However powerful your design software of choice is, there are always ways to fine-tune how efficient and effective it is for your needs. That's where plugins and extensions can prove invaluable – by giving you that extra boost in particular areas to help you become more more productive as a designer.
So read on for our essential guide to 10 must-have design tools to make your creative process easier...
Photoshop comes with its own Colour Picker tool, but it's complex and not all that intuitive. If you find it frustrating to use, the RH Hover Colour Picker could be the tool for you, it costs a one-off fee of $16/£12.
Simple, fast and effective, the plugin enables you to easily customise your colour sliders, and take control over the process. And whereas the native Colour Picker obscures your work until you've finished with it, RH Hover Colour Picker auto-hides until you hover over it.
02. Guide Guide
This popular plugin is a great time-saver, as it enables you to add grid layouts to your designs within Photoshop, Illustrator or Sketch.
Rather than setting margins and guides manually, Guide Guide does all the hard work for you. Add guides based on the canvas, artboard, or selection you're working with; quickly mark edges and midpoints with guides; and create and share custom grids. A 14-day trial is available (afterwards it costs $7/£7 a month).
03. Fontself Maker
A pro-quality typeface can take months, or even years, to perfect using a powerful, industry-standard tool such as FontLab. Fontself Maker won't replicate that level of control, and for a $49/£43 one-off fee you would hardly expect it to.
What Fontself Maker is excellent at doing, however, is converting lettering – created in Photoshop or Illustrator CC – into a workable OpenType display font. Simply drag and drop layers to create different characters.
This free plugin is a godsend for web designers, but it can be invaluable for graphic designers too. Install Whatfont for Chrome (or the iOS app), and you can identify a particular font being used on a website simply by hovering over it.
As well as a time-saving way to accumulate typographical references, it's also a great way to impress clients – if they identify a font on competitor's site that they particularly like, you can identify it instantly. Whatfont even detects the web font service being used, such as Typekit or Google Font API.
Adobe Stock may be neatly integrated with Creative Cloud already, but thanks to this handy free Getty plugin, you can get in-app access to premium videos, photos and vectors on Getty Images too. The plugin works seamlessly with Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, Premier Pro and After Effects.
You can search and filter images, illustrations, videos and existing boards, and automatically carry over edits when transitioning from comp to licensed version – all of which can be handled without leaving the program.
ColorKit is a must-have tool that enables you to keep track of all the colours you use in your projects. It works with Photoshop CC 2014 and later.
It means you can stop wasting valuable time saving, creating and replacing your swatches in Photoshop. With ColorKit, you can collect reference colours from different sources, and link colours with your layers with a single click. The plugin is both Mac and Windows compatible, and costs $19.99/£14.50.
07. Nik Collection
Pulling together seven different Lightroom and Photoshop plugins in one essential plugin package, Nik Collection used to exist as a $500 photo processing package in its own right. Google acquired it and made it free, and it's since changed hands again – this time to DxO.
Nik Collection currently includes: Analog Efex Pro, which replicates the classic look of analog cameras, film stock, and lenses; Color Efex Pro, a collection of filters for color correction, retouching, and effects; and Dfine, which allows you to process images with noise reduction.
Other tools include Sharpener Pro, which brings out hidden details in pictures; HDR Efex Pro, which processes images into artistic HDR photos; Viveza, a tone and colour adjustment tool; and Silver Efex Pro, which provides darkroom-inspired controls for black-and-white images.
There's a 30-day free trial available for the plugin package, afterwards it costs around $50/£37.
No more downloading Google fonts one by one and importing them into Photoshop to test them out. Fontea is a plugin that cuts out the middle-man, and gives you access to a library of 800 fonts in a few clicks.
The plugin enables you to browse the Google fonts by category, and automatically updates with the latest additions to the library. Best of all, just like the Google fonts it provides, it's totally free.
09. Layrs Control 2
Love them or hate them, layers are likely to play a big part in your workflow. Sometimes there are so many, keeping them organised is a project in and of itself – and even small tweaks and amends take longer than they should.
Layrs Control 2 adds a panel to Photoshop to help you manage your layers more effectively. Rather than tackling key tasks manually, with a few clicks it enables you to name, flatten and delete layers; remove unused effects; and rasterise and convert smart objects. And it's free.
Our third colour tool on this list is the free Chrome and Firefox extension ColorZilla, which is an essential addition to any frontend web designer's toolkit. It includes Advanced Eyedropper and ColorPicker tools, to help you easily determine the colour of any pixel on a webpage, and apply it to your projects.
For more advanced users, the Color Analyzer tool assesses the overall colour palette of a website, while the Ultimate Gradient Generator is used for creating and manipulating CSS gradients, and converting images to CSS.
Lead image: Rico Holmes