Essential Tools for Every Graphic Designer
Every industry has tools of the trade – the instruments, devices, and programs that make your craft possible and help you work faster and better. The designer’s toolbox in particular has been changing through the ages, especially as digital design has given rise to a whole new sector of work.
With an overwhelming choice of cutting-edge software and hardware options out there, how do you know which tools to add to your design arsenal? In this list, we share essential hardware, software, and accessories to complete your design toolbox. Chat with any experienced print or web designer and you’ll find that these essential tools for every graphic designer will help you in tackling any design project with confidence and creativity.
Adobe Photoshop is considered by many designers to be the ultimate raster software. Raster software is essential for editing photos and applying advanced image effects, and Photoshop is quite simply the pick of the bunch. In the hands of an enthusiastic amateur or seasoned professional, Photoshop has the ability to transform lackluster images into photographic masterpieces. With a range of easy-to-use Photoshop filters and actions available to buy online, the Photoshop editing process can be quick and easy too. Throw in web export tools, advanced color space settings and an intuitive interface, and you have the ultimate tool for creating, enhancing or radically editing any image.
With your photo editor sorted, you’ll also need to add a vector program to your arsenal. This software allows you to create illustrations that can be scaled without loss of quality —essential for creating logos, easy-to-edit illustrations, infographics, icons, custom typography and much, much more. Illustrator is still considered to be the king of vector.
- One of our favourite tutorial sites/creators is the folks over at Spoon Graphics
InDesign is the market leader in publishing software. Unless you have a specific design skill, like logo design or image retouching, it’s likely you will have to frequently dip into publishing as a professional designer. Publishing isn’t limited to books, but rather encompasses the whole spectrum of layout media in print and digital formats, including magazines, flyers, brochures, posters, eBooks, stationery, branded materials, social media banners, and more. For these sorts of tasks you’ll need software that is equipped to create flat layouts for both print and online.
A large file transfer site
Large file transfer sites like WeTransfer can get your files over to clients or colleagues quickly.
You never really think of the sheer hugeness of your design files as you’re designing, but often clients do need access to native files in their original formats, and at short notice too. Rather than shelling out for a courier to transport a precious USB stick across the country, turn instead to a handy large file transfer service. Dropbox can be used for instant file-sharing, on the condition you’ve paid for enough storage. Alternatively, an online service like WeTransfer is quick and free (up to a generous limit), and will have your client accessing the files within minutes if you have a decent internet connection.
Font identifying software
WhatTheFont is a nifty tool for identifying elusive fonts or finding close matches. Ever seen a fantastic design and wanted to know what the font was? Font identifying software is a handy accessory for typography enthusiasts. Even if the exact match can’t be found, apps and sites like WhatTheFont, Identifont, and Font Squirrel’s Matcherator can suggest close alternatives to suit a range of budgets.
Commercially-licensed free fonts
Find free fonts you can use for commercial work on Font Squirrel. What’s better than something free? Something that’s free and high-quality. Search for free fonts and you’ll find thousands upon thousands of ready-to-download typefaces, but it can be difficult to find diamonds in the rough. Avoid the pitfalls of free novelty fonts with a reliable free font site. Font Squirrel is a true favorite — it has a wonderful choice of beautiful typefaces, and you can filter by trending and newest styles to find cutting-edge choices for your projects. The key factor to look for when browsing for free fonts is to check that they are licensed for commercial use. If not, you won’t be able to use the font for client or saleable work. Font Squirrel cuts out this worry, with a guarantee that all its fonts are commercially licensed. Often you can find a real gem—some highly respected type designers will use the site as a testing ground for demand before later moving them to paid-for sites.
A reliable stock image site
Imagery is the backbone of graphic design, but it’s not always practical or possible to source your own images for all projects. Finding a great stock site can feel like having a faithful friend accompanying you while you design. A site with a wide variety of choice, superb image quality, advanced search facility and various file formats will prove to be one of the hardest-working tools in your kit. Comprehensive stock libraries like iStock or Shutterstock are paid-for, but offer great value, quality and convenience, which is a lifesaver for time-pressured projects. For free photos and vectors, freepik has tons of options.
- Here is a great post on Medium with links to stock image sites that don’t suck (some are free, some are paid)
A great local print shop
A good printer will offer a great service at fair prices that will do justice to your on-screen design. If you’ve already found your friendly neighborhood printer who prints your design work to exceptional quality at decent prices, and on short notice to boot, you’ve found the holy grail of print design. If you’re still waiting to find ‘The One’ amongst your local print shops and photo labs, keep searching. A reliable printer is the one factor that will minimize stress when you have a high-pressure project. Once you’ve found the right match, you’ll be able to tackle any print design project with the confidence that you’ve found the right business to do your on-screen designs justice.
Of course – you can check out all of Copywell’s graphic and web design offerings here.