Which is the best Mac for graphic design and layout?
Apple Mac OS X computers are especially useful for designers, and many creative professionals choose to regularly update to the latest Mac hardware.
But choosing the right Mac for graphic design work can be a challenge. Apple creates a whole range of Mac OS X laptops (MacBooks) and iMac or Mac Pro desktop computers. Although we think all Apple Macs are great, some are better suited to design than others.
With this in mind we've created this guide to help you buy the right Mac for graphic design. Our buying advice guide explains the precise specs and features that a computer requires to be truly great for working with professional design software, and the features you pay more for. We then look closely at the range of Mac computers available, and the custom built-to-order options that make sense for designers.
We also look at some of the accessories, software and services available that are suitable for keen graphic design professionals.
Buying advice: Why are Macs better than PCs for graphic design?
Most graphic designers automatically veer towards the Mac OS X platform as a matter of course. Partly this is a result of Apple's graphic design heritage. (Apple pretty much created the desktop publishing market back in 1985 with the original Apple Macintosh computer, combined with PageMaker and the first LaserWriter printer.)
These days most designers work in a purely digital format, and will be using very different software to that created back in the 1980s. However, Apple is still the choice for designers thanks to its more comfortable Mac OS X operating system, wide software support and lots of industry love.
Buying advice: Apple's Mac range for graphic designers
Graphic design is a varied subject, ranging from Photoshop image editing through to illustration, interactive design, user interface development, animation, 3D design and video, all the way up to full-blown 3D animation. Many graphic designers do a bit of video and audio editing on the side. There's a lot of variety in graphic design, and these different subjects call for different computing skills, and different computing setups.
Because it's a visual medium, a graphic designer is likely to want a big canvas (or rather screen) to work on. The better and more detailed the display, the better. So this naturally leads us towards the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, or the 27-inch iMac. Design work can also be processor- and memory-intensive, especially for 3D work, and file sizes for graphical work can be quite large. So for this kind of work, the faster innards and larger storage in Apple's professional range come in handy.
However, there is a down side to these machines in the form of the 'glossy' display that all Apple computers now come with. These displays are best for video, and digital graphic design work (because it's the type of display your content will be eventually viewed on). But glossy displays do not offer print colour reproduction to the same degree of accuracy as 'matt' displays, so print designers often take a dislike to them.
If your work is likely to be turned into a physical medium at some point - if you work in magazine or flyer creation, say, or product packaging development - then you may prefer a high-quality matt monitor.
Traditionally designers have opted for Mac Pro computers, but the new Mac Pro is incredibly powerful (maybe more powerful than you need) and starts at an intimidating £2,499. And that's before you factor in the cost of your monitor. A more cost-effective option is to choose a Mac mini and connect a second screen.
That's enough general advice. Let's discuss the best Mac for various kinds of specific design work.
Best Mac for detailed graphic design: MacBook Pro with Retina Display
The extremely high resolution of the MacBook Pro with Retina Display ensures that you can do high-quality work on the move. We'd recommend the 15-inch 2.2GHz with Retina Display model (£1,599) if you're a design professional. It has a fast 2.4GHz Intel i7 processor, 16GB RAM and 256GB Flash storage, and its Intel Iris Pro graphics setup is good for graphic design work. It'll blaze through most design tasks and the display will be amazing for detailed graphics and text work.
The only down side is the slightly limited Flash storage, so you'll probably need to pick up a decent external hard drive. The more expensive MacBook Pro model (£1,999) has twice as much storage and a dedicated nVidia GeForce GT 750M graphics card. The discrete graphics card ensures that is better for 3D design and rendering animation, but we think most graphic designers will find the Intel Iris Pro graphics card offers plenty of power.
See: Mac Storage reviews
Best Mac for print design workers: Mac mini
Print workers will find the power packed into the latest generation of Mac minis more than enough, and the small footprint will leave plenty of space on your desk for a huge monitor. We'd recommend the 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 model (£649) with an 8GB RAM upgrade (+£80).
If you're really going all out on a professional display, we recommend the NEC Spectraview Reference 271 (£1,859). It makes more sense to spend on the display than on the Apple Mac.
We understand that spending almost £2,000 on a display (as well as £700 on a Mac) may be a little much for some designers, so take a look at our display reviews to see if there's a model that suits your budget.
Best Mac for large-screen design work: iMac
The iMac has a huge 27-inch IPS display that makes all the difference to a designer (as long as they're not bothered about the 'glossy' nature of the display). If you work in digital, web or video design then this is the Mac to get.
We'd recommend the 27-inch 3.2GHz model (£1,449) with 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, and discrete nVidia GeForce GT 755M graphics card. This offers plenty of power for the graphic designer,plus lots of hard drive space and a huge display.
Read more: iMac 27-inch review
Best Mac for 3D design work: Mac Pro
The Mac Pro is undoubtedly the professional option to go for if you're involved in 3D or 3D animation: you really do need all the power you can get, and the new Mac Pro certainly delivers.
The base model costs £2,499 and packs a 3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor, 12GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory, and dual AMD FirePro D300 graphics cards (with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM each). The storage is pretty small; with 256GB PCIe-based flash storage you can't opt for a Fusion Drive so you will need to pick up an external hard drive.
Buying advice: Best Mac accessories for graphic designers
There are a range of great accessories for designers out there. A keen designer should investigate an upgraded mouse, and perhaps a trackball to prevent long-term RSI problems. And a full-time designer may want to look into a tablet input. These are often made by Wacom and sometimes even integrate their own display.
- Wacom Cintiq 13HD review: Great drawing experience and brilliant screen
- Wacom Intuos5 Touch review
- Wacom Inkling: Use a real pen to doodle in your sketchbook, then upload the result to your Mac
- SlimBlade Trackball review
- Cordless Optical Trackman review
Here are some additional Macworld features that will help you when buying a new Mac.