A Comprehensive List of Essential Graphic Design Tools

Young female artist drawing jewelry design in sketch book
Hero Images / Getty Images

Graphic designers study the complex interplay between human psychology and the appearance of real-world things -- advertisements, business cards, street signs -- to align visual messaging to a targeted audience. Most designers learn their trade and their tools through study at a design school; however, amateur designers can usually obtain the same tools for their own hobby projects.

Software

Graphics and business-related software are key to your success. Some products, such as Photoshop and Illustrator, focus on the creative end of design. Other packages, such as project management or time tracking software, will help you stay organized and manage the business end of design.

Graphic Design Books

It's very helpful to build up your own small library of graphic design books. Some should be for inspiration, some for technical help, and others to assist you on the business side of design. 

Good design, after all, isn't entirely subjective -- to be effective, a designer must channel his or her creativity along channels proven to be psychologically effective.

A Sketch Pad

While you're most likely to use a computer to complete a design, you don't have to start with one. Sketching out ideas is a great way to begin a project and brainstorm, and can be much quicker than mocking something up on a computer. It's also helpful to keep a small sketch pad or notepad handy because you can forget a great idea as fast as you thought of it.

If you're at home with a sketch pad, consider a further investment in colored pencils and similar tools of the trade. 

A Camera

Designers aren't photographers, but smart designers carry a camera (even if it's just a smartphone camera) to capture visual inspiration as soon as it strikes. 

Other Creative Professionals

While you may not think of them as a "tool," knowing other designers, illustrators, web developers, photographers and similar creatives is important for three reasons:

  1. It's not easy to critique yourself. Get opinions on your work and encourage constructive criticism to push your work to a higher level.
  2. Having others around to brainstorm with can bring about the best ideas.
  3. As you get projects that are more involved, you will need people to collaborate with. Find a group of people you can trust with different skill sets than your own so you can work on projects together.