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The best new graphic design tools of 2017 so far

Whether it’s new versions of well-known software, or totally new apps from startup companies, new tools for graphic designers are coming out all the time. But graphic designers are busy people and it’s often difficult to keep track of them all.

In this post, we’ve rounded up the best new graphic design tools of 2017 so far. Although it may not feel like it, we’re already a third of the way through the year, and there are plenty of them to get your teeth into! Looking for typographic inspiration? Here is our guide to the perfect font pairings.

01. CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 2017 (opens in new tab)

Corel has brought AI to vector drawing

Corel has brought AI to vector drawing

Corel software has a warm place in the hearts of artists and illustrators worldwide. The company has struggled, though, to get the attention of graphic designers, who tend to be more excited about Adobe and, increasingly, Affinity releases. Yet this April, Corel suddenly got everyone’s attention with what it’s calling the ‘first AI-based vector drawing experience’.

With the new LiveSketch tool in CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 2017, hand-drawn strokes are intelligently interpreted, adjusted, and combined with existing vector curves, making it simple to sketch and draw directly on a digital pen-enabled device.

Built specifically for Windows, the new software also offers new workflow enhancements, plus support for the latest technologies including advanced stylus and touch-enabled devices, the Microsoft Surface Dial, and Ultra HD 5K monitors. Read our full review of the suite here (opens in new tab).

02. Adobe Illustrator 2017.1 (opens in new tab)

You can now crop within Illustrator

You can now crop within Illustrator

In early April, Adobe released the latest version of Illustrator, and there was one feature that really got heads turning. In the year that the tool celebrated its 30th birthday, the one thing users have been long asking for finally arrived: the ability to crop an image directly in Illustrator. That means you no longer need to use clipping masks or edit the image in Photoshop. The new version of Illustrator also comes with a redesigned Color Theme panel, plus the start screen for creating new documents now loads even faster than before.

03. Adobe InDesign 2017.1 (opens in new tab)

The latest version of InDesign has a smart new interface

The latest version of InDesign has a smart new interface

Along with Illustrator, Adobe gave us a new version of InDesign in April, with a revamped and zippy interface. The tools and panels now have updated icons that match those in Photoshop and Illustrator, making it much easier to work across the suite. Plus you can now customise your interface to one of four UI themes (dark, medium-dark, medium-light, and light), while a redesigned New Documents panel works more intuitively with Adobe Stock templates.

04. Calligraphr (opens in new tab)

Calligraphr lets you make fonts from your own handwriting

Calligraphr lets you make fonts from your own handwriting

Calligraphr is a great new tool for converting handwriting to fonts that’s free to use. You begin by downloading a template as a PNG or PDF, fill it in with handwritten letters, photograph or scan it, and upload the image. Calligraphr then translates your writing into fonts. If you don’t like a character, there’s no need to start over again; just edit it with the included tools. You can also create your own ligatures, as well as drawing different variants of each character, which are then used randomly to give your font a more authentic look.

05. Picnic for Sketch (opens in new tab)

Picnic lets designers collaborate on a single Sketch file

Picnic lets designers collaborate on a single Sketch file

Picnic is a plugin for Sketch that makes it easy for multiple designers to collaborate on a single file. You can use a local drive or sync it to the cloud; all you need is a shared project directory. The tool lets you share symbols, colours, and styles, which are in-sync across your team so they’re always up to date. Picnic been in private alpha since March, and you can sign up for the public beta on the site.

06. Prototypo (opens in new tab)

Create your own fonts quickly with Prototypo

Create your own fonts quickly with Prototypo

Have you ever spent hours fruitlessly searching for the perfect font? Ideally, you think, you’d create your own, but in practice that could take months. So the thinking behind Prototypo is to let you create your own bespoke font in just a few clicks. 

You start with three basic typefaces – Prototypo Fell, Prototypo Grotesk and Prototypo Elzevir – and Prototypo lets you tweak more than 30 parameters, such as thickness, aperture and roundness, as well as fine-tuning the serifs. Once you’re happy, your fonts can be exported to the .otf format, to use on Mac, Windows or Linux, or in any web browser.

07. IDEO Font Map (opens in new tab)

Ideo Font Map helps you identify font pairings you might not have thought of

Ideo Font Map helps you identify font pairings you might not have thought of

Font selection is a common task in graphic design, but too often we end up falling back on the same, safe font choices. So Font Map is a tool aimed at generating new ideas about font pairings. It’s basically an interactive font map that leverages AI and convolutional neural networks to help designers understand and see relationships across more than 750 web fonts. Learn more about the thinking behind it in this post (opens in new tab).

08. Lindlund Ruler (opens in new tab)

The Lindlund Ruler includes both physical and digital measurements

The Lindlund Ruler includes both physical and digital measurements

The Lindlund Ruler is a physical device that’s aimed at closing the gap between digital and analogue design. You can use it to measure both inches and centimetres (marked along the outer edges) and pixels and picas (which run through the middle). 

This isn't the first time in history such a device has been created; we've learned about similar rulers going back to the pre-digital age (albeit with picas and points, rather than pixels). But if you don't have something like this already, it does seem to be the only one on the market right now, and could prove a hugely useful addition to your designer toolkit. It’s available from $30 in two colours: Midnight Black and Luxe Silver.

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Tom May
Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity (opens in new tab), published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.