Is a Mac Mini a viable illustration tool?
December 4, 2011 3:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm a commercial artist wanna-be. I've tried to go my own way, but I'm tired of being on the outside, looking in. Would getting a Mac Mini help me in my quest to break into illustration?

I asked my wife for an Ipad for Xmas. I thought was the cheapest way to get into the Apple ecosystem, but she said she thought that a legit, brand new, full-fledged Mac would be better for what I want to do, and she’s willing to pony up for a Mac Mini. ( Obviously, my wife is awesome, and this unemployed wanna-be is super-grateful. )

I want to get an Apple something, because it’s my strong impression that their machines are the de facto standard in the illustration and graphic design fields. I think getting up to speed on the Apple way of doing things can only help my chances for getting work in the field I so desperately want to be in.

Is this a good idea? Are they really the de facto standard?

Is a Mac Mini a viable illustration tool? Can it handle Photoshop, Illustrator, Corel Painter?

I’ve been thinking for a long time about making the switch to Apple for doing art, and I’d like to hear what the hive mind has to say on this.

There's plenty of other things I need to do to break into illustration, I know, but I figure having the right tool(s) would be a good place to start.
posted by KHAAAN! to Media & Arts (18 answers total)
The mini can definitely handle the software you want. The iPad, on the other hand, cannot. So go for it!
posted by pupstocks at 3:56 PM on December 4, 2011

My designer friends use Macs, but you can also use the industry-standard programs (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.) on a PC. I use Apple products myself, and they are well worth the price premium. I would highly suggest the Mac Mini over the iPad, as you can see from this thread (very relevant to your situation) Wacom tablets are preferred in the industry for illustrating/pen-/brush-/etc. based work. If you are a student or have a student email address, see if you can get a copy of Illustrator etc. via an educational discount, the savings can be significant.
posted by xiaolongbao at 3:58 PM on December 4, 2011

This won't be a popular opinion, but I think the differences between Mac and PC are trivial. Design work is done within programs (Photoshop, Illustrator etc) and they function equally on both platforms. The idea that design work is done "on" a Mac is far less relevant than the fact that the work is done in Photoshop. I've worked on both platforms - it made no difference to me.
posted by davebush at 4:18 PM on December 4, 2011 [15 favorites]

I agree with davebush. Mac hardware is super nice but expensive. If your funds are limited, acquiring the right Adobe product for your work is much more important than getting a Mac.
posted by scose at 4:43 PM on December 4, 2011

I want to get an Apple something, because it’s my strong impression that their machines are the de facto standard in the illustration and graphic design fields.

This is not a hardware problem. This is a software problem. You need PhotoShop and/or Illustrator and very, very likely a Wacom is the tablet you need - not an iPad, which I can't imagine would be of any use to you at all. I use Illustrator and have a Wacom on my PC; I produce commercial art on it and have been for more than a decade. All of the tutorials, open source PSDs and AI files you can download and follow along with are a file type and it makes zero difference if you open them or a Mac or a PC.

Invest in trial version of the key software on the hardware you have and get a 2nd hand Wacom.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:44 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I speak as a MacHead, but a PC user (long story I won't go into but it makes sense for me). I am a photographer and at least 95% of my clients in the design and marketing areas are all Mac, all the time.

The differences in the industry standard graphic design and illustration apps on the two platforms are in fact trivial.

However, there may well come a time when you need some street cred, and being a Mac guy will help give it to you.

A Mac Mini makes sense for you, and will run whatever you need to run, app-wise.
posted by imjustsaying at 5:44 PM on December 4, 2011

Your best tools for what you're trying to do are pencils, paper, and an eraser. Then maybe ink or chalk or paint etc etc etc.

Your choice of computer platform makes no difference to the work you produce, especially once your workflow is established. No one ever looked at an image and thought, "okay, but it would have been better if it had been made on a Mac".

Sorry if this comes off flippant, but your choice of computing platform will not likely affect the quality of your work. Get what you can afford and/or what you'd be most comfortable using. A Mac is no more a "right tool" for illustration than, say, one particular type of paper or another.
posted by TangoCharlie at 6:10 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Totally agree with all those saying that Mac/PC won't make a qualitative difference. I use Adobe CS on Mac all day at work and on PC at home; I know both versions inside out and there's no difference in the work you'll produce. None.

What could make a difference is that you could get a PC with a better/larger monitor and a faster graphics card for the same you'd pay for the Mac Mini. Just saying.
posted by ella wren at 6:30 PM on December 4, 2011

I'd enroll in a digital art class at the local community college so you can get Adobe CS at the student rate ($350, I believe) and get a cheap-but-capable-enough PC. Yes, most designers I know have a Mac, but it's because they can afford them. PCs are just as capable and much, much cheaper.

Raised on DOS, but been a Mac user for about 7 years now.
posted by smirkette at 6:52 PM on December 4, 2011

I'd go so far as to say changing hardware is the last thing you want to do when you are struggling to break in to the field. Get familiar with making amazing work on the equipment you have now (maybe add a Wacom tablet or a larger/second monitor) and change horses once you are more established. Of course, if you don't have a computer AT ALL, then a Mac mini is not a bad option, but if you already have a PC, there is no need to switch.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:54 PM on December 4, 2011

I will agree that it's the software that's more important, with some major provisos.

1. A Mac is going to be easier to administer.
2. If you're dealing with other people in the graphic-design world, they'll probably be using Macs. If you can speak the same language in terms of things like font management, printing, and other tasks that are not central to design work but still involved in it, your life will be that much easier.
3. The price difference between a Mac Mini and an equivalent PC will seem like a rounding error compared to the retail price of CS5.

There are some interesting art tools on the iPad, but they're really not a part of the professional graphic-arts food chain. And there are illustration tools for the Mac that are much, much cheaper than any of the CS5 programs and still pretty darn good (Acorn, Intaglio, Pixelmator, DrawIt). As long as you can get a PDF out of them (and you can), you can exchange files with others.
posted by adamrice at 7:50 PM on December 4, 2011

I worked as an artist for television and commercial animation on and off for eight or nine years. I've used a Mac at every studio job I've ever had. They are absolutely the standard, at least here in NYC. Being comfortable using Apple computers will definitely make things easier for you if you ever want to work in an office doing creative work.

That said, the important thing for your marketability as a digital artist is being adept at Photoshop and Illustrator, not what computer you own. And your talent, combined with your personal and professional connections, is what will determine whether or not you can break into the business.

I know Photoshop geniuses who've never had paid work, and paper-and-pencil guys who've been steadily employed for decades. A Mac Mini is just a tool, that's all. It's a great tool -- hell, that's what I used at my last studio job -- but it won't make up for deficiencies in other areas.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:28 PM on December 4, 2011

Yeah, a lot of graphics people use Macs but there's not going to be a difference in the output you deliver based on platform. So you're weighing two very small variables:

- how much talking Mac stuff will help you make & keep connections
- how comfortable you already are with a PC (since that's what you use already?)

I'll contradict adamrice just a tiny bit and say that some clients may ask you for files that aren't PDFs, so sticking with Adobe Creative Suite is a good idea.
posted by furiousthought at 9:49 PM on December 4, 2011

The most logical answer is, no, getting a Mac vs PC will not make a damn bit of difference.

The one thing you need before deciding anything is a deep, hot burning fire for creative output that comes before everything else in your life.

Everything else is either a tool or an excuse beyond that.
posted by roboton666 at 11:40 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having a Mac will facilitate your ability to collaborate and share with others in your field. They don't really cost more than an equivalent Windows box from Dell, etc. and they aren't administrative nightmares. You'll be set with a Mac.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:39 AM on December 5, 2011

The thing more important than OS is processor speed and RAM. As long as you have much more than the minimum requirements you can use whatever you feel most comfortable with. It's specs seem fine for the software. The disc-less design could be a negative factor. It makes it that much harder to burn discs for clients.
posted by JJ86 at 6:00 AM on December 5, 2011

while it's true that the majority of creatives work on a mac, the kind of platform you use is pretty irrelevant to "break into iillustration." that requires talent and connections.
posted by violetk at 9:52 AM on December 5, 2011

From what I've read the standard software is pretty much identical whether you run Windows or OS X. From personal experience, I'm a lot happier on OS X than I was on Windows because of the OS itself. The Adobe software I have runs fine, it's what the computer does when I am NOT running Adobe stuff that makes the difference for me.

JJ86 - My Mac laptop has a built-in DVD burner. When I burn DVDs at work I use an external drive, because the drive in my Mac is older than the discs I am burning, and for some damn reason new discs don't always burn in old drives. Whether it's dye issues, speed incompatibility, whatever, it just doesn't work with some brands and knowing what works and what won't is a crap shoot. Reads 'em all fine, but won't write. So I use the external, which can be replaced with a new model as needed. On a machine like a Mini (where you can't upgrade the built-in optical drive anyway) there is no disadvantage to a disc-less design.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:32 AM on December 5, 2011

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