Where to find updated info on (graphic design) hardware?
May 5, 2009 11:57 AM   Subscribe

How should I keep up-to-date on hardware for graphic design? I'm not a graphic designer by trade, but I would like my personal (WinXP) computer to be suitable for hobby-work graphics. More details and criteria inside.

I have a WinXP system I cobbled together a few years back. My flat-screen monitor is a bit odd (pink dots are noticeable from time to time), and my printer/scanner combo is pretty much a POS for both functions. I make do with all of it, but I keep thinking I should start looking into upgrading elements. Primarily I'd like a new monitor and scanner, but a good printer would be nice, and I keep lusting after tablets, even though I don't do that much drawing by hand any more.

I've found what I think are good reviews, but I feel that if they're over 6 months old, I'm missing out on something. I don't need cutting edge, and it seems like there are probably some reliable resources for computer-based artists that I haven't found. So, hive-mind, what should I look for? Do you known handy sites? Thanks!
posted by filthy light thief to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Other than the switch from CRT to LCD, the only real advance in monitor technology in the last twenty years has been the annual trend toward "bigger, cheaper". Yes, any monitor you buy will be cheaper in six months, and/or you could get more pixels for the same budget.

Printers and scanners haven't changed much in the last decade, either, other than getting cheaper and cheaper, to the point where printers, in particular, might as well be free. You'll pay for ink/toner, of course. You'll pay a very great deal.

Tablets have gone from expensive high-end gadgets to common toys, especially now that they're supported by every application.

In other words, six months won't change anything much on any of these items, except save you some money.
posted by rokusan at 12:38 PM on May 5, 2009

As a graphic design student I can't live without my tablet. Even if you don't do a lot of drawing it's invaluable when I'm cleaning up photos and what not. I would suggest a Wacom intuos. I've tried other tablets and wacom just does it for me.

A nice monitor is important. I like to have a large workspace.

The only other thing I could suggest, which would undoubtedly be an investment, would be switching to a mac. My IMac runs the adobe creative suite like a dream.
posted by RubyDoom at 1:03 PM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: The problem with LCDs is that they are a pain for color correctness, whereas CRTs were (are?) better at consistent color saturation. As for scanners: mine renders colors with tint variations in bands, and I think it might be skewing things, too (squares coming out not quite square, even when rotated and whatnot). These are clearly issues with my funky old scanner, but I'm sure some are preferred for color correctness and whatnot.

I've used Macs in the past, and have never been terribly impressed by them. Yes, the ones I've used were intended for simple daily use and not graphic design, but I don't do enough graphics work to warrant a Mac.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:00 PM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: If you come across this post and you wonder why the URL linking to the page doesn't match the title, it was because I was dumb and swapped the tags with the title, and cortex fixed it for me. Thanks, cortex!
posted by filthy light thief at 2:22 PM on May 5, 2009

Specific monitor is not that important but whatever you do you need a hardware calibrator (ie. Pantone Huey). As far as tablets, Wacom is the only way to go. I do photo retouching and I just have a cheap 4x5 one that works fine for what I do. I imagine if you're going to be actually drawing you would want something bigger.

Printers and scanners haven't changed much in the last decade, either, other than getting cheaper and cheaper, to the point where printers, in particular, might as well be free.

Maybe scanners haven't changed, but printers have made huge improvements over the last few years. The bottom of the barrel shitty ones that are just excuses to sell you ink aren't anything special, but if you are outputting photos it is only recently that inkjet technology has surpassed traditional printmaking processes. Epson in particular is the standard (I have an R1800, highly recommend it or the 1900 that just replaced it). Whatever you get, get custom ICC profiles made for whatever papers you commonly use, the difference is night and day.

I also use Macs but there is nothing wrong with PCs. Mac color management is definitely leaps and bounds better than on Windows though.
posted by bradbane at 2:52 PM on May 5, 2009

What kind of work are you doing? Print, web, photo retouching?

I'd highly recommend a wide screen monitor. My cheap 22in widescreen allows me to pretty much work on a full letter sized spread at once. An even better option would be dual screen. I've got a MBP, and my second monitor. The laptop screen holds extra menus, email client, reference photos, while the large screen is clear to get some work done.

Color correction for any monitor can be handled by a 3rd party device like Pantone's Huey. I'm a graphic designer, but I don't have one. I go by my spot color book, understanding that the screen lies. Proof is in the printing. As far as web color constancy, I just accept the fact that aside from adobeRBG.icc, there won't ever truly be a standard web color experience.

As far as printing goes, I have a quick small HP deskjet. I love that it'll do full bleed letter. I also have a large format Epson. Useful for assembly proofs, posters, photos. It'll accept 13 x roll. I rarely use it. It's an ink hog, paper is expensive, and drivers are crap, but it's still good to have. I haven't shopped for a printer in a while, so I'm not sure I could recommend specific models. I'd stick to Epson, and high end HP's.

I like my tablet. I use it mostly for vector work, and photo retouching. You can try out a really cheap one, and see if you'd like using a tablet, then upgrade. If nothing else, get a decent mouse.

Of course, having lots of RAM and a good video card will make your life much easier. Design files can add up, space wise, as well. Photoshop needs free hard drive space to act as virtual memory. If you're too low on space, you won't be able to work on large files, which is just about the most annoying situation ever.
posted by fontophilic at 2:56 PM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: Mostly photo retouching/tweaking, some web design.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:16 PM on May 5, 2009

Best answer: Ah, yes, color.

I do still keep a couple of CRTs around for color checking. LCDs have gotten better, but even the ones that are "great" don't have the broad gamut that CRTs do. If color matching is important to you, the Huey is a great choice.

But for photo retouching of your own photos, its not necessary, since you're not "matching" anyone else's colors, you're just tweaking until you like the results, probably with some test printing on your own.

It's also not much help for web design, appealing to the argument that a certain color is "exactly right" is worth exactly zero, since what matters is not how it looks on a monitor that is perfectly calibrated (2 percent of your audience?) but how it survives and degrades on the widest possible variety of "bad" monitors in the wild.
posted by rokusan at 4:09 AM on May 6, 2009

The "it" in my comment above is an external color calibrator like the (very nice) Hueys. Editing mistake on my part removed the subject! :)
posted by rokusan at 4:09 AM on May 6, 2009

Best answer: For equipment, just find whatever on craigslist and/or eBay and Google it for reviews. If it has more than a 70% positive rating on a few sites, buy it. People are selling 21" LCDs and CRTs for way lower than you'd buy new, and they work great (make sure you see it working before you fork over the dough, obviously). For a Wacom tablet (does anybody else make tablets? kidding, kidding..), eBay. I design part-time for money and I've saved obscene amounts of same buying used, middle-of-the-line hardware.

The pros will scoff at this, but Adobe Gamma has always been good to me for light. For anything "serious" I have color flipbooks. There's also this, which I haven't used but looks quite interesting.

As for squares coming out not quite square - have your set your resolution to match your LCD monitor? For color on an LCD - have you loaded the proper ICM file for your monitor?
posted by ostranenie at 12:55 PM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

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