Harry Potter unarmed is a great wizard. But armed with his phoenix feathered holly wood wand, he’s the G.O.A.T! You too may be a very talented graphic designer or digital artist, but by using the right tools the force of your talent can be multiplied exponentially.
Here is a list of the best software and hardware tools in the field today, coming highly recommended by top-notch graphic designers who know their stuff. These tools are tried and tested and can help you dazzle clients by casting your greatest graphic design spells. Buckle up and get ready to make digital art at the speed of thought!
This illustration app made solely for the iPad is a brilliant tool because it simplifies a graphic designer’s steps when illustrating anything. It’s super intuitive and has an awesome selection of brushes.
The app responds well with the Apple Pencil and you can save as .psd or .pdf which completely integrates with Adobe.
- Allows designers to use the Apple Pencil to draw directly on the screen to get amazing results
- Saves work as .psd or .pdf which completely integrates with Adobe
- Records the entire drawing process
- Allows designers to draw on different layers making it easier to edit the work after
Get your Apple Pencil ready and then check out this YouTube tutorial:
Find Procreate at the iPad app store.
Since it costs $9.99, with no subscriptions needed, Procreate is affordable for graphic designers and digital artists of all levels.
Not only is Myfonts.com a website with fonts galore, its “WhatTheFont” feature solves a crucial problem for graphic artists.
So many clients come to us with logos and old marketing materials they want to mimic, but one of the big issues is discovering the name of the weird fonts they are using. With this tool it’s a piece of cake. Just upload a screenshot of the text and voila!
- Supply your archive with a very large collection of fonts (many are free, some can be purchased)
- Track the origin of a particular font by uploading it to the WhatTheFont tool
Visit myfonts.com and follow their navigation or download the free WhatTheFont app on your smartphone. Pick from their selection of free fonts, web fonts or become a subscriber.
Select the WhatTheFont button in the navigation, then upload a screenshot of the text to identify the font. Or simply take a picture or upload one from your phone, tap the font you want to identify and boom—you’re all set. (Tip: use as clean a screenshot as possible so the program can read it. Preferably black text on a white background).
With free fonts or exclusive subscription fonts, this program is great for graphic designers and digital artists of all levels.
3. Clip Studio Paint
Digital artists dig Clip Studio Paint’s simple collection of illustration apps because of its simplicity, mirror feature and affordability.
I love this software because it uses bitmap/pixel so when we want to draw a detailed drawing using a computer with standard specs, Clip Studio is lighter than a vector based software.
Clip Studio is:
- A cheaper alternative to Adobe suite—great for graphic designers on a budget
- Available for Mac or PC
- Available on iPad with a free 6 month trial
If you have an iPad and have been wondering how to use it for designing, this is your hookup.
4. Ron’s Brushes
A superb digital effects collection for digital paintings and illustrations, Ron’s Brushes continues to be a necessary part of advanced graphic design toolboxes.
Ron’s ‘Steam’, ‘Smoke’, ‘Vector Grunge’ and ‘Cracks’ high resolution brushes are extremely easy to use—just drag, drop and go.
Ron’s Brushes can:
- Create high quality effects for digital art
- Offer a large selection of digital environments and atmospheres
Whether it’s flying digital energy, light fusion, wisps, particles or some other look you may never even have considered, graphic designers and digital artists doing nuanced atmospheres will get swept up by Ron’s Brushes. Don’t believe us? Ask friends in the design community or on graphic design and digital art support groups. Lots of great artists swear by Ron’s Brushes. Check them out and, like GFX said, “just drag, drop and go.”
Find Ron’s Brushes at daz3d.com.
Adobe Creative Cloud tools
This graphic design, video editing and web development software has become a standard in the graphic design industry. No list of design tools would be complete without mentioning Adobe Creative Cloud. It’s much easier for designers who use Adobe to share files with other creative professionals.
The result is wonderful, whether it’s web-optimized, a printable pdf or an image format, you’ll get the best quality on the smallest file size.
Among others, the Adobe Ceative Cloud offers three famous design tools:
- Photoshop (raster graphic editor)
- Illustrator (vector graphic editor)
- InDesign (page layout program)
It behooves graphic designers looking to use industry standard applications to join the Adobe universe.
5. Adobe Photoshop
There are raster graphics editing programs, then there’s Photoshop. It’s the industry standard for manipulating digital photos and photorealistic computer art. It’s even entered the modern day lexicon of non graphic designers, “No way that picture’s real! It’s totally Photoshopped.”
I’ve used this program for over 10 years now, so I know all the functions and shortcuts I need. My tip: memorize the keyboard shortcuts for the tools you always use, it will make work easier.
- 2D image manipulation
- 3D image manipulation
- Video editing
- Image analysis
Photoshop is a part of the graphic design zeitgeist. Digital artists who don’t know Photoshop but want to create pixel based art should plan to learn it or get left behind.
6. Adobe Illustrator
From drawings to logos to actual photos, Illustrator generates all kinds of images. Digital artists love the ease in adjusting the layers and art boards in this vector graphic editing program.
I love the ease of adjusting the layers and the artboard. And the output of Adobe Illustrator is wonderful.
Adobe Illustrator can create:
Illustrator is a cornerstone for graphic designers and digital artists creating vector based art. Those willing to endure the learning curve will find it well worth their while.
7. Astute Phantasm for Adobe Illustrator
Astute Phantasm for Adobe Illustrator is a plugin tool with built in pattern maker. Want to taper and add gradient to your halftones? This is your program.
Phantasm has lots of cool features but Halftone does the magic to my designs. Halftone creates a 100% scalable halftone effect based on any underlying artwork, I most often use grayscale gradients.
With Astute Phantasm Adobe Illustrator:
- Effects can be saved and loaded
- Effects are fully editable later through the “Appearance” panel
Any graphic designers or digital artists creating three dimensional effects and challenging color adjustments will be in seventh heaven with this tool.
8. Macbook Pro with touch bar and touch ID
Your portable office has arrived! Tuck this high quality laptop into your backpack and take it with you. It’s as much an elegant piece of art as it is a functional tool.
The touchbar is very useful and with the BetterTouchTool I can customize the touchbar for my unique purposes and be more efficient.
Features of the Macbook Pro 13″:
- 3.1GHz processor
- 256GB storage
- Minimal environmental damage
The bigger more powerful sibling of the Macbook pro 13” is the 15″, featuring a touch bar and touch ID plus a larger display. And the lightning fast SSD system boots within seconds so those ephemeral snowflakes of inspiration can be captured before they melt.
My advice for battery longevity: unplug it when 100% full. Also, carry it in a case, it’s a life saver. Aluminum is light weight but prone to distortions.
Features of the MacBook Pro 15″:
- 3.9GHz Processor
- 512GB Storage
- Minimal environmental damage
Visit apple.com, amazon.com, or google for the best deal on a refurbished model. Spend a few hours exploring its features. Mac tends to be pretty intuitive, but you can watch a YouTube tutorial about the Touch Bar to learn more.
This is a serious investment for graphic designers and digital artists looking to up their game.
9. iPad Pro + Apple Pencil
Being another Apple product, this iPad Pro in combination with the Apple Pencil is not the cheapest, but the larger display on this stylus and tablet combo is a game-changer. You can adjust the display color tones, there are more colors than the non-pro models, the scrolling is smoother and for detailed art strokes the stylus is extremely precise due to a tighter connection between the display and glass.
The 12.9 Inch size is a great for drawing big strokes. It’s so light and thin I can start drawing in my bed as soon as I wake up.
The 12.9 iPad Pro offers:
- Stereo sound and quad speakers that are notably superior to non pro iPads
- 3.9GHz Processor
- 512GB storage capacity
- A couple hours more battery life
- Upgraded from entry level iPad, cameras that shoot 4K video
- A Smart Connector which lets you connect to Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover, no Bluetooth required!
Visit apple.com, but check out Costco, Best Buy, or amazon.com, for better deals. Or google “12.9 inch Ipad Pro + Apple Pencil” for previously owned models. Devote some time toward experimenting with it and watch this YouTube tutorial:
Graphic designers who want something so thin they’ll barely feel it in their bag will also love the higher speed refresh rate further enhancing the Apple Pencil performance.
I’ve seen a few other knockoffs, but nothing else works for me. Wacom seems created by artists, not just for artists.
Wacom is the word for magic on the lips and hearts of digital artists in the know. It’s a company that specializes in producing industry standard graphic tablets and styluses.
10. Wacom Bamboo Tip Stylus
Imagine one stylus that draws on computers, tablets or smartphones. It’s real. No apps or Bluetooth necessary, so it works on virtually all devices. It’s basically a magic wand folks.
- Transforms your phone, tablet or touch screen computer into a digital canvas
- Draws on your screen like you’re drawing on a piece of paper
- Is easily rechargeable
Anyone transferring fine point line work (writing or art) to a computer, tablet, or smartphone will be impressed with the versatility and pressure sensitivity of this stylus.
11. Wacom Bamboo Slate
The Wacom Bamboo is a slate which can be fixed under a real piece of paper. The strokes on the paper show up on the designer’s computer screen. It’s basically a magic slate.
I enjoy every scratch created by this tool. Especially line-art. The Wacom Bamboo is suitable for use on Adobe Photoshop, it’s easy to use and the installation process is not too difficult.
The Bamboo Slate:
- Saves time retyping notes
- Instantly adds notes to a cloud or shares them
Anyone who loves the tactile sensation of real pen to real paper, but wishes to cut out the middleman of recopying notes and illustrations should try this elegant solution.
12. Wacom Cintiq
Enter a screen tablet you can illustrate directly on with a stylus. Its pen is light, there’s no battery needed and the screen texture is ideal. Finally, you won’t get in trouble for drawing on the TV!
It’s the perfect tool for me. I just sit down, open Photoshop or Illustrator and draw. It doesn’t take up a lot of space in my small room and helps me create a lot of interesting projects.
- Features a 1080p LCD display
- Works with the stylus directly on the screen
- Has an integrated display
- Feels like drawing on real paper
- Is customizable with four express buttons
This is a dream unit for professional graphic designers and digital artists looking to be more efficient with their workflow. Sometimes a customizable tool like this pushes you to the next chapter of your talent.
13. Wacom Intuos Pen & Touch
Illustrate on this desk tablet and the results show up on the computer screen. If you’re worried about not having enough drawing surface, just zoom in!
This is a great tablet to start with. For now I don’t feel I need to upgrade to a larger tablet. This one is practical, light and has all the features I need to create a very detailed vector.
The Intuos Pen & Touch:
- Paints, draws or edits photos with a stylus
- Features a stylus that responds to varying degrees of pressure and can feel like a number of writing or drawing implements
- Can combine Photoshop and Illustrator
- Helps to make the designing process smooth and organized
My best and most trusted friend when it comes to designing. I use it throughout the whole process—from sketch in photoshop to the finished product in illustrator.
Graphic designer Ocelittle loves working with the Intuos tablet because it’s “very responsive, has great pressure sensitivity plus a multi touch feature that gives you the ability to swipe or pinch to zoom, rotate or scroll, along with four additional express keys that can be programmed to perform any function.”
The Intuos Pen & Touch is wonderful for graphic designers and digital artists who don’t need to see what they’re rendering on the screen they’re drawing on and who don’t want to splurge on a screen tablet.
14. Wacom Intuos Art
The Wacom Intuos Art has a larger active area than the Wacom Intuos Pen & Touch plus the multi-touch feature lets you use your fingers as well as stylus.
Its customizability makes it more intuitive! This helps me draw faster—I don’t have to go back and forth to the keyboard. Also, it has a built in space for extra stylus nibs in case you need to replace the nib at anytime.
Here’s a YouTube tutorial for the Intuos Art:
Want a larger canvas than the Intuos Pen & Touch Small? Want to use a stylus and your fingers? Prefer not to draw on-screen? Here’s your desk tablet!
15. Art supplies
The tools you use to develop your best work don’t have to be expensive or complicated. They can be as simple as pencil, paper and any art supplies that call out to you.
Relying too much on the latest technologies can easily lead to getting stuck in a creative rut. Getting back to basics with the stuff we learned as kids takes us back to our creative roots and original artistic voice. Turn off your screens and break out color collage paper, plasticine and paint for an instant burst of inspiration.
Playing with art supplies of any kind has countless benefits:
- Helps to develop and test out ideas
- Offers a creative outlet
- Helps to unclog artist’s block and inspire new work
16. The right environment
This may not be an actual tool, but hear me out. Having a sanctuary to work in soothes the spirit. When the spirit is calm, the outer world follows suit and you are set to create your best work. The “right” environment is slightly different for everyone. Check out what it means for HeyEksa!
I’m more productive and focused when working at home instead of a public space like a café or a coffee shop. What makes me enjoy drawing most is my environment. I live in a village with a very soothing ambiance. Also, the presence of my father, mother, wife and beautiful baby daughter fills my spirit. They are my biggest reason to always be happy everyday.
A calm environment helps to:
- Avoid unwanted distractions
- Maximize productivity
- Elevate your mood and spirits for optimum creativity
17. A setup with multiple displays
Having two (or more) separate screen displays allows for more efficient multitasking. Of course it’s possible to work on one screen, but it gets a little hairy especially when using a full-screen mode app.
One is for the design tool and one for email, browser, calendar, etc. One is operational, one is for design.
- Help you avoid icon clutter on your high quality screen
- Maximize screen real estate
- Help you work faster and more efficient
Professional graphic designers and digital artists who maximize clients and spend long hours on projects will benefit from the organization two screens provides.
19. A comfortable chair
Graphic designers often have to sit at their desks for hours on end, so don’t underestimate the importance of having a good chair. There are tons of great chairs out there, you just have to find the one that fits you best. Designer Andrewzz recommends the ST Racing Gaming Chair, a super comfy high back chair styled to resemble a racing seat.
Doing hours of design work in other chairs gives me cramps. I can be comfortable for hours in this chair.
Do your back a favor and find yourself a good chair.
20. A good keyboard and mouse
A great keyboard and mouse can make work so much more enjoyable. If you’re looking for a high-quality option, designer Andrewzz recommends the Obins Anne Pro, a wireless 60% mechanical keyboard you can place wherever you want. It’s so well engineered that simply looking at it is satisfying, let alone pressing the keys.
When it comes to your mouse, pick one that feels good in your hand and has the right functionalities for you. For instance, take a look at the Mouse MX Master 2S, a human hand’s best friend (and another recommendation by Andrewzz).
Its ergonomic design adapts to the shape of my hand. All buttons can be set with various programs. Thumb scroll well contours to my thumb. It’s the perfect mouse for designers.
If you’re willing to splurge on a mouse and keyboard, they can help you streamline your workflow and prevent long term wear and tear on wrists and hands.
Your magic wand
There you have it, the hottest graphic design tools today, recommended by designers who use them every day! Do you need the most expensive equipment in order to make good artwork? Absolutely not. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can use basic (even refurbished) graphic design tools and still create artwork on a competitive level. Remember, Harry Potter could perform some wand-free spells. But, just like Harry’s magic phoenix feathered holly wood wand allowed him to increase his magical potential, saving up and investing in the right tools will bolster your productivity magic.
Which design tools wouldn’t you want to live without? Let us know in the comments below.