In this guest post by Randall Cropp, find an ultimate list of graphic designer tools to help you maximize your creativity and streamline your workflow.
Graphic designers are the lifeblood of a constantly growing and evolving industry. Dispatched to develop visual concepts by hand or computer software, graphic designers are looked to by corporate entities, start-ups, and hobbyists alike. As the internet continues to grow and dominate our modern world, designers will be tasked with creating visuals that elevate the medium. And due to the technological nature of this job, new tools are always being introduced to the market.
“Efficiency is doing better what is already being done.” — Peter Drucker
Today, we are going to highlight 21 must-have tools for graphic designers in 2021!
1. Overall Top Tools
Whether you’re a newcomer to graphic design or a seasoned expert, every professional in the industry should consider having the following tools on-hand:
Any foray into the world of graphic design will require at least a tertiary knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. One of the most coveted pieces of design software in the industry, Photoshop and Illustrator will enhance your creative efforts while giving you the tools to accommodate any client. A proverbial treasure trove of online tutorials is available for free via platforms like YouTube and Reddit.
Working in the field of graphic design means accommodating your clients in a collaborative environment. ProofHub allows designers and clients to meet on a virtual platform where real-time collaboration and instant feedback is possible. ProofHub gives users the tools to review multiple versions of a concept while using a MarkUp tool to reduce revision turnaround times.
For graphic designers that want a plug-n-play workstation, the newest version of the iMac Desktop Computer should get the job done. While costlier than some build-it-yourself PC alternatives, the newest iMac will offer you 2.3GHz Dual-Core processing power with over a terabyte of storage. The vast majority of tools that we will highlight today are immediately usable on Mac products.
2. Best Free Tools
Graphic design can be an expensive career path. With that being said, there are always new free tools being introduced to the market to help graphic designers grow their talents. Listed below, you’ll find some quality graphic design and ideation tools that are completely free:
One of the quickest ways to immerse yourself within a concept is to start painting in the digital space. Krita is a great alternative to costly graphic design software as it is free-to-use and stacked with powerful tools. Krita is usable on Mac/Linux/Windows devices with both basic and advanced options. You will need a computer with plenty of memory to use this product effectively, however.
Working in graphic design means constantly innovating with creative new concepts. Whether you are working on artistic or more commercial endeavors, this package of ideation tools will help you to get your thoughts going. SessionLab Ideation Tools are always being updated, so check back for new prompts or exercises when you hit a roadblock.
This incredible little tool is perfect for engaging with your desired base of customers. Userforge allows designers to create a free workspace where customer persona can be crafted with the click of a button. With an incredibly streamlined interface and immersive tools, Userforge is perfect for honing your product.
3. Essential Color Tools
Working with color is as important as any other aspect of graphic design. A study by the University of Winnipeg revealed that colors can dramatically alter the way that someone interfaces with a product. With the following three tools on hand, you will be able to adjust for those reactions to maximize the efficacy of your design.
Every color choice that you make for your client will impact how their product performs. With the Pantone Matching System on hand, you will be able to give your clients a real look at what to expect from their finished product. This is ideal for ensuring that your final copy matches your customer’s targeted color design. As color tones can change between devices, relying on Pantone Color Guides will keep your work consistent.
Inspiration can strike at any moment, so have HueSnap on hand just in case! HueSnap allows you to take a picture of an object before withdrawing the exact color from the image. Once you’ve done this, you can turn that extracted color into a usable palette for your design work. We really can’t advocate for this product enough as it is one of our favorite color tools in the industry.
This tool has the bonus benefit of being completely free to use. The Adobe Color CC wheel is one of the most flexible and powerful color palettes that there is. With immense customization and user flexibility, you are never far from finding the perfect color for your client.
4. Project Management Tools
Working in the creative sphere means relying on instant communication and collaboration. Whether you are partnering with a team of designers or wish to connect directly with your client, you will find the following project management tools to be incredibly effective.
There’s nothing better than having a simple and user-friendly platform to manage all your tasks and projects. Bonsai is one of the best freelance tools out there for this. You can even use its handy time tracker, making sure that you’re spending the right amount of time on each project and invoicing accordingly.
There are countless project management software apps on the market and ProofHub is one of the best. ProofHub is an attractive option for graphic designers due to the markup & annotation tools. In addition to the comprehensive markup tool, ProofHub showcases Kanban boards as well as a world of extended features including timesheets, discussion boards, and status updates.
A favorite project management tool for graphic designers is Trello. An industry-standard piece of software, Trello allows users to create as many Kanban boards as they require. If you are juggling multiple clients, quickly toggling between boards can be a great way to keep your efforts organized. Instant updates, real-time posts, and one of the sleekest visual interfaces around will keep Trello competitive for a long time.
If you are going to be a graphic designer, you need Dropbox. Full stop. Dropbox is more than just a tool for seamlessly trading large files, it is also a way to keep track of all your work. Dropbox introduced an expanded set of project management features to track tasks, assign duties, and coordinate your projects.
5. Organization & Administrative Tools
The administrative side of graphic design cannot be ignored. In order to maximize your workday efficiency, consider adding one or more of the following tools to your workflow.
Just like Adobe’s Creative Suite, Google has an entire toolbox of organizational products for your use. With nothing more than a Google account, you and your team can integrate Google Calendar into your project management system. Sync calendars, email updates, and share notifications with the click of a button.
Artificial Intelligence is going to change the world and Memory AI is indicative of that path. Memory AI is a time-tracking tool that quietly logs your hours while you work. Load your Memory AI software and let it run in the background as all of your time management needs are met. This is ideal for graphic designers that bill by the hour rather than per project.
Basecamp is a popular alternative to organizational systems like Trello and ProofHub. With Basecamp, you can seamlessly collaborate on projects in a user-friendly environment. Ideal for remote workers, graphic designers can invite their clients into the collaborative interface for real-time updates, note tracking, and revision requests.
Sometimes you just want an all-in-one software that’s able to manage your projects and organize your paperwork. If that’s the case for you, then Bonsai is your answer. Bonsai’s easy-to-use platform helps you with all your admin from proposals, contracts, invoices, and taxes. Tailored to meet freelancer needs, you’ll be able to focus on your passion instead of the paperwork.
6. Best Business Tools
Every self-employed or freelance graphic designer needs to take care of the legal side of their business. From the customized contracts available from Bonsai and ApproveMe, to providing information for your tax returns with QuickBooks Online, these tools are advantageous!
Bonsai gets another mention because of its unique ability to help freelancers with the legal side of their business. From tax reports to pre-vetted contract templates, Bonsai has you covered for these important parts of your business.
Working as a freelancer means handling all of your contracts independently. With ApproveMe, graphic designers can take care of their contracts with a few clicks of their mouse. ApproveMe has WordPress compatibility, so designers can install ApproveMe WPESign directly on their business platform. ApproveMe offers a wealth of graphic design contract templates to choose from as well as in-depth customization options. All contracts are UETA/ESIGN/GDPR compliant.
There is a ‘good’ time to answer emails and it isn’t always right away. Boomerang allows you to schedule pre-written emails while allowing less-pressing emails to ‘wait’. With Boomerang, you can tell an email to remind you to read it at a later time. If you are dealing with multiple projects or clients, this is a great way to ensure that you never forget to send an important message to your clients.
As a freelancer, you are going to be tasked with taking care of your financial records. QuickBooks Onlineis as close to an industry-standard business management platform as you are going to find. With great customer support and one of the most advanced sets of features in the industry, you can monitor your financial records, prepare for tax season, and even dispatch invoices to clients on an automated schedule.
7. Ideation Tools for Graphic Designers
While working in the field of graphic design requires constant creativity, that creative charisma isn’t always easy to conjure. According to LinkedIn Learning Instructor Chris Nodder, ideation tools are the best way to generate design ideas in a relatively short amount of time.
Graphic designers are always working on or near the internet. Momentum is a free and flexible tool that replaces every new tab that you open with a stunning image and a motivational quote. This is a neat little way to keep your mind rolling new ideas while introducing inspiration with every tab. As a graphic designer, who could say no to stunning images at every turn?
One of the most valuable resources for a graphic designer is honest and reliable feedback. TypeForm allows you to create customized online forms and surveys in order to pool data. With a stunning user interface a deep toolbox of features, TypeForm is great not just for graphic designers but for every entrepreneur that works in the public space.
In a wireless world where instant communication is key, Zoom is coming into its own. Zoom is an amazing video conference and messaging device that works across any device. Access HD video/audio along with secured end-to-end encryption to enjoy the most seamless team coordination tool on the web. Try out a demo or buy your own license, as needed.
Working in graphic design is all about maximizing your creativity while minimizing friction during your endeavors. The tools that we highlighted above were all hand-picked resources that have been shown to make a direct difference in the day-to-day operations of graphic designers around the world. As the industry is always evolving, stay ready to add and remove tools from your workflow.
In the wise words of Bob Ross, “Happy painting.”
About the Author: Randall Cropp is a freelance writer, producer, and actor from the Greater Chicago area. A sports enthusiast and cat lover, Randall likes to spend every Sunday watching the Chicago Bears alongside his cat, Delilah. Find his writer profile here.