Here’s our ultimate list of tools and resources for anyone looking to make a career in graphic design.
Graphic design is everywhere: from the text you’re reading right now to the clothes you’re wearing. And companies are increasingly aware of its importance: 73% of businesses are willing to invest in graphic design to stand out.
Although the demand for graphic designers is certainly high, remember that there is a lot of competition to beat, which makes around 40% of new designers quit the profession after just 2 years.
If you want to make a successful graphic design career, here are some of the most essential tools and online resources that can help you on the way.
Essential graphic design resources
Let’s cover some of the basic things you’ll need to purchase and set up and have in your working space.
Notebook, pencils, colors
If you’ve ever tried searching for a stock photo of graphic design, then you know the first thing you see are working desks with scattered paints and colored pencils. While professional designs are rarely delivered on paper these days, basic things like a sketchbook are essential for drafting and trying out ideas. When they’re not working on a project, designers use these to collect ideas or inspiration or work on their personal projects, which can prove to be an incredibly useful source of inspiration later on.
Having physical art supplies can also be really helpful when creating a mood board or sketching out several concepts for one critical piece of design such as a logo.
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I’m sure my fellow writers are used to squinting, reading lengthy blog posts on small laptop monitors, or even mobile devices. Whereas this sentence will have the same meaning in two different font sizes, the impact of graphic design can be quite dependent on the context.
So much of graphic design work revolves around details (and, actually, the size of letters is one of those), so it’s imperative that designers provide themselves with a way to see all the details and potentially catch any errors. A high-resolution monitor helps you view designs as they’re meant to be seen. You should aim for a 4K pixels resolution and a size of 27 or 32 inches.
Graphics tablets are definitely not the most essential piece of equipment; however, if you’re an illustrator or digital artist, they will make your life a lot easier. If you’re just starting out, you don’t really need to pay the big bucks for a pricey piece of equipment, and a couple of hundred dollars can get you a decent tablet.
But, if you want to do really complex illustrations, you might want to invest in a piece of hardware that’s a little more precise, such as the iPad Pro 12.9 (latest version from 2020) the powerful Microsoft Surface Book 3, or Wacom Cintiq Pro.
External hard drive
Nowadays, there are tons of different cloud storage solutions available, and the idea of using them is particularly tempting, as many offer freemium or free payment models. However, as a graphic designer, you’ll soon have tons of big files on your computer, which means that you’ll either need to pay for cloud storage or create several free accounts, which will ultimately make for an organizational nightmare.
Investing in a good external hard drive is a great idea to keep yourself organized and your work backed up. You can still opt to choose cloud storage for ongoing projects (perhaps your client’s drive), but keeping a backup of your work is a great idea.
Best graphic design software
While paper might be great for concepts, few professional designs these days are actually done on paper. Whether it’s a captivating book cover or a powerful landing page, here’s our pick of the most popular design software.
Adobe Creative Cloud is a collection of over 20 different apps, created for different types of design, all of which are considered pretty much an industry standard in their respective fields. The subscription for the entire Adobe Suite costs $52.99 per month, or you can purchase each program separately. The monthly cost of individual programs is around $20, so if you need to use more than one, the Creative Cloud subscription is probably worth it.
Here are some of the programs you need to know about.
When it comes to graphic design, few options can compete with this vector graphics editor. It is suitable for creating a range of digital and print production graphics, but the area where it really stands out is logo design and Illustrator is better suited for logo design and graphical illustrations. . Adobe Illustrator is available via subscription and costs $19.99 per month.
The name of this design software has become synonymous with photo editing, so if this is an area where you do most of the work, the monthly subscription of $20.99 is definitely worth your while.
Together with Quark XPress, InDesign is definitely the most well-known software used for creating print designs. Mastering InDesign is a bit of a learning curve, but once you do, it’s definitely a worthy skill to have in your CV.
UI/UX design is a very sought-after design skill, and this popular program is used for creating prototypes and sharing user experience projects.
It starts at $9.99 per month, which is quite affordable, although there are a few other options, such as Figma, which are available even in a free version.
Adobe Premiere Pro
If you require a program for video editing or creating motion graphics, Adobe has you covered for that too! Premiere Pro is considered an industry standard program and is praised for its ease of use, well-designed interface. For motion graphics designers, the program offers numerous editable templates.
Sketch is one of the most well-known web design tools that has long been without contender when it comes to UI/UX design. Sketch’s biggest downside is that it’s only available to Mac users.
Figma is a web app, which means you can run it from your browser (or download the desktop app). If you need a web design software that’s cheap (or free) and extremely user friendly, then definitely check Figma out. The free plan allows a limited number of projects, but Figma’s affordable pricing plans (starting at $12 per month) will allow you to work on unlimited projects and add several collaborators to work together in real-time
For a long time, QuarkXPress has been the industry leader in creating and editing complex page layouts. It’s widely used in the media and publishing industry. However, InDesign is definitely more common these days, so if you’re looking to perfect your skills in just one software, InDesign is the one to choose.
One of, if not the biggest competitor to Adobe, Corel has an impressive suite of programs fit for different graphic design projects. The subscription rate is slightly more affordable than Adobe ($29 per month, billed annually). However, if you can spare $700, you can download all the apps to own them forever.
The top online resources for graphic design
There are some great graphic design websites out there, which are extremely helpful for both newbies as well as design veterans looking to get more information on a certain topic, or simply find inspiration for a particular kind of design.
Places to find creative inspiration
What to do when you’re searching for artistic inspiration? You can try to meditate, listen to music or take a walk, but few things are as effective as checking out other people’s work. Here are the best platforms to find inspiration for your work as a graphic designer.
Behance is the most popular portfolio platform, which allows design professionals to share projects ranging from typography to interior design. But Behance is so much more than a place to showcase your best work. It’s a perfect platform to network, get inspired from with the work of others, and even find employment opportunities through their job search section.
It’s got a terrific user interface, which allows you to search for projects by name, industry or field.
Behance’s biggest competitor, Dribble is another wonderful portfolio platform that designers use to showcase their work, network and find work opportunities. The interface on this platform is designed to give “snippets”of projects, so you’ll often find Dribble linking to the full project featured on Behance. On the other hand, Dribbble is ideal for sharing projects where the details are especially important, such as logos or custom illustrations.
This platform is dedicated to packaging design, so if this area is of any interest to you, definitely check it out. You’ll find extensive case studies with stunning packaging solutions, as well as tons of featured works every week.
99 Designs is a unique freelancing platform, but also one of the oldest online design communities. They’re known for design contests, which allows freelancers to compete to win a pitch posted by someone needing design. Aside from that, 99 Designs also has a great blog and is a terrific place to explore the work of others.
Where to get freebies
Graphic design involves a lot of repurposing and repackaging of existing work and using ready-made resources such as vector illustrations or stock photos. This is where to find the best free illustrations, photos and fonts for your designs.
Good illustrations can be hard to find. Oftentimes, the designs are either too intricate and so difficult to incorporate into your vision, or the options are rather limited and far too simple. Our own illustration gallery boasts thousands of different illustrations, with new ones being added every month.
You can choose between 5 different styles and use our search option to find exactly what you’re looking for. We created this gallery with non-designers in mind as well, so it’s possible to choose the color you need and download the illustration in a ready-to-use PNG format.
Of course, you can also grab the editable SVG format and change the illustration however you like. Completely free of charge!
Freepik is a good all-in-one solution for finding vector illustrations and stock photos. The free version allows you to download a limited number of designs and all of their premium resources. You can find some truly wonderful illustrations, although be warned that since Freepik is very well known they are widely used by others, so you should consider customizing them to fit your needs. The stock photos on Freepik are pretty simple and fit a more traditional, corporate aesthetic.
There are numerous stock photo websites out there, but in terms of stylistic quality and range, Unsplash is without any doubt one of the best. The photos found on this platform have a very modern aesthetic, appealing to a younger audience.
Although it’s hugely popular with non-designers, Canva is by no means a substitute for professional design software. That said, Canva has a lot to offer to professional designers in terms of free assets and templates. However, bear in mind that you’ll need to purchase a Canva subscription in order to download editable SVG files.
Chameleon is one tool to manage all in-product engagement and to control the software experience. With Chameleon, you get a suite of customizable, no-code tools, ready to blend into your site and drive success, as well as free UI kits you can implement in your own designs.
With it you can increase activation with product tours, boost adoption with tooltips, get user feedback with surveys, and offer guidance with checklists.
Getting a wonderful font that’s also free for commercial use is not very difficult these days, and there are plenty of places to find them (for example, Behance, the all-encompassing design platform has many new fonts pop up every week). Font Space is a good go-to platform to remember, for a selection of different typefaces (over 38,000 to be precise).
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Where to learn about graphic design
Whether you want to learn about a specific topic, or simply read up on current trends, your personal knowledge base is a necessary part of any designer’s toolkit. It goes without saying that when it comes to inspiration you should read and research widely, but these are just a few great platforms where you can learn about everything related to graphic design.
Founded in 1987, this leading UK design magazine is now available in online format only. If you want to stay on top of the latest trends or read up on some iconic graphic design, then this magazine is a great resource.
This eclectic blog is a great place to find design inspiration, but also learn about design, as they mostly focus on easily digestible listicles that you can browse through instead of wasting time on social media.
Our company’s mission is to democratize professional design, and make it available to those with a limited design budget. This also includes educating people on best design practices, as well as relevant trends in the world of design and marketing
Need helpful tips? Extensive how to guides? If you’re a web developer or designer, Smashing Magazine is a treasure chest of practical knowledge that you need to check out. They even host live online workshops that can help you perfect your skills and perhaps meet people from the industry.
The best known online university, Udemy has an array of great design courses. From extensive beginner courses, to specialized courses for features on software like Photoshop and Illustrator, Udemy has you covered. Of course, you’ll have to pay for most of them, but they’re usually well worth it. If you want, you can check out a few of the free design courses offered on the platform.
We hope you found our list of resources and tools helpful as you start making your way as a graphic designer. Whether you’re looking for inspiration or setting up your working space, make sure that you have everything you need to succeed.
For further guidance, make sure to check out our article on 14 Graphic Design Skills To Get You Hired.