Having the right set of tools can be a huge advantage if you are just starting out as a graphic designer.
I have compiled this short list of some of the best software, services, and resource sites that I personally use on a day-to-day basis.
Hopefully this list will give you a point to go from if you are just beginning as a freelance designer, or at least provide some new options for those seasoned graphic designers out there.
- Adobe Creative Cloud – Design Software
- Adobe Stock – Stock Photos
- Microsoft 365 – Word & PowerPoint
- Dropbox – File Storage
- Upwork – Freelance Jobs
- Creative Market – Asset Marketplace
- GraphicRiver – Asset Marketplace
- DesignCuts – Discounted Design Bundles
- Fonts.com – Fonts and more fonts!
- GeneratePress – WordPress Theme
- DreamHost – Hosting & Domains
- Mailchimp – Email Service
- FreshBooks – Invoicing Software
- Asana – Project/Team Management Tool
Adobe Creative Cloud
At top of my list is the Adobe Creative Cloud. The Creative Cloud is a set of software tools from Adobe Systems, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.
As a graphic designer, these three programs are the mostly heavily used tools in my belt. By mastering Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, you will have everything you need for both digital design and print layouts.
The Creative Cloud is available as a month-to-month subscription plan, so you don’t have to invest big bucks in buying the software to get started!
Bonus: If you subscribe to Creative Cloud, you will also get free access to Adobe’s entire library of fonts at fonts.adobe.com
Going hand-in-hand with the Creative Cloud, is Adobe’s own stock photo site. With a huge collection of high quality images, Adobe Stock is perfect for graphic designers who need lots of photos for web and print designs.
And the best part… you can get your first month of stock photos free, thanks to our affiliation with Adobe!
After Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, I would also recommend learning some of the Microsoft products — specifically Word and PowerPoint.
These are not necessary to graphic design, but certainly helpful. Word is a common format for clients to send text in, so knowing how to navigate it is a good idea. If you want to get more advanced with Word and PowerPoint, you can then offer document, letterhead, and presentation design to your service list!
Like Adobe’s Creative Cloud, the suite of Microsoft products are also available on a subscription basis.
As a graphic designer, one of the biggest challenges you will face is file management.
At first this may not seem very important when you are just trying to get your first gig. But after a few years you will probably have several hundreds or even several thousands of files. Keeping them organized and easy to access is key!
This is where Dropbox comes in. I use it not only to store all of my project files, but this is also how I share them with clients. Dropbox makes it really easy to share links to any file or folder, so your clients can upload, download and comment on projects as you go.
I use Dropbox Plus which comes with 2TB of storage (more than you’ll need for a long time). Its about $10 per month if paid annually.
Upwork is by far the largest online “job site” for freelancers. It easy to get started on, and there are thousands of freelance design gigs posted daily!
I got started freelancing on Upwork (back when it was called Elance), and have been using it ever since. Even though I now get clients through my own website, I have continued using Upwork as a backup source for work, and as a place to collaborate with other creatives who I partner with.
Creative Market is just what it sounds like — a marketplace to buy creative assets. From fonts and icons, to templates and graphics, Creative Market is a great resource to have bookmarked. I have used them many times for design assets.
Next to Creative Market, GraphicRiver is another great resource for design assets, fonts, templates and more. Even as a designer, there are many times when it’s more efficient to start working from a brochure template or existing set of icons than to create every design from scratch.
DesignCuts offers a unique service for designers: they package hundreds of design assets into one bundle, and sell it at a hugely discounted price (like 98% off!).
While you won’t get to choose the fonts, textures and design assets that come with each bundle, this is still a great way to begin building a personal library of design resources.
As a designer, you will use fonts all the the time for both print and digital designs. There are several good resources for free fonts (Google Fonts, Dafont), but in many cases you will need to look further for premium font options.
One of the most common uses for premium fonts is in logo design.
If you subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, you will also get free access to their entire library of fonts at fonts.adobe.com
I only discovered this one recently, but felt that it should make the list. GeneratePress is an amazingly light, yet powerful, WordPress theme. It’s actually the theme powering this website!
For several years I have offered website design as a side service, and have also used WordPress for my own portfolio site. Out of the many WordPress themes I’ve tried, GeneratePress is by far the best.
Whether you intend to offer web design services or just need to host your own design portfolio website (I highly recommend having a portfolio site), I suggest looking into DreamHost as a hosting service.
They have affordable pricing, an easy-to-use dashboard, and all of the extra feature you could need (custom emails, ssl certificates, etc.)
As you get established as a designer, I recommend collecting email addresses from your clients (get their permission) and starting a newsletter. Let your clients know what you are up to, what projects you’ve been working on, and any new services you are offering. It doesn’t have to be often — just a few times a year.
Email newsletters are a great way to keep in touch with past clients and keep them coming back. Mailchimp offers a free option for up to 2,000 contacts so you can get started for free.
Last, by certainly not least, is FreshBooks.
FreshBooks is a subscription-based accounting software that makes invoicing a breeze. With built-in options for multiple payment types, deposit collection, and customizable estimate and invoice forms, FreshBooks is a no-brainer.
Last on the list, and the newest tool I’ve been using (in 2021), is Asana. Whether you’re just starting out as a solo freelancer, or run a larger agency, Asana is a great tool for managing both projects and team members.
With the ability to track projects from beginning to end, assign work to a specific person, add files, creating status updates, and so much more, Asana is a power pack for any designer.
That’s all for now!
Thanks for checking out my list of recommended resources for graphic designers. I hope this list has been helpful to you.
As I discover more great services and tools, I will add them to this list — so make sure to check back again soon!