10 tools that could save you time right away

As a designer, it's no secret that some tasks are a serious time-suck. And when all you want to do is crack on with actually designing something, that can be hugely frustrating. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Whether your biggest bugbear is creating invoices, contracts and other admin paperwork, or you spend far too much of your day creating design mockups, or maybe you waste hours to-ing and fro-ing with clients on tiny amends – we hear you. There are plenty of tools for designers that can help you claw back some of that all-important creative time.

For a start, you could automate common design tasks, or install useful design plugins to make your process easier. There are plenty of productivity tools and collaboration tools for designers to choose from too. 

If that's still not enough, read on to discover ten time-saving tools for specific design tasks, all of which could save you time right away. Most of these tools are also free, at least initially...

01. Design product mock-ups quickly with PlaceIt

PlaceIt tool

Mock up your latest app design on a phone with ease

If you find yourself spending too many hours stitching screengrabs onto product images to show them off in situ, once you discover PlaceIt, you'll wonder what you've been doing with your life. With more than 2,500 Creative Commons images in its library to use as templates, this handy mockup generator might just prove a godsend when you need to show something on a phone, tablet or other device. 

02. Find complementary colours with Impalette

Impalette tool

Generate a whole colour palette from a single image

Wasting time with the Color Picker in Photoshop, trying to find the right palette to complement a particular image? This needs to stop. The wittily tiled Impalette (which features an impala in its logo, in case you missed it) has a simple but invaluable function: import an image, and it'll provide you with a Pantone-based grid of dominant colours, as well as a selection of complementary hues.

03. Keep track of expenses easily with Expensify

Expensify app

Take the pain out of your expense reports

Let's go ahead and assume that keeping track of your expense receipts isn't why you became a designer. So why are you wasting so much time doing it? Expensify makes the process easy, from receipt scanning through to reimbursement (if you're employed). If you're self-employed, you can import the data into third-party apps ready for every freelancer's favourite time of year: tax return season.

04. Create social graphics faster with iStock Editor

iStock Editor tool

Crop your chosen image to size right within iStock

Stock images are great for creating graphics for social campaigns, but if you're bothering to download them, import them and crop them to different sizes, guess what? You're wasting time. With iStock Editor, you can create simple graphics quickly and effectively, right within the image library – it even has all the crop sizes you need for different social platforms ready and waiting.

05. Track down that typeface with What Font Is

What Font Is tool

Upload an image to determine what fonts are used in it

Do you keep seeing a distinctive typeface in use that would be ideal for your next project, but have no idea what it is? Sure, you could waste precious time on research, or ask around to see if anyone recognises it. Or you could cut out the hassle and use the aptly named What Font Is. Upload an image or specify a URL, and it'll generate a list of type matches for you to experiment with.

06. Make pattern design a breeze with Patterninja

Patterninja tool

Turn any image into a pattern quickly and easily

Sometimes single-purpose apps are the most fun to play with. Sure, you could fire up Illustrator and create all the pattern designs you need for your next design project, but why use a sledgehammer to crack a nut? Patterninja simply takes any image you give it and converts it into a pattern. There are a broad selection of vector shapes and icons in its free library to get you started, too.

07. Make client approval smoother with ProofHub

ProofHub app

Cut out the email tennis with clients over project feedback

Be honest: how much time do you waste playing email tennis with clients, colleagues and collaborators as the agonising process of dealing with feedback and amends plays out? Project management tool ProofHub provides a central place for all project-based discussion, feedback and changes. There are various markup tools baked in, so you can highlight and annotate directly on the file.

08. Test out your chosen fonts with Type Anything

Type Anything tool

Experiment with CSS type formatting on the fly to save time

Your website design may look great on the mockups, but what happens when you get it into CSS and it doesn't work as planned? Rather than wasting time tinkering, or going back to the drawing board altogether, test it out in a live environment first using Type Anything. As well as exploring font combinations, you can adjust size, spacing, weight, opacity, margins and many other variables on the fly.

09. Simplify client proposals with Proposify

Proposify app

Win over clients with effortlessly interactive proposals

Designing client pitches and proposals is a drain on any studio or freelancer's time – and unless you win the work, you can't chalk it up as billable time either. But you still want a polished presentation, and Proposify is one solution. Using the tool, you can create an interactive, mobile-optimised, fully white-labelled experience quickly and easily – and there are plenty of templates to use. At $25/month for an individual, or $75/month for a small business, you have to pay for the privilege though.

10. Cut out the invoicing hassle with Invoice.to

Invoice.to app

Collect payments quickly and easily through Stripe or PayPal

Our final inclusion on this list is another very simple but effective single-purpose tool. While many project management apps will incorporate an invoicing system, if you're a freelancer who just wants something super-quick and easy to take the hassle out of invoicing, Invoice.to might be just the thing. Plug your Stripe or PayPal account  into it, and you're away.

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Nick Carson

Nick is a content strategist and copywriter. He has worked with world-class agencies including Superunion, Wolff Olins and Vault49 on brand storytelling, tone of voice and verbal strategy for global brands such as Virgin, Pepsi and TikTok. Nick launched the Brand Impact Awards in 2013 while editor of Computer Arts, and remains chair of judges. He's written for Creative Bloq on design and branding matters since the site's launch.