5 tools every graphic designer needs
While skills and creative thinking are what actually makes you a decent graphic designer, there are some other essentials that none of us can do without. The tools of the trade, so to speak. If you are beginning a career in graphic design, this is what you are going to need. Think of it as a beginner’s guide.
Your work as a graphic designer will lie in a digital plane. Therefore, it is hard to overestimate the importance of a good computer.
First of all, this must be something mobile, a laptop or tablet. Powerful enough to run your software of choice, but not too bulky. After all, you may want to take it with everywhere and work in the beanbag in a co-working space or lying on the floor.
You have two options here: an ordinary laptop paired with a good pressure-sensitive pen pad (Wacom and its likes). Alternatively, you can have a device with a touchscreen. Windows Surface Studio is a great artistic tool (although I remain faithful to my MacBook).
Why pen pad or touchscreen is important? Because working with a mouse is just not natural. It can never provide the level of control you need for fine pencil/brush work. Some will argue that mouse is the best. On DeviantArt, you will find a few groups of artists that draw exclusively with a mouse. Still, they are rather the exception. Personally, I could never feel a mouse, no matter how responsive, as an extension of my arm.
Whichever you choose, there is nothing more frustrating than the time lag between the movement of your hands and actual results. If interface freezes, it breaks the flow and sometimes ruins the whole work. So make sure your laptop is fairly up to date or maintain an old one properly. I have a habit to clean up my Mac’s hard drive regularly, so that there is always enough space for complex graphic processing, even if I work with large images with high resolution.
Graphic Editing Tool
Many argue that with the advent of Photoshop the entry level for a graphic designer has dropped dramatically. Now anyone without substantial knowledge and education can concoct something amateurish and collage-like and call it “original design”.
This is true, however, digital tools also made many youngsters interested in art, which I think is great. The possibilities of Photoshop were mind-boggling, it was almost like an alchemy. Unfortunately, too many ruthlessly abused the power over color and shape. The very name of the app became a synonym to “it’s not real and it shows”. This rather gave Photoshop a bad rap, but it is still my software of choice (within a Creative Cloud package).
However, if your budget is tight and you cannot afford to invest money in professional software before you even began making money, there is no reason to worry. There is a cohort of less costly or even free apps, which will do just fine for starters.
On the importance of drawing from life, there is a great collection of opinions. It is true, nothing beats solid understanding of nature.
I cannot stress more how important the skill is. Many digital artists today copy from photographs. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with using photos as references, you must have a deep understanding of how objects appear to a human eye in real life first. That is, if you want to make a good artist (digital or not).
At that point, there are a few problems with photos:
- enhanced saturation/contrast that sometimes conceals fine lines between shadows and highlights
- perspective, and as a consequence proportions, are often distorted
- a photo is making half of a job for you by translating a 3D space into 2D place (let’s be honest, that’s cheating)
Practice makes perfect. Draw every day. Carry a sketchbook always with you. Make it a pocket format. If you are having an idea or seeing something awesome, make a quick sketch to pin it down. Ideas are fleeting. Sketchbook is solid and reliable. You can sketch sitting on the park bench in the sun, which would be impossible with a glossy-screen pad or laptop. Plus, your inspiration must not depend on battery life.
Need more reasons? There are plenty.
Whether you plan mainly freelancing or aspire to land a job in the office, you need to test your skills, build your portfolio and reputation. Working as a freelancer you also will learn many important things, such as self-discipline and time-management.
Freelance marketplace website is a great way to do all this, so get a profile on one of your choice. I started on Freelancer, but there are plenty of others, such as Fiverr, Upwork, or even those specifically targeting design niches, such as Designcrowd.
To stay organized, you may need some assistance from time-tracking tools and project-managing platforms to keep track of time spent on each project and meet the deadlines.
Building up a natural social following also will not hurt. Social networks are fundamental to your marketing strategy and building your personal brand.
Friendly Working Environment
Before you invest in your own home office, try various spaces: cafes, co-workings, crowded, secluded. Find out what is stimulating enough without being distractive. Sometimes even the most unconventional environment turns out to be just perfect for you. As a creative, you can afford to be eccentric.
Then, there is furniture. Listen to your body. Maybe standing works best for you, or you will want to have a transforming desk for both sitting and standing. Try different kinds of office chairs and choose one that fits perfectly. Believe me, grabbing a stool from the kitchen is a bad idea since you are going to spend hours working. Without a proper furniture, it is only a matter of time, when you will start feeling pain in your back, neck, and joints.
Now you are equipped with everything you need. Bon voyage!