That’s particularly true for web designers and graphic designers. Technology has opened up many exciting avenues for working online. The ever-increasing number of freelancers entering the market has meant fast changes to technology.
The downside of that means there are so many tools available. In other words, how do you navigate the choices and find the best tools for web designers? Or how do you find the best tools for your graphic design business?
We’ve looked through the myriad of tools organized them into three categories:
The best tools for web designers
The best tools for graphic designers
The best tools for both web and graphic designers
While many people may think web design and graphic design are the same thing, there are key differences between the two.
Web design, similar to graphic design, involves combining images, graphics and typography to communicate ideas.
But web design concerns only websites, so web designers need to consider file size, for instance, which can impact load times of web pages. Also, because web design involves creating a website, programming is involved, and web designers need to know about user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).
Graphic design can involve work on both print projects and digital projects. If a graphic designer is doing website work, it would only concern the creation of graphics for use on websites. Graphic designers don’t do programming.
So, let’s take a look at the best tools for web designers and graphic designers.
The best tools for graphic designers
For graphic designers, the following 5 tools are a must-know.
1. Adobe Creative Cloud
Adobe’s Creative Cloud still stands at the top among the best tools for graphic designers.
Its suite of tools is unparalleled, with apps and services for video, design, photography, and the web. It’s perfect for experts and beginners, as it includes templates and tutorials.
If you opt for the full plan, you’ll get Photoshop, Phtoshop Sketch, Adobe Spark, Illustrator, InDesign, AfterEffects, and more.
If you want to opt for a free tool that simulates Photoshop, Pixlr is for you. Although it’s made for amateurs, and not design professionals, it still features advanced tools that rival Photoshop.
Pixlr can be used on desktops, tablets or smartphones, or as a web app. It has a free vector editor, free fonts and free graphics.
3. Corel Painter
To give your design work more of a “painter” feel, use Corel Painter. It’s designed to be used by professional digital artists to simulate drawing and painting.
Painter promises to give artists the most realistic and professional digital art studio, including over 900 “brushes,” plus pattern pens, thick paint brushes and 36 new brushes in the 2019 version.
4. Pantone Color Guides
Every graphic designer needs these. After all, the printed color could end up looking much different than what you worked with on your computer.
A Pantone color guide is a perfect reference manual, and helps ensure the color you want is the color you get.
Iconfinder is a search engine and marketplace for vector icons in several formats: SVG, PNG, CSH and AI. This resource allows graphic designers to search for high quality icons.
There are several different subscription options, with the Unlimited plan allowing for (you guessed it) unlimited downloads, royalty-free icons, and more.
Use Sketch in conjunction with the Sketch Toolbox, which is a plugin manager to keep everything organized for you, let you know about new plugins, and keep your existing plugins updated.
8. Adobe XD
Sketch is for Mac users only, so if that’s an issue, Adobe XD is an excellent alternative.
Adobe XD works for macOS, Windows, iOS and Android. It supports vector design and website wireframing, as well as creating click-through prototypes.
It’s easy to import assets from other Adobe platforms, like Photoshop, and it’s perfect for UX design and collaboration.
For designers who use Sketch or Adobe XD, Avocode allows them to code websites directly from those designs. In fact, it will also convert Photoshop, Illustrator, and Figma into web, iOS, and Android projects.
Basically, Avocode analyzes the file and converts it into a fully designed UI. Then you preview it and export the assets.
Google’s free app is ideal for web designers because it compresses images without sacrificing quality.
To use Squoosh, you simply drag and drop your image into the app. Then, using a slider, you adjust the amount of compression. This lets you adjust to find the right quality and file size.
As a bonus, the app will work online and offline.
With Linksplit, you can test two different versions of your website to see which one performs better.
The first 10,000 clicks each month are free, and in fact, you don’t even have to sign up to use it.
Basically, you enter your destination URL and you’re given a short test URL that you share with the audience. You can even set up rules, such as sending people in different countries to different destinations.
The best tools for both web and graphic designers
There are a multitude of tools that can be used by both web and graphic designers, in their creative work and in managing a freelance business. Tasks common to both types of designers like looking for clients, invoicing and tracking hours can all be supported with technology.
So let’s keep going with a look at the best tools for both web and graphic designers. We’ve broken these down into several sections, from the actual design work through important administrative tasks like getting paid.
12. Affinity Designer
Affinity Designer brands itself as the “fastest, smoothest, most precise vector graphic design software available.” It’s available in both desktop and iPad versions, and brings together illustrations, icons, branding, typography, and UI design.
It can be used as both a dedicated web design and graphic design tool, allowing you to do print projects, mockups, web graphics, pattern design and concept art.
Designers will love features like the 1,000,000 per cent zoom and the maximum do/undo history to go back over steps.
This design tool is ideal for new or experienced designers. Similar to Photoshop, you can create designs with a drag-and-drop feature.
The online photo editor DesignBold has a huge library of layouts (more than 10,000), allowing you to build website elements such as a header, a logo or other visual. You can also use it for flyers, social media posts, business cards or even resumes.
If your forte is design, you may need some help with writing. Grammarly is an online grammar checking, spell checking, and plagiarism detection platform, checking your copy against more than 250 grammar rules.
It will spot grammar or punctuation mistakes that can be overlooked by word processor applications and works for emails, documents, projects and even social media.
There’s a free version, and a paid version that provides much deeper analysis.
Use standard templates and add your branding. Maximize earnings by creating a variety of service packages for clients to choose from.
Simply build your proposal online, enter details, timeline, and fees, and then send it. Get read receipts when clients look at your material, which they can approve with one click.
This website provides a social network for designers. On Dribbble, you can post your latest work, showcase your skills, connect with other designers and search for jobs.
Designers can connect on a global scale, as individuals or as teams.
With the free plan, you can upload shots, provide and receive comments, and look at work opportunities. By upgrading to the Pro plan, you can get recommended for project inquiries from anyone on the platform. You can set your project parameters to get the requests you want.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel if you choose Qwilr. They have templates for proposals and other customer-facing documents.
For instance, the business proposal template allows you to add spreadsheets, videos, presentations and more into a proposal. You’ll get notified when the potential client views the proposal, which they can accept with a click.
Pricing: Free 7-day trial. The pro plan for freelancers and small teams is $29/month.
There are a multitude of sites where you can find work as a designer or any other type of freelancer.
We chose Folyo to highlight as this site provides members with one unique development or design project a day. Design opportunities come right to your inbox. Sign up for weekly email lists or get alerted via a daily tweet when new jobs are posted.
They also have resources like articles on “How to find web design RFPs,” as well as access to training, virtual coworking, and more. Remote companies use the referral newsletter to find their next designer, which could be you!
III. Time and productivity
19. Bonsai time tracking
Typically, designers work on multiple jobs for multiple clients. Bonsai has a freelance time tracking tool that fully integrates with your workflow and is available on web, macOS, iOS, Android, and Chrome Web Store. Connect your time tracking to your proposals, web design contracts and invoices, meaning there’s no need to re-enter data in more than one system.
Track your time with a click, and switch between projects. Timesheets are centralized, allowing for a comprehensive view of your work day. You can automatically fill in your timesheets or log hours manually.
Invoicing can be automated from your timesheets. Simply select your unbilled hours and send your invoice to your client.
Boomerang allows to you temporarily remove messages from your inbox, to focus on the work at hand. Boomerang archives the emails and then returns them to your inbox at the time you specify.
This app also allows you to write an email and send it at a later time. Simply set the time and Boomerang will send it. It will also give you a reminder if you haven’t heard back from a client.
Timely is a scheduling and time-tracking tool that promises to manage your profitability, productivity and efficiency. It has fully automatic time tracking that works on any device and syncs across every platform.
You can plan your work weeks in advance, and then track time as well as your hourly rates for projects. It also lets you see where you have spent your time in the past.
Success in design is about creativity, and success in business requires focus and productivity.
A fun tool to add to your toolbox is Momentum, a personal dashboard designed to “eliminate distraction” while also providing inspiration and focus.
When you open your browser, Momentum welcomes you with an inspiring picture and quote. With the Plus plan, you can integrate it with other task manager apps. You can even set an autofocus mode that will show your top to-do.
Here’s the catch:
It works with Chrome and Firefox.
IV. Legal and contracts
23. Bonsai contracts
While contracts are connected to proposals, they deserve their own section. Once you get work from a client, you need to have a contract to protect yourself. It should clearly delineate the work to be done, with milestones and a payment schedule.
Using the Bonsai system, simply fill in a few details of the project, and a complete contract is generated from templates written and reviewed by top lawyers.
You’re then able to sign your contract online quickly and securely, send to your client to sign, and store the legally binding contract online. You can also download it as a PDF.
A read receipt system lets you know immediately when your client reads your contract or signs it, allowing you to follow up at the appropriate time.
The professional organization for design, AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) has templates for use by designers.
Its “Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services” allows you to modify a contract to suit your needs. You don’t just fill in the blanks. Instead, you develop a custom proposal document for each project. They provide an appropriate set of terms and conditions to attach to the proposal.
Then you put the custom proposal document together with terms and conditions and this becomes a binding agreement with your client.
This contract generation tool is an online software program that allows you to design, send and track contracts. PandaDoc provides everything you need to build your own contracts from an intuitive dashboard. Add details like your company name, intellectual property information and more.
V. Getting Paid
26. Bonsai invoicing
Bonsai has a freelance invoicing product that is integrated with its proposals, contracts, time tracking and reporting systems. Automating administrative tasks can help you save time that you can dedicate to your design work.
It allows you to auto-create professional invoices, either customizing them or generating them automatically from any proposal, contract or time sheet.
You can also track activity and payments, because a read receipt system will tell you when the client interacts with your invoice and when they plan to pay. You can even automate reminders so they get sent when you want them to - without having to remember to do it yourself.
Accept payment the way you want, via credit card, bank transfer (ACH), PayPal and bitcoin. You’ll get secure transactions at competitive rates.
Getting paid is a good thing.
This service has been around for a while. With PayPal, you can generate invoices and collect payments in almost any fashion. Clients can use a credit card or PayPal Credit, for instance, and you can get paid on your website or mobile device.
Square is known for its payment reader, but it’s also got a point-of-sale app and software services that allow you to do invoices and recurring payments, get reports on sales and other analytics, and generate digital and printed receipts.
Send invoices from your phone, tablet or desktop, collect payments in person and online, and choose from other tools that make it simple for clients to pay you.
Wave is a small business solution developed in Canada. It started with a free online accounting software program for businesses with 1-9 employees, and now has invoicing, personal finance and receipt-scanning software. Its more recent additions are financial services, with Payments by Wave (credit card processing), Payroll by Wave, and Lending by Wave.
Track expenses, invoice and accept payments and pay employees in one place. Its blog offers small business advice. Check out more alternatives to Wave accounting.
While your work is important, you can only manage your business if you look after yourself. Physical and mental health are important components of life that you have to maintain in order to be successful in business. Here are some tools you can use to keep yourself in prime working condition.
Enjoy music while you work? Like to have some variety without thinking about it? Download Spotify to access song lists that will keep your creative juices flowing.
31. Workout Trainer
Skimble’s Workout Trainer will give you access to thousands of workouts and custom training programs. Do strength building routines, bodyweight-only sessions, high intensity workouts and more.
If you’re the kind of person who needs to get away from work and attend a fitness class, ClassPass will help you find what you need. Book classes anywhere with one monthly fee.
33. Daily Yoga
Beginner to advanced, Daily Yoga will help you stretch and de-stress after a full day of design work.
Calm is an app for meditation and to help you get to sleep.
Plan your next vacation away from work with TripIt, which will bring together flights, hotels and anything else you need into one itinerary in one place.
Being a designer involves creative work that takes time and effort. It can be done to shape behavior, guide actions, or even just evoke a feeling of happiness.
Having the right tools to do the work can free up designers to focus their creative energy. Our guide to the best tools for web designers and best tools for graphic designers will help your freelance business thrive, while you maximize productivity and profits.
Now you know which tools can help you do your best design work, as well as manage your business. You can also consider the option of the integrated tools available to you as part of Bonsai’s freelance suite by signing up for a free trial now.