Buying Advice

We use lots of tools for design. This page has purchase advice for computers and design tools. Here’s my input on what I think belongs on any designer’s desk!

For an easy way to shop- check out the


You can just drop a whole list as it is in your cart for computer builds or photography kits!!


In Digital Design and Media, you need a relatively powerful computer. That’s just the way it is. You can get by on the cheapest computer you can buy, but it will be laggy and slow… ESPECIALLY when editing video.

So here’s what you need to know about purchasing a computer for a career (or good hobby) in Digital Art and Design.

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The software can be expensive. But it’s REALLY expensive if you buy it the wrong way. Two simple rules to save yourself lots of money:


DO NOT BUY SINGLE SOFTWARE PACKAGES (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc…) BUY THE CREATIVE SUITE. I recommend the DESIGN PREMIUM package. It’s the best bang for the buck.  You get everything we really use in class (except the video and audio apps) for less than the price of one of  the programs retail.



One thing I totally recommend is to go to ,, or and make sure you purchase it from an educational vendor. You’ll save literally about a thousand dollars!!! Also, buy the DESIGN PREMIUM package. It’s the best bang for the buck.  You get everything we really use in class (except the video and audio apps) for less than the price of one of  the programs retail.




(Premiere/After Effects)

If you’re not doing video and never will, you can skip this little intro- but if you are, or think you might want to, or possibly could in the future, especially if you’re buying a laptop, read this section.

For editing video, the videocard Is KEY!!  The newest versions of Adobe apps capitolize on the processing power of the videocard chip when processing video. If you’re going to be doing any video production and editing with Premiere and After Effects, you need to focus on the videocard. The “approved list” of videocards is short, but there is a great page that explains how to “unlock” the unapproved cards for use, and if they’ll work. They keep the page updated and know more about it than I do, so I’ll just link to Studio 1 Production’s page on Videocards with Premiere.



Laptops are a great way to go because it’s easy to pack up for college when it’s time to go, or to take it to the library to study and work on that report. Keep in mind, that the portability comes at a cost. Laptops are ALWAYS slower than their desktop counterparts, and more expensive to boot. But they definitely have their place and I can’t imagine life without one. And when it comes to laptops, I’m a big fan of Asus computers… This is why. (And This.)

  • Asus N53 Laptop (around $900) Probably my choice… Best laptop but Pricey. I’m an ASUS fan. Advantages? Faster Hard drive, great videocard, fast chip.
  • Asus A53 Laptop–  (around $650) cheap option. Will work for 2d art, just a little slow. Wouldn’t try to edit High Quality video on it, but it’s fine for everything else.


 2011 Design Rig– This is an amazon listmania list of what I’d buy and build as of January 2012.

Here is gets a little more confusing because I don’t usually buy a computer, I research and buy the best parts and build it myself. I haven’t bought a pre-built computer since the 1990’s (other than my imac)! Here’s what you need to look for:

  • Quad core processor– I recommend the quad core Intel i5 or i7 chips. Sorry, AMD, you’re the same price these days for the same performance.
  • Motherboard– Obviously, one that supports your CPU of choice.  Avoid the silly extreme mobos.  Sometimes I pick the motherboard first based on excellent ratings, and then pick the CPU I can afford.
  • 8 GB RAM– At least 4 gigs, and by a reputable company.
  • Large, fast hard drive– Hard drive should be at least 1TB (1000GB) and spin at 7200 RPM. Doing a lot of video? RAID 2 drives for data and get a third for your system OS. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you wouldn’t know how to build it anyway.
  • Good Video Card– Right now I recommend the 550ti  (or the  gt440 if you’re tight on cash…) and then do the “hack” on the bottom of this page to get premiere to see them if you use the computer to edit video. (I currently have the approved GT285, but would use the 440 if I had known it would work with a simple edit of a text file!!!)
  • GOOD POWER SUPPLY (PSU) & CASE !!! The PSU is the heart of your computer, pumping electricity to all the parts. The case is the skin, and protects your internal parts. Don’t get a cheap $30 case because it has a friggin’ blue light in it and a glowing fan!!! (GRR!! If I had a dollar for every time…)  I LOVE the Antec Sonata, and it’s a good cheap solution with a good (but only 500W) power supply. I personally use and highly recommend an Antec 183 and good modular 700W PSU, and that’s what I personally use. DO NOT GET A CHEAP CASE WITH A CRUMMY PSU. It will cook your computer eventually.
  • DVD Drive- They’re all practically the same. Probably don’t need blu-ray. I’m a fan of Lite-on, but will save $5 if I can on another brand.
That’s my buying advice for builders.
Not a builder? Visit the local brick and mortars (Best Buy, Office Max, Office Depot) and find a salesperson you trust. Tell them what you want and need. Print out this page and show them. They’ll help you out.

 Computer Accessories to help with Digital Art:


Photography Gear:

I prefer using Canon camera gear. I know some people think Nikon is better. Some people think Canon is better. I don’t think either is better- They’re both great and they both have different advantages. I like Canon because of their ability to shoot HD 1080p video with amazing quality. These cameras listed below are also simply great for the money. No camera brand is going to make you a better photographer. Only a lot of shooting (aka: “practice”) is going to make you a better shooter.

If you have family members or friends that shoot Nikon, then by all means, GO WITH NIKON!!! They can help you with your gear and possibly let you borrow lenses or flashes. I shoot Canon- so I know Canon- and that’s why I recommend Canon.  I also happen to know that most of the high-end video being done with DSLR’s are done on the 5D, which is Canon. So they open up a whole other world of possibilities for you to explore video later on if you choose.


Canon t2i– (around $600) Comes with 18-55 mm lens .GREAT camera to start with for an affordable price. I rec this camera for almost any beginner. Works with Magic Lantern!!!! Awesome starter camera for stills AND video!

Canon t3i– (around $700)- Comes with 18-55 mm lens. Not much different than the t2i, except for the cool articulating screen.

Canon 60D– (around $1100) Comes with 18-135mm lens. Next level up to semi-pro camera. Great features, longer lens reach, and great image quality.

Canon 7D- (around $1800) Comes with 28-135mm f4 PROFESSIONAL lens.  Good camera with good lens, but hard to recommend. I’d probably say to get the 60D or t3i and then spend more money on a good lens. This IS a professional, weather-sealed camera with professional lens, though. Shoots video and stills- but if you’re a pro, go for the 5D. If not, Go for the t3i or 60D and an extra lens and flash.

Canon 5D– (around $3000) Comes with 28-135mm f4 PROFESSIONAL lens. This is an AMAZING camera. Great for stills and video. Used in many professional photo shoots and also in many feature TV and Blockbuster films (like House TV show and Iron Man 2). If you have the cash, this is an incredible camera with an incredible lens.


Canon 50MM (around $100). THIS SHOULD BE YOUR NEXT LENS. Everyone needs a “nifty fifty.” Inexpensive, great quality, Large Aperature.

Canon 55-250 (around $200)- Good beginner’s telephoto. Long reach, Image stabilized, affordable.


Nissin ND622- (around $230)- Decent beginner flash, and well-reviewed third party flash comparable to the 530 below from canon. Run the risk of 3rd party quality… but by reviews, this is an amazing flash at the same price as the cheaper Canon 430, but much more powerful.

Canon 430 EX– (around $270)- Great starter flash, but I’d probably move up or down in this list. Good remote flash with the 580, but the Nissin above is a good affordable alternative that throws more light.

Canon 580EX– (around $425) The default professional Canon flash. Programmable, can be master for your set of flashes, strong light. Can’t go wrong with this flash.


(fun stuff to dig deeper, Size to fit your budget)

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