Essential tools as a graphic designer

Essential tools as a graphic designer

Here is a list of the best software and hardware tools in the field today, coming from a graphic designer who has been doing this for 15 years. These tools are tried and tested and can help you dazzle clients by casting your greatest graphic design spells. Buckle up and get ready to make digital art at the speed of thought!



Among others, the Adobe Creative Cloud offers three famous design tools:

  • InDesign (page layout program)
  • Illustrator (vector graphic editor)
  • Photoshop (raster graphic editor)

In order to make your designs and illustrations deliverable you’ll need the trusted combination of InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop.


There should be no confusion about when to use InDesign – its specific purpose is for laying out printed materials; that’s what it is designed to do.  Indesign is leading in the industry with its ability to create clean layouts for desktop and mobile devices. InDesign is basically a desktop publishing and typesetting software that is mainly used by publishers and artists. It is mainly used to create flyers, posters, newspapers, and magazines.

Illustrator is capable of creating multi-page projects but InDesign is the superior multi-page option as it renders in low res which makes it quicker to navigate your artwork. InDesign has a Master Page function, which allows users to edit numerous pages without editing them individually. Furthermore, InDesign is ideal for multi-page, as it automatically numbers pages.

I also use InDesign for data merge which is a simple tool to set up envelopes or menus. It’s so simple that when I teach it to my students they are like “what, just like that?”. It’s amazing, if you’ve learnt to use Illustrator, you’ll find InDesign easy enough to use.



Illustrator, as its name suggests, is for creating and editing vector based illustrations such as logos and brand marks or other design elements. From drawings to logos, Illustrator generates all kinds of images.

I use this to create graphics, logos, manipulate fonts and create die lines. Some use it as a layout program but i find it sloppy and the only time I would do that is working on packaging as industry standard is to work in Illustrator for this. The program struggles to render images and creates a large file size, I’m also a stickler for margins and typesetting which you have more control over in Indesign.



It’s the industry standard for manipulating digital photos and photorealistic computer art and in more recent times its been developed to be used for web design, banner ads and user interface design. 

Do not set type in Photoshop for print projects – For type to print at its clearest, it needs to be vector based; Photoshop exports type as pixels. Now, you can save your Photoshop files in as an .EPS file which allows you to export type as vectors, but still this is not a best practice, so just don’t do it.



I use Acrobat to do a final once over on any pdfs I export. When I open the output preview window, I can check for any spot colours that shouldn’t be there, ink weights and the appearance of black at 100%. I also use Acrobat to create editable pdfs whether its a form, pricelist or printable pdf. This way I can lock elements and leave sections of it open to be edited by someone who doesn’t have Acrobat pro through the use of form fields.



Lightroom CC takes a left-brain/right-brain approach to photography. On one hemisphere, it’s a creative editor, with tools for adjusting and improving photos. On the other, it’s an efficient organiser that keeps track of an entire photo library and stores a copy of every image in Creative Cloud. 

What I love about Lightroom is presets on both mobile and desktop. I can easily upload my image and use one of my presets (or purchase one of many out there) and create a sequence of images with the same look and feel.



If you aren’t familiar with photoshop then Snapseed is an easy tool to clean up images straight from your phone. Take your happy snaps, upload and clean up any blemishes or lighting all in one place. Then save your lighting presets so your insta feed has the same look. The bottom line is if you’re a more serious mobile photographer looking for an app to fine-tune your photos with, Snapseed is your best choice.



Microsoft Office has become a leading platform to drive productivity at home and in the workplace. Whether it’s managing email in Outlook, or building price structure spreadsheets in Excel, Office has made carrying out many computer based tasks easier for all of us.



This is a no brainer. The amount of traction an image gets on instagram is invaluable to my business. With more than 800 million users worldwide, Instagram is one of the most popular social networking sites. Instagram is a visual platform to help you form a more personal connection with customers. You can share pictures and videos of your team and happy customers to engage your audience. A visual feed can reflect your brand’s uniqueness and differentiate your business.





Manage, plan and schedule your Instagram posts from your computer and mobile phones. Planoly is approved by Instagram which makes it a front runner for auto scheduling. It’s a small investment for a year of organisation. I upload all my images that I would post and move them around to create an aesthetically pleasing future insta feed. I also save the people I need to credit in each image so that its easily accessible for when I’m ready to post. I can even schedule the first comment <insert hashtags> so as a business its straight set and forget. You can also use it to add story posts though you will be taken to instagram to post yourself, a small price to pay.

One thing I’m only starting to get into is setting up for pinterest, though my account only gives me unlimited uploads on 1 account but access to another, which I’m ok with pinterest not having as many uploads available. They also just released a shop tag so you can tag your shop items, like can it get any easier to manage?

There are some cool insights to be viewed on Planoly too so it’s worth the investment.



As a stationery business I found it super annoying trying to send quotes and trying to find details over emails only to find I probably deleted it by accident, ugh kill me. So as I was on the hunt for a quoting software (and boy did I sign up and pay for a few, I moved around more than a nomad) I came across Dubsado that could offer a CRM as well as a basic finance software.

I wrote a full article about this program here.



As a creative I find pinterest a necessity to my business. Pinterest helps to reduce the number of steps from discovery to conversion, making it easier for people to get straight to the source. This in turn drives traffic to my site, expands my reach and increase brand authority. Pinterest is also user driven so if you are an arts and craft kind of business aimed at women (pinterest’s main user) then when a user pins your pin, others see it and when they pin the pin again, your coverage grows that much more. Even better, once your pin has started to gain popularity in various pinboards, you still get a hefty amount of views even when these are pinned or not. The more interesting the photo or image is, the higher the chances of being pinned by other users.

Quick Tip: Add the “Pin it” button to your website. It allows Pinterest users to easily pin your content to their boards directly from your website. Adding the Pin it button to your website makes it simpler to share content from your website — meaning more people are likely to do just that.



Ever deleted something off your server to realise you can’t get it back and scream out one word! So this is where Backblaze comes in, its a low cost cloud backup and storage service. There is no file size limits or storage limits and you just pay for the amount you are using. It’s a small price to pay for a huge peace of mind. This way I know if something happens to my server there is a back up of it in the sky (you know, the cloud).



The limitations of both your computer memory and your external hard drive are that they are physical and only accessible one way. Should you meet with a calamity such as a fire or having your bags stolen at the airport, your work is gone. You can’t recover it. However, if you back up your work to cloud storage, not only do you have access to all of your files, you can have access from any device, anywhere in the world. I use dropbox to move all my completed jobs off  that have been packaged up and archived.







Choosing your exact computer will boil down to your position and your lifestyle – if you’re a freelancer, the portability of a MacBook Pro is a must, but if you work a steady desk job, the larger, crisper display on a 27-inch iMac is unbeatable. Regardless of your choice, remember that most of your design programs will invariably use plenty of RAM – don’t skimp on this element when purchasing your computer or you’ll be wringing your hands in frustration. For this reason I work off a laptop which i connect to a screen. It has the max RAM which is 16GB and its a 2015 model, but the latest have 32GB RAM which is what old desktops used to have, so there is quite a bit of power behind new models.



When it comes to graphic design equipment, a sturdy digital camera for crisp and beautiful photos and videos is a must-have. We know that graphic designers work in a wide variety of mediums, but even sketch artists often use photos to draw inspiration or accurately capture motion or subjects that will later appear in the final work. While a good smartphone camera can work wonders and is a great substitute for a DSLR in a pinch, for large projects and special events, nothing beats a high-quality digital camera.

My trusty Canon EOS M6 is a top runner in the mirrorless compact cameras. With integrated Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, you can share your images quickly and easily with the new EOS M6. You can also use Bluetooth® to remotely capture the perfect group selfie <insert selfies of Ribelle and me). With 32MP and the ability to change out lens, this lil pocket rocket has all the benefits of a large DSLR. It also has a 180 degree tilt screen that makes taking flat lay images a breeze as I can tilt the screen so I can see what’s going on.



So I’m not going to lie but when this 60kg laser printer arrived I automatically was like what did I just do. It was time to upgrade from my lil inkjet which was fine for printing in house emails but I would never use it for client’s work as the quality wasn’t there. When it comes to printers, I find Xerox to be the most reliable.  

When it comes to picking the best printer for graphic design, anticipate what your needs will be a year or two down the line. Do you just want to print logos, or are you also looking at expanding into other areas of graphics? I chose my DocuCentre as I wanted something that laser printed in colour and could go up to A3.



If you’re working in print, colour is everything – and without a reference to keep your colours accurately calibrated your creative process could routinely become jammed. When designing colour palettes I always start with a PMS colour and work backwards to get the CMYK, RGB and HEX equivalents. Please don’t try to do this the other way round, it will never be as consistent. These can become a costly investment so if you had to start small then the bridge swatch books are a happy medium. They show the PMS colour and next to it the CMYK breakdown, under that you’ll see codes for RGB and HEX so its all worked out for you.




This is a no-brainer. No creative is ever without a notebook at home or in their bag.

Every creative has a preference between softcover or hardcover; between a small or large-sized notebook. Whatever your preferences, you need something that works for you—the perfect place for your spontaneous doodles, sketches, ideas and notes.



As much as it’s a communication tool, my phone plays and imperative part in running my business. I could be snapping a reference image on the go or taking a sneak peek for insta stories, but having a good phone with a decent camera is a must. Because I’m completely mac girl swag, it syncs with all my mac products. 

Oh let’s not forget to mention apps, there are some great ones that make running my business smooth. From image manipulation on the fly (Snapseed) to uploading something to my Planoly, it’s all relative. Even the Pantone app is super cool when you are trying to get that colour you can quickly snap the pic and it will colour match. Super cool!



We all may know that simply storing files on our our computers is a risky option, but so many of us neglect to back up adequately. Having a reliable external hard drive is a necessity for anybody whose work uses a lot of data or whose work depends on so many external files. Hard drives are portable, easy to use and can provide an immense amount of storage. After all my years as a Studio Manager, I would never save anything onto my hard drive, you certainly don’t want that Carrie (SATC) moment when her mac dies and they are like well did you back it up?!



Graphic design is a visual-based medium, right? sometimes you just need to listen to a little music to get you in the mood to create. Some days I’m listening to chill as I find it helps me get in the groove and then other days when I’m working towards the end of a project I will pump out some beats for the climax.





Never underestimate the power of bouncing your creative ideas of another person in your field. If you have tried to do this with your family and then they just look at you with a blank face, then you know they have no idea what you are banging on about. Showing your ideas to someone who is in the same industry is like talking to a sister version of yourself. They can speak the same lingo and provide constructive feedback and suggestions to get that idea right. 



Am i done yet?

Surely not, next on my list is an ipad pro, pencil and procreate.

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