Essential tools for graphic designers are just as important as a scalpel in a surgeon’s hands. Without them, your work can become very difficult.
You might substitute some of them for other possible options, such as the traditional sketch pad for some simple sheets of paper, but try to image how would it feel like to go to your client with a ton of paper sheets in your hand that you may lose or damage on the way, then you try to find where you sketched your ideas and suddenly remember: oh, I forgot my sketches at home.
1. Computer – Desktop or Laptop
You might say: thanks, I really didn’t know that I need a computer to create my art. But I must say this is really an essential graphic designer tool.
There is nothing more frustrating that designing on a computer that is not powerful enough to run graphic design programs.If you think that Google Chrome likes to eat your RAM away, let me tell you Adobe Photoshop is a true glutton when it comes to stuffing its mouth with RAM.
Choosing between desktop or laptop, you should pay attention to how much mobility you need and your budget.
A laptop comes in handy if you are flexible with your location: if you have to design something on the go, if you travel a lot or you have presentations to show – everywhere that you can’t take your desktop computer with you.
The cost of a laptop is – from my point of view – the only downside. If you want to have a good laptop for your art, it will cost you at least 1.5 times more than a similar desktop computer.
As far as the brand you choose for your computer goes, it doesn’t really matter if you’re designing on an Apple or other brand PC, and you can create your amazing design on both desktop or laptop computer.
But there are crucial specifications of your design machine that you should take into consideration: memory – RAM, hard disk speed and process speed.
Your perfect graphic design computer should have:
- Bear minimum of 8 GB of RAM. The more RAM you have, the easier it will be for your computer to process multiple tasks at once. If you bump up your modern abacus to 16 GB or even to 32 GB of RAM, your creations will really fly by.
- Hard Disk Drive (HDD) spinning at 7200 rpm. If you really want your computer to become a rocket I encourage you to invest into Sold State Drive (SSD). The performance of an SSD will not only show when you open 30 tabs in Photoshop but your computer will boost faster and you overall programs will start faster.Your hard drive should have at least 500 GB of storage space, but that might fill quickly so try to invest in 1 TB or more hard drive.You can create a hybrid between SSD drive and HDD. In that case you can buy a SSD with at least 265 GB storage space and you have all your graphic design programs installed on in and HDD for your storage.
- Choose a processor with at least 4 cores, it should run on at least 2.0 GHz, but higher clock speed is not the number one indicator for processor performance. You should take into account how many actions per clock cycle the processor is capable of. I don’t want to go too technical here, but if you purchase a processor with at least 4 cores, you will be just fine.
2. Quality Display
I can’t stress enough how important a good computer display is when dealing with graphic design.
You can say that your laptop screen is just enough for making your designs, but if you are designing more than 2 hours a day, a computer screen is just as essential in graphic design as a good desktop or laptop PC.
Don’t hesitate to spend more on a computer screen, because good display will last longer than the actual computer.
When buying your graphic design computer screen you should look for one that reproduces colors as good as end prints.
Those screens have IPS panel technology. Good color reproduction is even more important if you are designing project involving printing such as stationary prints or packaging. Besides that, IPS panel technology enables you wide viewing angles – colors won’t change no matter the angle you look at the screen.
Besides IPS, your screen should have 100 coverage of sRGB color space. If you’re a designer that primarily with printing labs you should consider Adobe RGB, which has a better representation of colors, especially in cyan-green hues.
I would say that 24’’ screen does the job done but you should consider even 27’’ or 32’’. You should look for resolution with at least 2,560-by-1,440 pixels.
If you don’t want to spend half an hour choosing which books should you put under your computer screen to raise it high enough, then you should look for the adjustability in height and depth feature, which will make your work space more ergonomic.
Your screen should involve multiple connections, such as: HDMI port, DVI port and DisplayPort 1.2.
Besides hardware, the graphic design software is a crucial design tool for creating your art.
When choosing the right software you should consider Adobe Creative Cloud, which is the most widely used among designers.
There are many programs developed by Adobe, from creating vector graphic to video editing. In the beginning Adobe had one off payment for all their programs, but today they are subscription based.
You don’t need to own all the programs crated by Adobe to create your artwork, but the essential few, which depends of your design field.
Designer from field of digital design and photographers use Photoshop, designers who work in printing process use InDesign, if you create logotypes you will use Illustrator and for designers who make animations the tool to go is After Effects.
For UX/UI designers Adobe XD comes in handy, where you can create prototypes of you websites and mobile apps.
Overall you don’t need to be dependent on one program alone.
In Adobe Illustrator you can create logotypes and printing material as well, or you can even create a webpage.
Adobe InDesign is another program where you’re not merely limited to printing design, but I’ve seen people designing webpages as well.
Subscription-based business model is kind of inconvenient, if you’re just starting out your design career.
In that case, you can check out products from Serif. Serif offers two products: Affinity Designer for crating vector graphics and illustrations and Affinity Photo for editing photographs.
Both programs come in one off payment, with free updates.
4. Sketch Pad
Before putting your designs in a digital form, you should first sketch them and this is where sketch pad comes really in handy.
Sketch pad is one thing that you can substitute for ordinary sheets of paper, but I cannot tell you how many times I have thrown good sketches and viable information made on sheets of paper away.
Besides that, you can show your sketches to your client in a sketch book, which looks more professional than solely on sheets of paper.
There are many different sketch pads in the market from different sizes to different inside paper patterns.
I personally prefer a sketch pad with dotted paper pattern, which comes in handy for creating wire frames – if you are web designer, or drawing lines from one dot to another when designing logos.
5. Secure Data Storage
Have you ever lost all your data because your computer suddenly decided it shouldn’t work properly anymore?
Then you know you know how important it is to have an additional backup system in that case.
Secure data storage is not only an essential tool for graphic designer but for any person who works with digital files and nowadays you can choose to have your bytes stored in cloud or on an external hard drive.
Cloud-stored data comes in handy if you are working from home, office or your favorite coffee shop, so if you want to have access wherever and whenever, choose it.
The downfall of cloud data services is price, which is usually paid in a yearly fee and it is twice as expensive as same size of data storage on a hard disk.
Besides that, you need a good internet connection for uploading and downloading your files and that’s difficult to find sometimes.
If you don’t have super-fast internet connection, external disks have faster writing speeds than internet and they are cheaper as well.
Quick tip: before presenting your work to a client, be sure to check twice if you took your external disk with you otherwise you are screwed.
External hard disks are running on HDD technology and are prone to damage, so if you drop your disk on the floor, all data can be erased.
6. Big Table For All Designer Things
When I was at the beginning of my design career I have bought a table that was solely nice to look at; I didn’t know how many things I need for creating a successful design: my ever-filling notebooks, laptop, monitor, mouse, keyboard and my table plant named Sophia.
All this stuff suddenly filled my narrow, nice-to-look-at designer desk, so I need to change it for a bigger, wider desk.
When you are buying a desk, make sure it is at least 55 x 42 in (140 x 120 cm) wide, so you will have enough space.
In case you have a cat, be prepared to have it sit on your desk or keyboard.
7. Ergonomic Chair
There is no other way to create quality artwork on your computer than sitting down.
Ok, you might try to design something in a different way (by standing up, for instance), but for the most of the time you will be sitting down.
It is necessary to take a break every hour and stretch your back, but if you’re in the middle of your creative AHA moment, time will fly so fast that you will forget you need your much-important hourly back stretch.
That’s where an ergonomic chair comes in handy, by helping you reduce stress on your spine.
When you’re looking for a perfect chair you’ll be working in the whole day you should look for: good lumber support, adjustability of: reliability, arm width and height, lumbar support and depth of sitting.
I would also recommend breathable fabric for your chair which prevents you from sweating while sitting.
8. Computer Mouse that Fits Hand Perfectly
You can find a way around designing without a keyboard, but never without a mouse. Of course, something you hold in your hands for hours is worth mentioning.
It’s nice to have a mouse that works on every surface, has buttons on the right spaces and doesn’t have so many LED lights on it (did an UFO just land on your desk?).
I’ve tested almost every brand on the market to find the suitable mouse for my hand and every one had some flaws, until I tested the Logitech MX Master 2 and it was love on the first grip.
Every hand is different and Logitech MX Master 2 might not fit your hand like a glove, so you might want to test it first.
9. Pantone Matching System
You know the feeling when you used the right colors in the logo you were designing and then you find out the printed colors of your logo on the 500 business cards that were printed aren’t even close to what you’ve seen on screen?
All this color-mismatch situation can be avoided by owning a Pantone matching system, and if you’re working in the printing process, this is really an essential graphic design tool.
I would recommend having Pantone Color Bridge Set: Coated and Uncoated, where you can check deviation between CMYK and Pantone colors.
10. Screen Calibrator
If you want to print out your or your clients favorite photos, or in case you created work that doesn’t contain Pantone color scale, you will need to perceive the right colors on your computer screen.
The only way this can be achieved is through a calibrated computer screen.
Some high-end monitors already have hardware and software calibration tools build-in in, which helps with maintaining color consistency.
But if you don’t own a monitor like that, the only way to do it is by owning a monitor calibrator tool.
Calibration colors for your monitor is really easy, you just place calibrator tool on your screen and press start and leave all the rest to the little machine.
Some monitor calibration tools have the options to leave them connected to your computer and they will always calculate the amount the light around your working environment and adjust the screen brightness accordingly.
I would recommend performing a screen calibration every month, but if you work a lot in printing process you should calibrate it more often.
Final Thoughts: Essential Tools for Graphic Designers
Those are my recommended essential tools for any graphic designer. You don’t need to buy the most expensive Herman Miller office chair just to have healthy spine, or the most expansive mouse just because you’ve read my recommendations, but keep in mind that comfort, reliability and efficiency are keys in mastering this job.
If you have any other recommendations for essential graphic design tools, feel free to leave them in the comments bellow.