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If you are in a hurry, then the best laptop for art students is the Lenovo Flex 5, which can be used as both a laptop and drawing tablet, and is fantastic value for money.
When you are looking for the best laptop for art students, there are a few specific characteristics that matter more than any others: price; reliability; and all round performance, from drawing and art creation, to word processing and web browsing.
Although there are plenty of cheap laptops for artists available that match the first and last of these requirements, these tend not to offer longevity, and can often break within a year or two.
In this article, I use my extensive hands-on experience to show you only the best laptops for artists, with detailed explanations as to why they are the top picks for art students, from drawing and animation, to digital art and fine art.
What is the Best Laptop for Art Students?
Most art students rightly have a greater concern about budget than full-time artists who make money for their art.
The choice below is therefore the best value for money computer you can get, although there is a more high-end model below this that I would recommend if your budget stretches that far.
Best Laptop for Art Students
- 2 in 1 laptop where the screen folds over to form a tablet
- Powerful 6-core processor for strong performance in hardware-intensive tasks (eg. animation)
- Includes digital pen so usable for drawing straight out of the box
- An excellent budget choice that can still run the same programs as more high-end laptops
- Long battery life and relatively light, so can be used away from a desk
- The screen only covers about 74% of the sRGB color space, so this is less well-suited for photographers
Although the Lenovo Flex 5 is an excellent all-round art laptop and a good, cheap computer, if you need total color accuracy (which you will if you are looking for the best laptop for a photography student), then take a look at my article on the best laptops for photo editing for better choices for you.
What is the Overall Best Laptop for Artists?
If you are not limited by budget, and just want the best laptop for art that money can buy, then this is the ultimate choice.
Overall Best Laptop for Artists
- Screen can detach to be used as a separate drawing tablet, or use complete as a laptop
- High resolution 3K touch screen with 100% sRGB color accuracy
- 10th Gen i7 Processor, 32 GB of RAM and 512 GB SSD for super-fast performance in all drawing programs
- Long battery life for use away from a desk
- Suitable for pretty much any type of artist, from those drawing up to video editors
Compare the Best Art Student Laptops
Compare all of the good laptops for art in the table below.
Pros / Cons
Microsoft Surface Book 3
13.5" or 15";
Pros: Detachable screen; Premium build quality; Long battery life
15.6" + 14", or 14" + 12.6" (dual screen);
Pros: Dual screens; Excellent color accuracy;
Cons: Battery life & Price
Lenovo Flex 5
Pros: Value for money; Pen included;
Cons: Small SSD
Pros: Primarily a tablet that can be used as a laptop; Very small, light & portable
Cons: Slower processor
Pros: Powerful processor; Beautiful color accurate screen; Premium design
Cons: No touch screen
What are the Key Points to Look for in the Best Art Computer?
When you are searching for an artistic laptop, there are several areas that should be considered, so that you don’t make a bad choice.
I have used the below criteria to compare each laptop reviewed here, and have selected only the models that came out on top for this article.
You can use this list as a jumping off point if you want to do any further research on computers not shown here, although bear in mind that I have looked at pretty much all major brands, so laptops not included here are usually not included for a good reason.
- Touch Screen. You don’t need a touch screen, but art is significantly easier to make using one. This also includes thinking about:
- Pen Accuracy. Can you be confident that your drawing actions are reliably captured by the screen?
- Pen Lag. Does your drawing appear immediately as you move the pen?
- Pen Pressure Sensitivity. Can you make a line bigger by pressing harder? Does the screen handle pen tilt in the same way as pen and paper?
- Minimum Hardware Specs. Minimum specifications will be different for art computers versus gaming computers, so always check the specs of the software you intend to use:
- Processor (CPU). This is particularly relevant for animation in Clip Studio Paint and Photoshop, but is less relevant for simple line art like that created in Corel Painter.
- Memory (RAM). More RAM means less slowdown in performance as your work in progress files get larger.
- Hard Drive (HDD / SSD). SSDs are faster than HDDs, but typically have less storage.
- Display. Can be broken down into:
- Panel Type. IPS panel technology offers the best image quality.
- Color Accuracy. Colors should be as lifelike as possible, aiming for 100% of the sRGB gamut, or more.
- Screen Size. Larger screens are easier to draw on, but at added cost and weight.
- Resolution. High res screens (4K or 1080p) offer greater detail when you are working.
- [Optional] Graphics Card (GPU). Some programs work more efficiently (ie. are quicker) when using a dedicated GPU. This really only applies to high res digital art, animation, video rendering and the like. Simple line art usually doesn’t require a GPU.
- Operating System. A Windows laptop tends to offer greater flexibility in the software that you use, but many creatives prefer a Mac, and it is also possible to use a Chromebook.
- Battery Life. You probably don’t want to be stuck at a desk, so long battery life is a must.
- Portability (Size & Weight). This might be more important to you if you are carrying your laptop for long periods.
- Value for Money. Does the computer offer value for money and come in under your budget?
Are Touch Screen Laptops Good for Drawing?
Although you don’t need a touch screen laptop for drawing and for art in general, they do make the whole drawing experience much easier, and can improve both the speed at which you work, and the quality of your finished artwork.
All of the Windows laptops reviewed here are touch screen. Unfortunately, Macs are not yet touch enabled, but they have other benefits that might outweigh the loss of a touch screen to some, namely ease of use and a well designed interface.
It is possible to buy drawing tablets with screens, so you could get a regular laptop or Mac, and effectively turn it into a touch screen model with one of these devices. This is likely to be a better solution for art majors that value finely tuned accuracy when making art, as this will be a higher quality setup overall, albeit at increased cost and decreased portability.
So, for example, the best laptop for an illustration student probably will have a touch screen, while the best laptop for a fine art student might be something with more power that doesn’t have a touch screen, like a Mac, along with a separate drawing tablet.
If you are set on a touch screen, then be sure to check the pen accuracy as best you can before purchase.
All of the models reviewed here have excellent pen accuracy, along with minimal lag and realistic pressure sensitivity, but this isn’t true of every laptop out there.
Accuracy is not something stated in the marketing literature for a laptop. A first port of call is to look at any recent reviews you can find, but following that, you want to try to understand the architecture of the screen, as this has the most bearing on accuracy in the form of parallax.
Parallax is a problem where the line you are drawing does not sit directly under the nib of your pen. This is essentially caused by the various layers of the screen being too thick and creating a large gap between the display itself and the layer you draw on.
This is largely eliminated in fully laminated screens, when the glass and plastic layers are bonded together to minimize their overall thickness.
So, fully laminated screens are thinner and therefore show less parallax.
Pen lag is also difficult to determine without hands on experience of a laptop, but know that all of the good computers for artists reviewed here show minimal lag.
Screen refresh rate is the most relevant criteria in the laptop specifications, but even this is less useful when talking about laptops compared to graphics tablets.
You can see some lag in the video above of the XP Pen drawing tablet, with this about the average level of lag seen in most laptops.
Generally, this isn’t a problem and only needs to be investigated first if you go for a particularly cheap touchscreen laptop.
Pen Pressure Sensitivity
Most laptops either come with a pressure sensitive stylus, or you can get one of these styluses separately.
They are a must if you want to work in a way that most accurately mimics pen and paper, with pressure sensitivity shown in levels, usually measured in the range of two to eight thousand.
Even the lower level is suitable for home use, but professional users might want to look at the higher range, which enables much more careful drawing control.
Related to this is tilt ability, where angling the stylus changes the apparent nib size, just as if you were using a real pencil. This feature is often left off of cheaper laptops, but is always present in the top-end models.
What Computer Specs Do I Need for Digital Art?
The minimum specifications that you will require in your artist laptop depend on the software that you intend to use. I’ve given an example below using Photoshop (which is my art program of choice), and then delve into the relevance for artists of each part of the specs.
Example: Adobe Photoshop Minimum & Recommended Requirements
|Windows & Mac Min. Requirements||Recommended Requirements|
|Processor||Multicore with 64-bit support; 2 Ghz or faster on Windows||As minimum requirements|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Version 1809 (64-bit); macOS 10.14||Any more recent Windows version; macOS 10.15 or later|
|RAM||8 GB||16 GB|
|Graphics Card||GPU with DirectX12 support and 2GB GPU memory – nVidia GeForce GTX 1050 or equivalent||4GB GPU memory – nVidia GeForce GTX 1660 or Quadro T1000 is recommended|
|Hard Drive Space||4 GB or more of available hard-disk space for installation; additional free space required during installation (cannot install on a volume that uses a case-sensitive file system)||SSD and separate scratch disk recommended|
|Monitor Resolution||1280 x 800 display at 100% UI scaling||1920 x 1080 display at 100% UI scaling|
|Internet||Internet connection and registration are necessary for required software activation||As minimum requirements|
The processor (or CPU) speed is one of the most advertised specifications when it comes to computers for art, but it is actually note very relevant in this context.
But, both RAM and hard drive space are much more important than processor speed.
If you are looking for a gaming computer, then the CPU is of utmost importance, but for Clip Studio Paint, Photoshop, or any other art program, a bare minimum dual-core processor is usually sufficient.
The only difference between a fast and slow processor in this context, is that you might have to wait for an extra few seconds for an action like saving to complete, but you won’t be limited in what you can ultimately do.
Memory in the form of RAM is one of the components that has the largest effect on performance, when using a laptop to make art.
It is used for practically every operation, from starting up your computer, to storing history within your art program, so that you can undo steps, and applying complex transformations to your work.
RAM speed is universally very fast, regardless of the stated speed (which is used more as a marketing gimmick). But once the RAM is full, then your computer will have to start using your hard drive in place of RAM, and this is much slower.
Therefore, you want to get as much RAM as possible, regardless of its speed.
You are unlikely to find a hard drive with moving parts (HDD) in good laptops for art students these days (and you should stay away from any that do have them), as technology has now transitioned to solid state drives (SSD).
The trade-off is that per GB memory cost is higher with SSDs than HDDs, so SSDs tend to be smaller, particularly at the more budget end of laptops.
Ideally, you want a 512GB SSD, but a 256GB SSD is fine for most.
If you know that you will be working with large files (such as for animation or high res digital art), then consider getting the largest hard drive you can afford, although bear in mind that external SSDs are also relatively cheap, and offer a good way to expand your laptop’s capacity.
Graphics cards (GPUs) can help with very specific uses, such as applying the Warp filter in Photoshop, but are generally an extra cost that can be avoided.
The only time a GPU is absolutely crucial is if you are video editing, or working with very high res files. This means that it can be beneficial to have a GPU if you are looking for a laptop for design students, for example.
The screen is for me the most important part of any laptop, and will be for you if you are looking for the best laptop for a photography student or for any other discipline that demands accurate color reproduction.
Although resolution is the most widely quoted display characteristic, it is not the most important one for me. Provided that you get a Full HD (1920 x 1080) screen, you will be fine.
More important is display construction. Most laptops use LCD screens, and the best panel type for LCDs are IPS panels, which give wide viewing angles and rich colors.
But there are now laptops being produced, like the Asus Zenbook Pro Duo, that have OLED screens. This is uncommon in laptops, and can offer even better color accuracy, and in particular richer blacks than IPS panels, but at the cost of potential screen burn-in and color drift over time.
Color accuracy in terms of true-to-life colors is generally controlled by a separate color calibration device (get a cheap hardware device like this one, then use open source software like DisplayCAL), but the total range of colors that a screen can display is measured in percentage terms of a color gamut, usually sRGB.
A screen that shows 100% of all sRGB colors is ideal, as this is the Internet standard, and the most widely used in everyday life. A display with less than 100% sRGB coverage will have limitations in color transitions and some shades of color, usually in the greens.
The best laptop screen size for students is really a matter of personal preference – you will likely want a smaller screen if you intend to carry your laptop around a lot, as this reduces weight and bulk, or a larger screen if you intend to be more regularly at a desk.
Luckily, most computers for artists come in a variety of screen sizes with otherwise identical specs, so you can find your laptop first, then choose a screen size later.
Standard sized laptops have a 15.6 inch screen, and I would recommend this for most artists using a touchscreen. If you use a non-touchscreen device, like a Mac, then a 13 inch screen is usually fine, provided you also use a drawing tablet with screen.
Why Do Creative Professionals Use Macs?
Apple got a head start on PCs with the earliest incarnations of the Macs, specifically designing them for use with graphical displays, with an original 72 dpi screen resolution (which means that the 72 dots in an inch of screen real estate matched the 72 points that make an inch in typography), and with a back end that was just easier for software manufacturers like Adobe.
Although Macs had this early advantage over PCs, this advantage no longer really exists, even though some people in the Windows camp or the Apple camp might tell you differently. Provided that you have experience with one of the operating systems from these manufacturers, then it is often best to stick with what you know.
If you are used to Windows, then the best artist laptop for you will be a Windows device.
But if you are used to iOS, then get an Apple Mac.
Both are as capable as each other when it comes down to the end results that they can help you produce, but Macs are widely considered to have a more straightforward usability with an interface that doesn’t get in your way.
When it comes to iPad vs laptop for students, some distinct advantages come with iPads, namely their small size and easy portability, along with a very accurate pen that makes drawing a breeze.
The negative is that iPads are outclassed performance wise by pretty much all laptops, and are less useful for day-to-day tasks outside of art.
If you want to learn more, you can read about the best tablets for photo editing.
Reviews of the Best Computers for Artists
All of these choices are reliable, and can safely last you for many years when well cared for. The top laptops reviewed are:
- Lenovo Flex 5 – The best laptop for art students
- Microsoft Surface Book 3 – The best laptop for artists
- Microsoft Surface Pro 7
- Apple MacBook Air – The best Macbook for art students
- Asus Zenbook Pro Duo
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 4500U 6-cores @ 2.3 – 4.0 GHz
- RAM: 16 GB
- SSD: 256 GB
- Screen Size: 14″
- Max Resolution: Full HD (1920 x 1080)
- Panel Type: IPS
- sRGB Color Space: 74%
- Battery Life: ~ 10 hours
- Weight: 3.64 lbs (1.65 kg)
The Lenovo Flex 5 must rank as one of the most popular 2-in-1 laptops currently available, and is often sold out. But if you can get your hands on one, this Lenovo laptop for students is the cheapest laptop for college students that also offers very good performance and excellent value for money.
Of course, you don’t get the power of a Macbook or the Surface Book, but you do get a touch screen with included stylus for easy, accurate drawing, a long battery life and an overall lightweight laptop, suitable for extended use away from the desk.
The real advantage of the Flex 5, apart from price, is that you can use the laptop in a standard mode, or flip the screen over to form a tablet computer, which is perfect for drawing and for art.
This means that you do both day-to-day tasks and art creation without having to compromise, which is why overall, the Lenovo Flex 5 is my best laptop for artists and art students.
- 2 in 1 use as a laptop and tablet with the screen folded back over the base
- Well-balanced device for word processing, web surfing, drawing and most other tasks (excluding gaming)
- Fast 6 core processor offers superior performance in hardware intensive tasks
- Digital pen included, so usable straight out of the box for drawing
- Long battery life, so suitable for use away from a desk
- Capable of easily running Photoshop, Illustrator and other drawing programs
- Only 74% of the sRGB color gamut which means a less color accurate display
- Smaller SSD, but should be sufficient for most users
With the ability to detach the screen to use as a separate tablet, the Microsoft Surface Book 3 is for me the perfect blend of powerful and easy-to-use laptop that pushes it into being one of the best laptops for drawing and the best computer for digital art.
You get a 3K screen with perfect color accuracy, all situated within a premium feeling chassis. The fact that the screen is also touch enabled makes it even more special and exceptionally versatile.
The graphics card in the base means that when used as a laptop, the Surface Book has masses of power, making it the best laptop for animation students and those dealing with really high res art.
It does have a high price tag, but that is pretty much the only negative. If you are happy to pay for the best, then the Surface Book is it.
- Screen can detach to be used as a tablet, or attach to the keyboard to use as a standard laptop
- The screen is slightly taller than usual – this 3:2 aspect ratio makes using a 13.5″ screen much easier
- 3K resolution with a very high contrast ratio and very accurate colors
- Dedicated graphics card in the laptop base for powerful Photoshop and 3D rendering performance
- Incredibly versatile and one of the most powerful 2 in 1 laptops
- Manufactured from premium materials and feels great to use
- Drawing with the Surface pen on the tablet feels very similar to pen and paper
- Easily portable, with long battery life in laptop mode
- One of the most expensive drawing laptops
- Pen does not come with the laptop as standard
- Shortage of ports to connect external devices
- CPU: Intel i5-1035 4-cores @ 1.1 – 3.7 GHz
- RAM: 8 GB
- SSD: 128 GB
- Screen Size: 12.3″
- Max Resolution: 2736 x 1824
- Panel Type: IPS
- sRGB Color Space: 97%
- Battery Life: ~ 10.5 hours
- Weight: 1.74 lbs (0.79 kg)
Primarily designed as a tablet that can also function as a laptop when you add the optional type cover, the Surface Pro is surprisingly powerful compared to what you would expect.
Although this model has a smaller amount of RAM and a smaller SSD, you can upgrade these when buying, but this is not really necessary with a device like this, as you are always going to be limited to what you can do by the processing power and small screen size.
Not that the small screen size is bad, as actually this means you get a very portable laptop if you want to work away from home, which is only helped by the long battery life.
The screen itself is also bright, showing clear, sharp colors that really stand out, with the high resolution negating a lot of the issues that would otherwise plague a small screen.
The Surface Pro might lack on absolute power, but is the best tablet laptop for students if you really value portability over everything else.
- Primarily a tablet that can also be used as a laptop
- Fantastic color accurate screen
- Very useful integrated stand
- Compatible with an excellent pen and type cover
- Long battery life, so suitable for use away from a desk
- Very small and light, and super easy to carry around
- Slower processor, so less suited to intensive computing tasks
- Small SSD, but should be sufficient for most users
- CPU: Apple M1 8-core @ up to 3.2 GHz
- RAM: 8 GB
- SSD: 256 GB
- Screen Size: 13.3″
- Max Resolution: 2560 x 1600
- Panel Type: IPS
- sRGB Color Space: 113%
- Battery Life: ~ 15 hours
- Weight: 2.80 lbs (1.29 kg)
The new M1 chip from Apple that this model of Macbook Air sports is a real game changer in terms of performance and elevates it into the realm of best laptops for art majors. You can now use the Air for pretty much anything, from simple line drawing to video editing.
Previously, video editing through Final Cut or Logic Pro would have been a no-go on the Macbook Air, but now works flawlessly, although you may want to upgrade to 16 GB of RAM if this is an avenue you think you are likely to go down.
Pretty much the only flaw with air, from an artists perspective, is the lack of touch screen. This means that drawing and painting requires additional hardware – you can’t do this with a mouse. Fortunately, there are plenty of drawing tablets available, some of them quite inexpensive, so this needn’t be a deal breaker.
For me, this latest version of the Macbook Air is the best Macbook for art students, beating even the Macbook Pro thanks to its portability, and could even be the best computer for art students overall if you can ignore the lack of touch screen.
- Powerful and fast laptop capable of doing anything you need
- Highly regarded by most artists
- Very think and light so easily portable
- Excellent battery life
- Beautiful screen with sharp, accurate colors
- Quiet, with no fan
- Best Apple laptop for students
- Beautiful design, and feels like a premium product
- Relatively expensive
- No touch screen
- New architecture means there are still some software incompatibilities
- CPU: Intel i7-10750H 6-cores @ 2.6 – 5.0 GHz
- RAM: 16 GB; 32 GB
- SSD: 1 TB
- Screen Size: 14″ & 12.6″; 15.6″ & 14″
- Max Resolution: 4K (3840 x 2160) Main Display & 3840 x 1100 Secondary Display
- Panel Type: OLED & IPS (Secondary)
- sRGB Color Space: 100% (Main) & 100% (Secondary)
- Battery Life: ~ 5 hours
- Weight: 5.51 lbs (2.50 kg)
With a remarkable OLED dual-screen setup that offers rich, deep blacks, the Asus Zenbook Duo is a unique and interesting laptop that could easily be the best laptop for art and graphic design.
This Asus laptop for students has both a standard 4K touch screen where you would expect a screen to be, but also has a wide-screen second screen just above the keyboard. This is particularly useful as a palette within your art program, with both screens offering vibrant, lifelike colors.
Another bonus is the included stylus, which you often have to buy with other laptops like the Surface Book. This works well, offering accurate drawing performance on the dual touch screens.
The Zenbook is pretty heavy, as you would expect, and the screen does not detach or flip round as with a traditional 2-in-1, but if you are looking for a desktop replacement for occasional trips out of your room, then the Asus is a very good bet.
- Both main screen and secondary display are touch screens in this model (beware older models where only the secondary screen is touch enabled)
- Comes with Asus stylus so you can get started with drawing straight out of the box
- Very high color accuracy on the Pantone-validated main display, perfect for color critical work
- Discrete GeForce RTX2060 graphics card makes this well-suited for resource intensive tasks, like animation, 3D modeling or photography
- Strong all-round performance, for those looking for one computer to handle all their tasks
- The larger 15.6″ screen model offers a 4K display and OLED screen, which is one of the best screens for general graphics work
- Innovative model that really stands out in a crowded market
- Plenty of ports for easy connection to peripherals
- Shallow viewing angle of the secondary display means there is noticeable dimming unless viewed from top down
- Cramped keyboard in the 14″ model (less so in the 15.6″ model)
- Ergonomics make this more suited to desk use, than use on your lap
- Battery life decreases dramatically when using both screens and a heavy workload, so again this is more suited to desk use