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The essential guide to tools for designers

They say a bad workman blames his tools, and it's certainly the case that even having the best top-of-the-range kit won't make you a great designer. You need great ideas, and the skills to execute them.

Everyone's needs are different, and you need to tailor your investment accordingly – whether it's big-budget hardware, software or office equipment, or the simplest, single-purpose tool or plugin that can make your life easier.

Spending a small fortune on high-end digital hardware when all you need is a new sketchbook is a waste of your time and money. Likewise, if you're a freelancer who's constantly on the move, you want a lightweight laptop – not a heavyweight desktop machine.

Whether you're re-fitting your design studio, looking for ways to become more efficient and productive, or are just keen to make freelance life easier, we've compiled a handy resource to help you make those all-important decisions.

So read on for our essential guide to the very best tools for designers and illustrators, whatever your unique requirements may be. Make sure you also check out our guide to the productivity tools. you can't live without.

01. Essential tools for designers

12 essential tools for graphic designers in 2018 (opens in new tab)
Our guide to the must-have hardware, software and equipment to have at your disposal this year, ranging from laptops to creative software, SSDs and graphics tablets, Pantone swatch books, cameras, and ergonomic desks and chairs.

8 tools to help you work remotely as a freelancer (opens in new tab)
Set yourself up anywhere with these essential pieces of kit for freelancers: a lightweight laptop, battery pack, USB-C hub, Mobile WiFi, noise cancelling headphones, a portable wireless printer, an external SSD and a decent VPN.

4 design tools you never knew you needed (opens in new tab)
These four new tools for 2018 could inspire you to rethink the way you work. Our list includes tools for collaboration, for finding colours, working in 3D and inspiring creative thinking.

02. Productivity tools for designers

8 simple productivity tools for designers (opens in new tab)
Become more efficient right away with these must-have apps, including Momentum, Magnet, Freedom, Spark, Noizio, Harvest, Be Focused Pro and Time.

9 tools to make graphic design easier in 2018 (opens in new tab)
Top tools to speed up your workflow, including Photoshop Lightroom CC, Photoshop CC’s Curvature Pen and Select Subject tools, Illustrator CC's Cineware plugin and Puppet Warp tool, InVision Studio, Lightwell, Wake, and Easle.

8 ways to automate common design tasks (opens in new tab)
Free up more time to work on creative projects by automating day-to-day tasks such as sorting your inbox, managing your social media accounts and chasing invoices with the help of these useful tools.

03. Collaboration tools for designers

6 best collaboration tools for design studios (opens in new tab)
Top tools for six common tasks: communicating with the rest of the team, brainstorming ideas, managing shared to-do lists, keeping track of projects visually, managing feedback and revisions, and designing collaboratively.

5 new collaboration tools you need to try (opens in new tab)
Need to collaborate on a design project with others? Here are five new tools that may help, including Figma,, Mural, Slack Desktop and Flock 2.0. 

04. Creative tools for designers

20 tools to make you more creative in 2018 (opens in new tab)
Some brilliant new tools to consider adding to your creative toolbox, including Fontjoy, Google Material Design Colour Tool, Smartify, Letrs, Wick, Calligraphr, Pixelmator Pro, ARKit, CodePen Projects and many more...

5 free apps that can boost your creativity (opens in new tab)
Get your brain moving in the right direction with these creativity-inducing apps, including Brainsparker, SimpleMind, TED Talks, Coffitivity and Unstuck.

10 tools to make illustration easier in 2018 (opens in new tab)
Top tools to improve your workflow, including Kyle's Brushes (from Kyle T. Webster) Wacom tablets, Adobe Illustrator CC 22.0, Affinity Photo for iPad, Corel Painter 2018, ArtRage 5, Moleskine Smart Writing Set, Inkscape 0.92 and Autodesk SketchBook 8.4.

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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 (opens in new tab) 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.