Tools of the Trade (Graphic Design)

The Adobe Creative Suite is the industry standard for the professional graphic designer, offering the world’s best creative apps to unleash your creativity. Most people are probably familiar with Photoshop and Illustrator since they are two of the most popular Adobe products.

A few years ago, Adobe introduced Creative Cloud, a subscription-based service for its creative apps. There are different pricing plans available, catering to both individuals and organizations.

Adobe Creative Cloud

If you’re just starting out as a graphic designer, consider getting Photoshop for image manipulation and Illustrator to create visual designs. After some calculations, getting the cheapest plans (Photography and Single App) will cost you around $40 a month. If you want to learn more about the products and pricing plans, be sure to visit Adobe.

Illustrator is a program used by graphic designers to create vector images — which can be scaled to any resolution without losing quality.

However, $40 a month may not be affordable depending on your financial situation. Does that mean you can’t be a graphic designer? Absolutely not — there are actually many alternatives that are completely free to use. Let’s take a look at some of them.


FOR IMAGE MANIPULATION

GIMP

Gimp

The GNU Image Manipulation Program (or GIMP for short) is a decent alternative to Photoshop. It’s almost 2 decades old, with new and improved features being added with each build. I have been using GIMP for most of my work with pretty good results.

You can get more information by going to GIMP. If you’re looking to dive right in, GIMP Tutorials will introduce you to the interface and walk you through some basic image manipulation techniques.


FOR VECTOR GRAPHICS

Inkscape

Inkscape

As a graphic designer, you will need a program capable of creating vector graphics. If you don’t have Illustrator, then I highly recommend Inkscape. It is a free, open-source program with many features similar to Illustrator. I have been using Inkscape for most of my projects, and it has served me well so far.

An open source software contains code that can be access and modified by anyone. Such projects promote collaboration and sharing. As such, they are usually free to use, with software-specific add-ons available to personalize your user experience.

If you haven’t already, do visit Inkscape to find out more about the program. You should also check out Inkscape Tutorials, which will guide you through the different features and provide pointers to streamline your design process.

GIMP and Inkscape are great when you’re just starting out — you can download them at any time and have access to all their features. That said, both programs aren’t nearly as powerful as their Adobe counterparts. In addition, most clients will usually request for Adobe file formats (such as PSD or AI) as source files. As such, if you can afford it, consider getting Photoshop and Illustrator as soon as possible.


FOR MULTI-PURPOSE USE

CorelDRAW

CorelDraw

For a third alternative, you can consider the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite. It is an all-in-one package, and has many of the same features as Illustrator and Photoshop. If you aren’t keen on Adobe’s subscription plans, then good news — the CorelDRAW products can be purchased in full. 


FOR SKETCHING

As a graphic designer, you will be sketching out ideas when conceptualizing a design. The traditional pencil and paper is the most straightforward — and cheapest — option. However, oftentimes you will have to present the sketches to your client, which might be an issue if you’re working online. There are solutions, such as a scanner or camera, but it gets tedious after a while.

In my case, I decided to go with a graphics tablet. It is a hardware input device that allows you to draw digitally using a stylus. You will need practice to get used to drawing on a computer screen, but it’s worth it in the long run, especially if you’re looking to venture into illustration later on.

Wacom is a popular brand for graphics tablets. There are others on the market, but you might run into driver and pen problems (as reported by some users).

Wacom

For those on a tight budget, you might want to consider a refurbished tablet, which costs much less and works just as well for sketching. Otherwise, here are a few choices with decent reviews:

Intuos Draw Creative Pen Tablet

Priced at $69.95

The Intuos Draw Creative Pen Tablet is the cheapest among the Wacom products and gives you everything you need (including the ArtRage Lite software) to start sketching.

Huion H610 Pro

Priced at $76.99

The Huion H610 Pro is one of Huion’s most popular products. It is value for money and good for entry-level use.

Monoprice Tablets

Priced from $23.92 to $92.62

Monoprice has a range of graphics tablets, so you are sure to find one that meets your needs.

With a graphics tablet, you will need a drawing program to produce and display the sketches on screen. For that, I strongly recommend MyPaint. It’s easy-to-use and has a simple interface, so you will be drawing in no time. However, MyPaint’s main draw (no pun intended) is definitely its unlimited canvas, which allows you to create as many sketches as you want in one go. You can check out MyPaint and A Quick MyPaint Guide for some tips and tricks.


You will need most of the tools listed above to work online as a freelance graphic designer. Fortunately, getting them is as easy as a click of the mouse, and the best part — you probably won’t be spending a dime. So what are you waiting for?

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