512GB of Hard Drive Storage
Total Price: $2,000 + Tax

Purchase new (Amazon)
Purchase renewed (Amazon)

For graphic design freelancers that want the most value for their dollar, the 14” M1 Pro Macbook Pro is an insanely good laptop. The new M1 Pro chips from Apple are perfect for graphic design freelancers that are working on multiple projects for different clients. I have a 14” M1 Pro Macbook Pro and I love the form factor of the laptop. The new liquid retina XDR display is awesome for viewing working files and presenting them to clients. The 14” laptop is also for me the perfect size that balances screen real estate and portability. Keeping in line with my other recommendations this setup has 16GB of RAM. We’ve opted for 512GB of hard drive storage but if you have a little more room in your budget, feel free to upgrade to 1TB for $200 more. 

Best Mac Laptop for Graphic Design Pros

For graphic design pros that have a little more budget to spend on a setup, I recommend the 16” M1 Max MacBook Pro laptop. Full specification build and description below.

16” M1 Max Macbook Pro
10-core CPU
64GB of RAM
1TB of Hard Drive Storage
Total Price: $3,700 + Tax (check links for most recent price)

Purchase new (Amazon)

For the graphic design pros that are currently working with a portfolio of clients and consistent work, the 16” M1 Max Macbook Pro has it all. This setup will allow graphic design pros to run every program they could need without any problems. The 16” liquid retina XDR display will also give them more screen space to view hi-resolution images and files without a worry. Since this category of graphic designers may have a little more room in their budget, 64GB of RAM is a big upgrade from the other categories and will also allow graphic design pros to run multiple programs performing intensive tasks at the same time. This setup is the ultimate setup for graphic design pros.

Best Mac Computer for A Graphic Design Home Office

For graphic designers working from home or having a home office, I recommend the M1 Mac Mini computer. Full specification build and description below.

M1 Mac Mini
16GB of RAM
1TB of Hard Drive Storage
Total Price: $1,300 + Tax (check links for most recent price)

Purchase new (Amazon)

For graphic designers that are able to work from home or prefer to have a desk setup that stays in one place the M1 Mac Mini is a powerhouse. This little Mac computer from Apple is the best kept secret when it comes to purchasing a Mac computer for graphic design. It is important to note that when buying an M1 Mac Mini for graphic design, you are not getting a screen that comes with it. You will need to purchase that separately. However, with all the money you are saving by purchasing the M1 Mac Mini, you should have plenty left over to splurge on a pixel perfect screen for all your graphic design work.

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