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 (opens in new tab) that can help you claw back some of that all-important creative time.
For a start, you could automate common design tasks (opens in new tab), or install useful design plugins (opens in new tab) to make your process easier. There are plenty of productivity tools (opens in new tab) and collaboration tools (opens in new tab) 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
If you find yourself spending too many hours stitching screengrabs onto product images to show them off in situ, once you discover PlaceIt (opens in new tab), 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
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 (opens in new tab) (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
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 (opens in new tab) 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
Stock images are great for creating graphics for social campaigns (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab), 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
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 (opens in new tab). 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
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 (opens in new tab) 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
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 (opens in new tab) 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
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 (opens in new tab). 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
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 (opens in new tab) 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
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 (opens in new tab) might be just the thing. Plug your Stripe or PayPal account into it, and you're away.