In this article we will look at the basic and some of the more advanced hardware equipment you need for editing and printing digital images, focusing on still pictures (not movie clips, which have different requirements). The tools you need will vary depending on what you want to do with your photos.

Are you aiming to make large, high-quality prints for framing or display?

Do you simply want to correct minor flaws to improve the way your photos look on social media?

Are you interested in special effects?

Once these decisions are made, you’ll need a computer, monitor, pointing device, and one or more output devices. You’ll also need editing software that is appropriate to the hardware you’re using and the ways you plan to output your images for viewing and sharing.

In this article, we’ll take a brief look at devices that can make it easier to work on images.


As long as it has a decent screen and enough processing power and RAM, a laptop computer can be used for image editing. Having a graphics tablet (shown here) can make it easier and more comfortable. Graphic tablets also enable users to take advantage of the pressure sensitivity functions provided in sophisticated image editors. These programs can recognise and respond to the pressure of the pen on the tablet, giving a fast and intuitive way to adjust the size of the brush. (Image source: Wacom)

Intuos Photo from Wacom Australia on Vimeo.

Hardware requirements

For most photographers, the central device in a digital darkroom is a computer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a desktop or laptop or what operating system it uses. Most editing software is available for both Windows and Mac OS platforms ““ and some is also offered for Linux.

However, if you just want to tweak your photos before uploading them to social media, many editing adjustments can be made on a tablet or smartphone and there are plenty of apps available to help you. You’ll also find lots of creative effects apps.

If you’re buying a new computer (or upgrading an existing one), the ideal specifications for editing are the same as for playing computer games: the fastest processor you can afford, as much RAM as the computer can handle and plenty of storage capacity. Consider installing your operating system and software on a solid-state drive (SSD) because, although it may have relatively low capacity (typically less than 500 GB) SSDs allow very fast data transfer.

Used as ‘scratch disks’ (space allocated for temporary storage), an SSD can dramatically reduce waiting times as images are processed. We suggest you keep at least 2GB of space free for this purpose.

Regular hard drives act as your computer’s filing cabinets where you store images before and after editing. The capacity you need depends on the size of your image library and how often it is updated. Two terabytes (2TB) of hard disk storage is a good starting point.

The quality of your monitor screen will determine whether you can see the colours and tones in images properly. It also dictates viewing comfort. The size of the screen is less important than some other parameters, although with today’s widescreen monitors, we recommend at least a 22-inch screen with a 16:10 aspect ratio.

Monitors that use In Plane Switching (IPS) technology are recommended because their colours remain the same from the centre to the edges of the screen when the viewer is seated directly in front. Choose a monitor that allows both brightness and colour adjustments and, for the sake of your eyes, look for one that is flicker-free.

If you only work with JPEG files, a monitor that covers the sRGB colour gamut will suffice. Photographers who shoot raw files should aim for monitors that cover as much of the larger AdobeRGB colour gamut as possible. But be wary; some wide-gamut monitors do this unevenly and won’t display accurate colour balances. (See  PhotoReview‘s monitor reviews  for objective test results.)

You also need some way to transfer image files from your camera’s memory card to your computer. This may be a simple USB cable or a card reader. Most computers come with keyboard and mouse but some photographers prefer a graphics tablet for image editing because it provides greater precision when you have to select or outline areas in images.


A creative pen display (above) provides a more intuitive way to paint and draw on images because the user is able to work directly on the screen. A professional graphics tablet can be calibrated in the same way as a monitor screen. (Image source: Wacom)

Cintiq 27QHD Trailer from Wacom Australia on Vimeo.

If you plan to print your photos, you’ll need an inkjet printer. Choose one that uses at least six ink colours, preferably with light versions of the cyan and magenta inks and one or more intermediate grey inks. Dye-based inks work best with glossy, semi-gloss and lustre papers, while pigment inks are best used on matte and textured ‘fine art’ papers. (See PhotoReview‘s Printer reviews.)


Excerpt from  Photo Editing Pocket Guide