At this point, the creative sphere’s preference for Macs is clear — pop into an art-school campus, a movie studio or even your local indie coffee shop for all the proof you need. But Apple’s relationship with artists isn’t just a trend, it’s a legacy; groundbreaking features like the pre-Photoshop MacPaint, intuitive visual interfaces and music tools ranging from early MIDI sequencing to GarageBand’s latest update have endeared the brand to creatives throughout its history (and Jony Ive’s iconic industrial design doesn’t hurt, either).
As Apple engineer Bill Atkinson puts it, “We were trying to make a machine that a person with an artist’s or musician’s sensibilities would want to use. It’s not a matter of could they use it; we wanted to create something they would enjoy using.” Here’s what you need to cut through the tech weeds and get to enjoying.
1. Clock Your CPU (and GPU)
Whether you’re a film editor, 3D modeler or UX designer, there’s a good chance you’re using your Mac to parse, assemble and play back power-hungry visual files, like 4K footage or STL files. This is where your computer’s CPU (central processing unit) becomes crucial, as its speed largely determines how quickly you can run intensive tasks. Editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro and Sony Vegas all rely on CPU power to encode, export and generate smooth previews.
A few exceptions: the DaVinci Resolve suite relies more on GPU (graphics processing unit) computing, and while most current 3D modeling software is CPU hungry, apps on the horizon are making more use of GPU power. Apple’s Vega graphics architecture can double GPU performance, key for 3D renders and complex video effects.
For filmmakers: Multicore processors and features like Turbo Boost give the iMac Pro the horsepower it needs for smooth, reliable video editing.
2. Storage: Keep It Solid
When shopping for Macs, you’ll come across a few different storage types: SSD (solid state drive), HDD (hard disk drive) and the newer middle ground known as a Fusion Drive. Generally, the Fusion Drive offers more storage for less cost, which can be a boon if you work with large files, high-res photography or big Photoshop projects. It’s also worth noting that SSDs (found in all current MacBooks) offer greater performance than HDDs, letting you get to your source footage and project files quicker.
For photographers: A Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro offers plenty of performance, OLED color accuracy and context-sensitive shortcuts that really ease photo-editing workflows.
3. Pixel Perfection
Visually oriented creatives need to know that what they’re seeing on-screen is what they’ll get when the billboard is printed, people are scrolling through the finished website on their phones or the movie is projected in 4K. A Mac with a Retina display helps ensure true-to-life colors, with high-nit brightness, a spectrum reaching into the billions and LED screens that offer a lifelike, precise balance of crucial red, green and blue colors.
4. RAM Matters
Any creative dealing with high-resolution images and RAW files knows how much of a slog they can be to open, view and edit. As a general rule, the higher the resolution you’re dealing with, the more RAM (random access memory) your computer needs. Artists working with 4K images would do well to consider systems with a minimum of 32 GB of RAM, though even higher than that is better to facilitate a speedy workflow.
For musicians: A 15-inch MacBook Pro offers the portability and all-day battery life that DJs need, while stable, butterfly-mechanism keyboards and the Force Touch trackpad serve as tactile synth inputs.
Your Mac, Your Lifestyle
Tech specs aside, the best Mac for you needs to exist right at the intersection of your life and your art. Do you do your best graphic design work at home but live in a studio? A compact 21.5-inch iMac might fit the bill. Are you constantly on location and need to access portable hard drives to review files on-site? A 13-inch MacBook Pro can fit in your bag and features all the Thunderbolt ports you need.
Remember, creative work is work. When you’ve got the tools to meet the job at its level, you can focus on expressing the work and your passion.
For artists on a budget: Multicore processing and generous onboard storage mean that a Mac mini can rise to the task of software like Photoshop CC, Pixelmator Pro and MainStage without draining your savings account.