10 Graphic design tools and graphic designer must haves

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Graphic designer essentials

There are literally hundreds of thousands of designers and design wannabes out there. It somehow seems like a wonderful world to wake up to every day. and from personal experience I can say it really is. In the old days when I got started as a small freelance graphic designer, the hassle was gigantic! Can you imagine having to know how to illustrate, finalize projects for offset printing, code HTML and PHP from scratch and still have to deal with managing a business? Fortunately, nowadays there’s a whole new array of products and services that make life as a graphic designer a whole lot sexier.

The reason I put these articles together is because I had so many people asking for advice as to which graphic design tools I consider to be absolutely essential to a graphic designer, and so just to make It all a whole lot easier, here’s my pick of the 10 most important tools, and a few others tips too…

With so many tools out there, which ones are the essential tools for graphic designers?”

You’re probably wondering how I came to the conclusion of which graphic design tools are essential, so let me just clarify you on that. After 10 years of practice, and going through the digital revolution that we’re currently going through, believe me when I say that coffee is no longer an essential because you don’t need to stay up so late working on unnecessary redundant tasks. The point is, I’ve tried hundreds of different products and services throughout my career and I know which graphic design tools are the best for the professional glorious practice of creation. It is also important that you notice how digital and virtual the job is because that’s where the easiness of some of the processes come from.

And just to make everything a whole lot easier, I also divided the tools into the 4 major areas; development, communication, reference & inspiration and daily organization.

With my advice, you’ll be on the way to easily creating magic and converting your customers into your biggest fans!

Graphic design books for pricing reference and inspiration

Finally, we get to the fun part of the essential tools for graphic designers list. The colorful heavy books filled with books really are necessary as an escape into an easily accessible world of creativity and inspiration. These suggestions will really help you… but it is also necessary to understand that books aren’t only about creating; they’re also used for reference and management.

1- The graphic design pricing and reference guides

If you haven’t got this book, you don’t know what you’re missing out on. In “How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul”, Adrian Shaughnessy discusses the basics about the various forms of professionals, location and how to handle clients. In this book you will also learn about the graphic designer salary, pricing your projects and a whole lot of other management tips for your practice.

Although the book genre is populated with innumerous good books, this particular one is a must-have for any graphic designer in any stage of their career. It goes for very nice price too at Amazon.

Another book you cannot miss out on is the "Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines" which is already in it's 13th edition. The information, listings and pricings are actually made based on surveys of working designers. It takes care of themes such as legal issues, copyrights, negotiating the best prices and terms and also includes some very handy contract samples.

Graphic design tools for development


2- Apple iMac Computer

iMacs are not only popular because of their aesthetics but because they work like a charm, and are so obedient. The Operating System OSX has useful built in tools, is very intuitive, and highly compatible with other applications. Any Mac can run Windows too using Bootcamp, so that takes care of any incompatibility issues.

With a Mac you don’t have to worry about constant virus attacks, useless processing and annoying neon blue and orange flickering LEDs all over your computer. So if you don’t have one yet, put this on your priority list now.


3- Software and apps for graphic designers

Without doubt, the Adobe Creative Suite is the absolute essential graphic designer software pack, which you simply cannot afford to not use!

After getting to know the programs well, they’ll help you create your magic on a blank canvas. From illustration, to photo manipulation, editing, pre-press and prepping, coding, editing video and much more, this pack is your new best friend.

As for the apps that will make your life a whole lot easier (and consider this an inside info bonus), you really must get:

  • Dropbox for file sharing with customers and doing teamwork on a cloud
  • Google apps for business to manage all your online internal communication like emails and calendars
  • Asana for your task management
  • Skype for all your external communication and cutting communication costs

the extraordinary things you can do with graphic design software and a Wacom bamboo (see below)
the extraordinary things you can do with graphic design software and a Wacom bamboo (see below)

4- The Extraordinary Wacom Bamboo

If you are a designer, and you don't have one of these in your "designer tools", then you're missing out on an amazing opportunity to do the most extraordinary things!
Okay it does take a little while to get used to, but i can guarantee you that once you get the hang of it, your editing time will be shortened, your precision to illustrate, edit, modify, create, draw, paint, design, fine-tune etc... will become much more enhanced and perfected.

They come in all shapes and sizes, and choosing the right one will only depend on what you're using it for, but i recommend you start off with a medium size Wacom Bamboo. Small is just too small for anything, and huge is just too frustrating in the beginning. So my advice is start with the medium Wacom Bamboo and scale up to the Wacom Intuos 5 later on. I also recommend using the Wacom brand because they're very robust and precise. The last thing you'll want is a pen tablet that has no precision

These are available for purchase on Amazon and on Ebay.

Review of the Wacom Bamboo Pen Surface Tablet

Additional design studio must haves

These are also considered important tools for graphic designers that graphic designers absolutely must have.

5- Pantone color guides

Color is a definite pain in the butt issue when it comes to graphic design. The worst thing that can happen to any designer is getting a printed color which is different from that which shows on a computer screen.

This can be avoided if you use color correctly, and Pantone color guides are the best reference manuals for that purpose.

There are different guides such as Solid and Coated, and you definitely have to get those which are essential to you. Even though they can be pricey, it certainly beats having to re-run a print costing you an even higher price.

6- Taschen graphic design books for inspiration

Taschen is the best art and design publisher in the world, and practices very low prices too. They have hundreds of books virtually any theme you can think of as long as it’s considered art or design. They have some excellent books on Logo design and brand identity, web design, Japanese graphics and so much more.

I highly recommend Taschen graphic design books for inspiration as it is a highly trusted publisher and has loads of valuable information. The books go for a very attractive price too.

7- Really good headphones

Yeah I know it sounds strange to be recommending these, but I consider them to be essential because music and stimulating sound waves are considered absolutely important to keep focus on your current tasks and make creativity span last a whole lot longer.

I recommend the RHA SA 950i headphones which will completely rock your socks! The astonishing sound quality is the equivalent to the Beats Studio by Dr Dre, only with a lighter and more comfortable set. Yes they’re a lot cheaper too!


Graphic design tools for daily organization

I’ve come across 2 groups of graphic designers; the messy type who have a completely sick desk loaded with paperwork, open books, pens all over the place and toys, and the minimal type (which I belong to), who have nothing on a desk except for a Mac and an iPhone. In both cases however, the successful and most creative ones use 2 things in common:

8- Action journals and sketchbooks

Any designer must have a sketchbook for daily organization, crazy collages, writing down ideas, journaling and much more. They are essential to register ideas and to be used as future reference guides.

I recommend Moleskines, as they are available in innumerous sexy sizes and colors, leaving you with no excuse to not have one, or more than one.

9- Pilot V7 techpoint 0.7 pens

This one comes as a little bonus to all of you designers. Even though some may say this isn’t an essential tool, I’d say it’s foolish not to consider it one of the essential graphic design tools. The Pilot V7 techpoint 0.7 pen has a unique liquid ink formula which maintains consistent flow of ink from the first word to the last full stop. Contrary to gel ink pens which take a few seconds to dry, the dense black ink from this pen dries almost instantly.
The technical point aka needle tip (0.7mm) also makes it a very neat pen to write and doodle with because it’s neither too fine, nor too thick, making it just perfect to write, sketch or doodle in your Moleskine. You’ll fall in love with these!

Graphic design tools for communication

Let’s get real here. We live in a digital world, and you are a digital creator. So to make it a whole lot easier for you to reach customers all over the country or all over the world, you will need to make your portfolio and communication entirely digital, and the best way to do this is to subscribe to the following services:


10- Professionally designed website

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for you to have a website of your own! Besides using social media such as Behance, Flickr and Facebook, it is extremely important that you get yourself a website where you can post your resumé, projects and other braggable rights!

Don’t show customers your Facebook page as your main portfolio. That sucks! If you are professional, get yourself a professional looking site. Why ruin the opportunity for new business with a low quality presentation of yourself?

If you need help finding good web design, buy a template and work over it!

See how you can build a Professional website for a very low cost here.


Bonus tip 11- Email marketing service: an essential tool for graphic designers

Email Marketing is my most powerful method to get a generous amount of new work and to get any campaign out there. The ROI (return on investment) is huge and probably one of the most powerful medium you will ever come across!

Email marketing for graphic designers is also the best way for your clients and prospects to keep track of your promotions, campaigns and updates.

The service I recommend is provided by AWeber, and you can start off with only 1 Dollar! And if you’re smart enough, you can even resell the service to your own customers, which will pay off your subscription and get you a whole new business.

Just to get things straight, I recommend this service instead of using your own email box in order to avoid getting your email flagged as spam, and to avoid the hassles of managing long email lists. Just get the service…

Quiz for Graphic design essential tools

Which of these tools for graphic designers do you NOT have and just want more than anything in the world?

  • iMac or Powerbook - Apple Computer
  • The latest Adobe CS Bundle
  • Really good headphones
  • Email marketing services that gets you more customers
  • A shelf full of Taschen Design and Art Books
  • More books about Design and Studio management
  • The sexy Moleskine journal and some Pilot V7 pens to go with it
See results without voting

More by this Author


Feel free to comment or request any addition to the list of tools for graphic designers 22 comments

Vector design profile image

Vector design 3 years ago from California

Yes these tools are essential for every professional graphic designer. This hub is helpful. thanks for sharing.


hichkey 3 years ago

Great list of graphic design tools.These tools are very important for a graphic designer.Thanks for sharing this wonderful post.


tvs290 profile image

tvs290 3 years ago from India,bangalore

I live in India Here I mac Computer is big thing for a average student person to buy that. For me Windows PC Just as better as I Mac.


adyaby profile image

adyaby 3 years ago from MASAMBA

articles of interest


emiiilyyy 3 years ago

hola


redfive profile image

redfive 3 years ago from California, USA

Love the list! You nailed it :) Thanks for sharing! Voted up.


Jacob 3 years ago

A mac is not necessary. A SSD is a plus if running a pc though. I purchased a mac thinking I would love it and established I am not a mac person. No apple hate here but my new alienware 18 is the best design rig I have ever owned. Great list though!


rogermac profile image

rogermac 3 years ago from Cascais - Portugal Author

Jacob, thanks you for your comment :) It's always nice to have different opinions here, so people can make their choice wisely. Thank you for sharing.


DEM0N 2 years ago

This is kinda dated...Apple hasn't made the PowerBook or iBook for several years... Now it's MacBook Pro's iMacs are still correct for non-portable Mac's....


rogermac profile image

rogermac 2 years ago from Cascais - Portugal Author

Well pointed out Mr Demon. I haven't changed it because if I modify the headers of the poll, all the results will be set to zero, and that's not cool at all. So, i'll just leave it there for another 6 months or so.


Ethan Allen 2 years ago

You don't need a I Mac this is what bothers me people go for the mainstream computer all you really need is a simple PC with atleast 2 gigs of ram every thing else I completely agree with


orandze profile image

orandze 2 years ago from Pittsburgh

I would add that a good stylus is essential for on-the-go work that you can do on your iPad or Android tablet. I recently got a Wacom Intuos stylus and I absolutely love it! It's been so extremely useful for getting ideas down as soon as they come to me.


Jon Ireland profile image

Jon Ireland 2 years ago from Devon, UK

Spot on. Just swap really good headphones for really good speakers! :)


Jadeofheart profile image

Jadeofheart 22 months ago

This is perfect! One question though, do you happen to recommend a site where you can sell clip arts, illustrations, and paintings/drawings to?


Sean Fliehman profile image

Sean Fliehman 22 months ago

I'll have to look at those pallet books that would be good. Nice hub.


Bawbag 20 months ago

You certainly do not need an Apple computer to be a graphic designer...


darrell 19 months ago

hey there! nice piece of write up. Had gone through all your points and will keep try to make best use of them. As a graphic designer I also have some ideas regarding tools for them see here http://codecondo.com/14-essential-designing-tools-...


JMajor 17 months ago

I don't know about the mac being the end all as a computer for designers. As a web developer/designer, I have a custom built PC with 12 gig of vid mem, 32 gig of ran and 5 monitors. I also do video editing and 3D graphics as well. PC's are no longer being the only systems under attack by hackers and those with ill content. MAC's now have some pretty nasty malware out there and is catching MAC users off guard.


kevin.baker profile image

kevin.baker 16 months ago from Indiana

I really enjoyed this post. I have used many of these tools to help design both on the web and for printed materials. I would also like to mention http://www.pageprodigy.com as an excellent resource for the "non-professional" as it is easy to use, much cheaper, and packed with professional pre-made templates. Nice hub.


Benjamin Nguyen 9 months ago

I think you pretty much nailed the list of the tools needed by a graphic designer. I wouldn't say a professional graphic designer as many of these I see at the cafes don't have their bamboo pad with them though I could certainly see the necessity of a well designed website to represent their work; it adds to the overall feel of working with the graphic designer.

In terms of software, what would you recommend? I know many would run with photoshop and after effects as a critical component. There are some recent online graphic design software that would be good for new graphic designers like YouZign. (http://tinyurl.com/YouZign2)

I am currently using this for my own web and print graphics and it works pretty well. I think there are some graphic designers that use this for client work too; actually it was created with the intention for such purpose (serving as an online graphic design software for agencies who want to create simple designs for their clients - like the lower level work that you outsource). What do you think about it and these kind of online graphic design software; would you consider them to be a field of their own and another necessary component to professional graphic designers?

I think it's time consuming to put everything on photoshop and may be useful to have these online tools for quick client work output.


Benjamin Nguyen 9 months ago

I think you pretty much nailed the list of the tools needed by a graphic designer. I wouldn't say a professional graphic designer as many of these I see at the cafes don't have their bamboo pad with them though I could certainly see the necessity of a well designed website to represent their work; it adds to the overall feel of working with the graphic designer.

In terms of software, what would you recommend? I know many would run with photoshop and after effects as a critical component. There are some recent online graphic design software that would be good for new graphic designers like YouZign. ( http://tinyurl.com/YouZign2 )

I am currently using this for my own web and print graphics and it works pretty well. I think there are some graphic designers that use this for client work too; actually it was created with the intention for such purpose (serving as an online graphic design software for agencies who want to create simple designs for their clients - like the lower level work that you outsource). What do you think about it and these kind of online graphic design software; would you consider them to be a field of their own and another necessary component to professional graphic designers?

I think it's time consuming to put everything on photoshop and may be useful to have these online tools for quick client work output.

(resubmitted my comment as I realize there was a link error in the previous comment.) Another excellent graphic design tool for designers may be GIMP: http://www.GIMP.com


andrewdavidlowen profile image

andrewdavidlowen 3 months ago from Fallbrook, CA

Hey, great article. thanks. loved reading it. Curious...have you ever tried out the apple ipad pro and pen?

I'm trying to decide whether I should go with that because I already have apple and their product compatability is great, but wacom has obviously been an industry standard for a while now.

Thank!

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