If you are a graphic designer, whether a freelancer or a full time employee, the chances are that you have come to rely on a whole host of tools and platforms to help you craft your logos, banners and advertising campaigns. Being a graphic designer is a hugely creative job and you probably had to compete with many other talented individuals to make a name or yourself within the industry.
While graphic design used to be all about storyboarding with a little bit of computer aided design thrown in, there is now a massive reliance on apps, tools and more intuitive equipment that makes a designer’s job easier and more efficient. Technology has developed at a rapid pace. The days of Paint are long gone to be replaced with funkier open source software that is free for all. Open source doesn’t mean crummy. Nowadays, there are plenty of free online platforms to experiment with when harnessing your creative flair.
There has been much debate as to which operating system is best for creatives. Wander in to any advertising agency, graphic design studio or web development office, and you will probably see an ocean of Macs. There’s a good reason for this. The operating system and Apple-led design tools are far superior to anything that Windows has to offer. Microsoft and Windows have attempted to replace the clunky Paint with other tools such as Adobe, but this is available on Mac alongside so much more. The latest macOS Catalina is even more capable of running multiple design applications. If you are a graphic designer and have your trusty Mac Air laptop, it’s time to run Catalina. If you run into trouble, there is plenty online regarding macOS Catalina problems and fixes that can help you run the successor to macOS Mojave.
It’s not just the operating system you need. You have to explore the sorts of software and tools that you can arm yourself with to become better at your job. Take a look at these apps, tools and platforms that you can utilise to make your designs shine.
If you specialize in a more illustrative style, you design book covers or greetings cards, and you love the free flowing nature of art, then procreate could be just the tool you are looking for. Paired with an iPad, this tool is ideal for those individuals who like to go with the flow, without a set plan for design. You can doodle, plan, and explore your designs through a range of brushes and pens. You can use the Apple Pencil to draw straight onto your pad. It’s far from clunky and is super accurate with the pressure you place with the pen. In a similar way to Photoshop, you can work in layers, adding another touch of complexity to an iPad app. Saving your work in pdf format also makes it easier to upload, save and send to clients for review. It costs less than $10 to buy so it’s a cheap option that everyone can use.
If you’re just starting out in the graphic design world, and you need an app that will help you fire off some simple logos at lightning speed, Canva is ideal. You could choose to go pro for a fee or use the simpler free interface. Canva is nifty in that it allows you to choose a template based on the work that you are producing. If you need a Twitter header, there’s a whole host of ready made go-to templates. If you need a flyer, there’s a catalogue of generic ideas ready to customize. If you need a CD cover, you’ve got it. Whatever format you need to create, it will be there.
Customizing couldn’t be simpler. With hundreds of ridiculously cool fonts, clip art, vectors and shapes, you can create something entirely bespoke. While a little less creative for you personally, this is a great tool to kick start your startup.
If you design text based media or you love to have a range of different letterheads at your disposal then MyFonts is an invaluable tool for you. There are reams of different fonts for you to access; most of these are free, but some need to be purchased. Having a greater variety of fonts to choose from can make more personalized pieces for clients. Yes, you could use Stencil, Tahoma or Helvetica, but these are too generic for the more dynamic companies.
Another clever tool as part of MyFonts is the ability to use a function called WhatTheFont. If you are struggling to identify a font on a leaflet or flyer but you want to use it, take a screenshot and upload it. With the MyFonts catalogue, the font can be identified and you are free to use it as you wish once again.
While this tool may sound like something you’d pick up at your local hardware store, Ron’s Brushes is the pinnacle of the digital effects arena. You can choose to apply a range of crazy and unique stylizations to your otherwise plain images and paintings. Filter like, you can apply a range of effects such as steampunk, wisps, particle fusion and light energy to your logos and digital creations. This tool is easy to use, and uses a drag and drop style functionality so anyone from total novice to graphic design veteran can get on board.
A Google based application, Picasa, is an entirely free photo storage system that has some basic yet creative tools within it to enliven your images and develop your creative flair. Being online storage, there is no limit to how many photos you upload. The files you save will be safe and secure saved in the ether of the Cloud. Being able to edit RAW files is useful for those designers who need plenty of megapixels to create larger canvas based or poster pieces for advertising. You can apply filters, adjust white balance or create bokeh effects depending on your requirements. While a little naive in places, Picasa is worthwhile if you only need to tweak an image or two. You can change an image to black and white, apply Andy Warhol style effects or even add a touch of Dali-esque surrealism to your images.
Adobe has been the king of graphic design software for decades. Before the open source Gimp came along trying to emulate the greatest creative suite, Adobe exploded onto the scene with intuitive tools to help every graphic designer develop unique creations. Because this creative suite doesn’t use drag and drop and requires more effort and input from the user, the effects that you can achieve can be far superior to anything any other tool has to offer.
Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign can be used in conjunction to create detailed logos and content to impress your clients. Being industry standard, you know that whatever you create can be saved, stored and shared with other creatives and clients without the need to worry about the file type you have saved it as.
Photoshop will allow you to upload an original image and manipulate it. This manipulation doesn’t have to look amateur or naive. You can change details, remove elements or adapt photographs and designs to change the message of a campaign or logo. There is 2D and 3D manipulation to contend with as well as video editing and image analysis. With layers, anything that you design can be easily edited and you can develop designs that are entirely bespoke. There’s no starting with a template with Adobe. As a graphic designer, you can really get your teeth into your creations and flex your design muscles, much more than if you use Ron’s Brushes or Canva.
In terms of hardware, you need to have your Apple laptop, your iPad and pencil, and possibly a bamboo tipped stylus. While you could use the generic pencil (and there’s nothing wrong with it), a bamboo stylus is even more intuitive. You will feel like you are drawing old school with a piece of paper and a 2B. Having this sensitivity is excellent for graphic designers as it can give a depth and realness to their designs rather than looking flat.
Don’t think that you have to fork out for Adobe if you are just starting out. Gimp and other open source software can be a viable alternative for the newbie graphic designer. If you are a novice and just want to test the waters, Procreate or Canva can be the ideal routes into developing your creations.
Being a graphic designer is tough. The industry is competitive and it can be hard to break into the designer realm when there are so many talented artists out there. However, if you’re going freelance for the first time or you are fresh out of college, there is always space for individuals with a unique style and voice. Utilize some of these tools and enjoy your journey into the world of graphic design.