20 tools to make you more creative in 2018

Part of getting your work-life balance right is finishing your work on time – or even ahead of time. And the coming new year is a great time to ask whether some simple changes to your workflow could help you achieve this.

One thing you can do to improve your productivity and creativity is to re-examine your toolkit to see if there are new tools that could help you do the job more efficiently. For example, knowing the perfect font pairings is sure to speed things up typographically.

In this article, we showcase some of best new releases from the last 12 months. Could one of these help you become more creative, more productive... or both?

01. Affinity Photo for iPad

Screenshot of Affinity Photo editing a photo

The iPad version of Affinity Photo lets you use all the features of a full image editing program on the move

First launched in 2014, image editing software Affinity Photo has won itself a big fanbase by being both cheaper than its rival Photoshop, and in many ways more powerful. With features such as multi-million percent zoom, it's earned its place on our list of best alternatives to Photoshop.

This June the tool took another big step forward, launching as a full version on iPad. That’s right, this is no stripped-down version, but a full-featured photo editing tool on Apple’s tablet, and that’s something Adobe is unable to offer at the moment.

02. Google Backup & Sync

Screenshot of Google Backup & Sync settings to auto backup files on a MacBook Pro

Never lose your work again with Google Backup & Sync

Remember those days when you ran the risk of losing all your work due to a computer failure or theft? Nowadays there’s no excuse, especially now that Google has launched a tool called Backup & Sync. 

Quite simply, it automatically backs up all the files on your computer, including your hard drive and your memory cards, to the cloud. And it won’t cost you a penny, as long as you stay within the 15GB limit imposed by Google Drive. Learn more about the tool in our news post about it.

03. Lightroom CC

Lightroom AI shows a girl leaning forwards holding a feather, on tablet, laptop and phone screens

Lightroom CC uses some nifty AI to tag your images automatically

Bear with us for a moment, because this might get a bit confusing. Photoshop Lightroom was first released by Adobe in 2007. Despite having ‘Photoshop’ in its name, it wasn’t a plugin to Photoshop, or a lightweight version of Photoshop such as Photoshop Elements. It was essentially a standalone tool that offered some image editing capabilities, but its main appeal was as an image organiser.

That original version of Lightroom is still available, and has now been retitled Lightroom Classic CC. But Adobe doesn’t really want you to look at that, now they’ve released a brand new, next-generation tool as part of the Creative Cloud called Lightroom CC. 

This new tool is powered by artificial intelligence, which allows it automatically tags photos with searchable keywords to save you having to do it manually. So it should prove extremely useful, for example,  on a shoot when you need to take large numbers of photos. You can learn more about the new tool in our news story about it.

04. Fontjoy

Screenshot of Fontjoy website with strapline 'Font pairing made simple'

Find new font pairings with this intuitive tool

How do you find pairs of fonts that work together well? Well, you can follow these tips and do it yourself. But 2017 also saw a new tool called Fontjoy, which generates attractive and functional font pairings automatically. 

You can choose how similar or contrasting you want your pairings to be, and even if you don’t find anything suitable, it’s a great way to start experimenting with and thinking about type. You can learn more about Fontjoy in our news story about it

05. Google Material Design Colour Tool

The Color Tool showing shades of bright pink

Google’s free tool lets you create and share colour palettes then try them out on sample UIs

New for 2017, this free tool from Google helps you to pick the right colours for your apps, in accordance with its Material Design principles. Essentially, it makes it easy to create and share colour palettes, and to apply them to a sample user interface. 

Most intriguingly, it assesses how legible your text will be within your colour scheme, according to accessibility guidelines. Learn more about the tool in this blog post.

06. Smartify

Smartify app scanning an artwork in a gallery

Get informed about art at the moment you view it with Smartify

One of the best ways to get a burst of creative inspiration is to wander around in your local art gallery. But sometimes seeing even great art can be an empty and dispiriting experience if you don’t have the knowledge to understand it in context. 

Dubbed ‘Shazam for art’, Smartify is a free app that allows you to learn about a piece right there and then, simply by scanning it. You can read more about the tool in our news story about its launch

07. Letrs

Letrs' font catalogue on an iMac and a laptop screen

Access thousands of fonts without paying each time you use one

From ‘Shazam for art’ to ‘Spotify for typographers’, Letrs is a cloud-based font library that offers you access to more than 2,000 quality fonts in return for a monthly subscription. 

It’s similar to Adobe Typekit, then, but the main difference is that the cost doesn’t increase, no matter how much you use it. You can read more about Letrs in our news story about it.

08. Wick

A haunted house picture has been drawn in the Wick browser editor

Wick solves the same problems as Adobe Flash, but not as a proprietary download but within the browser

With Adobe Flash looking increasingly outdated and unusable, Wick offers a free, browser-based route to creating the same kind of games, animation and interactivity. 

It’s been created by Undergraduate students Zach Rispoli and Luca Damasco, with support from the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry. You can learn more about the new tool in our news post about it.

09. Calligraphr

Launched this February, Calligraphr is a new tool that lets you make fonts from your own handwriting. You start by downloading a template as a PNG or PDF. Fill it with your handwriting, scan it, and the tool then translates your scrawl into usable fonts. If you’re not happy with them, you can edit them digitally. See it in action in the video above.

10. Google Blocks

A CG environment shows stylised trees, fields and flowers with mountains behind

Google Blocks lets you create art you can walk around in using a VR headset

A free tool for owners of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets, Google Blocks lets you create low-poly art within a virtual reality environment. Designed to complement Tilt Brush rather than replace it, Google Blocks lets you export your low-poly artwork to games software such as Unity as an .obj file, or download it as an animated GIF.

11. Gravity Sketch VR

Two vehicles drawn with Gravity Sketch VR

3D drawing software Gravity Sketch has launched a VR app

We’re big fans of 3D drawing software Gravity Sketch, so it’s great news that it has launched a spin-off virtual reality tool. 

Now available on Steam for the HTC Vive headset, and coming to the Oculus Rift soon, it lets you pick and choose between freehand drawing and control-point editing, and once you’re happy with your models you can transfer them to CAD software to refine them.

12. Pixelmator Pro

Screen shot of Pixelmator Pro being used to edit a portrait photo

Pixelmator has upped its game by releasing a high-end version, Pixelmator Pro

First launched in 2007, low-price Mac image editor Pixelmator has become a popular choice for those who can’t afford to subscribe to Photoshop. In November, Pixelmator upped its game by releasing a high-end version called Pixelmator Pro, which includes a modern single-window interface, non-destructive, GPU-powered image editing tools, and machine learning-enhanced editing features.

With Affinity and Sketch already dominating the space for high-end Photoshop alternatives, and InVision Studio (number 20 on our list) coming up quickly on the inside, we’re not sure how much traction Pixelmator Pro will get; it certainly hasn’t set the design community on fire as yet, and at $59.99, it’s not particularly competitive on price.

That said, if you’re a fan of the original Pixelmator and like the way it does things, but feel it’s time to get more features, it could be the perfect choice. Either way, why not take advantage of the 30-day free trial and see what it can do for you?

13. Microsoft Video Indexer

A video of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is analysed by the Video Indexer

Microsoft's Video Indexer uses AI to analyse your videos

2017 was the year when every flurry of tools came with added AI, and here’s another example. Microsoft's Video Indexer uses artificial intelligence to analyse your videos. 

It can detect when a scene changes and when text appears in a video, and can understand spoken words well enough to produce an audio transcript. It even uses sentimental analysis to identify particular emotions being expressed. All this has obvious appeal to anyone producing a large numbers of videos. Learn more about the tool in this blog post.

14. ARKit

A man holds a tablet in front of an empty table, and sees a toy car through its AR app

ARKit makes it easy to create augmented reality experiences for iOS 11 devices

Just when we thought augmented reality was yesterday’s news, along came Pokemon Go and everyone got excited about it once more. And this summer, Apple got in on the act by releasing ARKit, a new framework that allows you to easily create AR experiences for iPhones and iPads running iOS 11. 

You can check out some of the coolest stuff developers have built with it here.

15. Corel Painter 2018

A still life of flowers painted with Corel Painter to look like oil paints

Corel’s used AI to let you apply digital paint in a way that closely mirrors traditional methods

Getting a little ahead of itself, Corel launched the 2018 version of its art software, Painter, this July. And the standout feature is a Thick Paint feature that lets you apply digital paint to your canvas in layers. 

This new innovation is aimed squarely at artists from a traditional painting background, who want to pull, push, scrape and build up their pixelated paint in a way that’s very close to the real thing. Learn more about the new version of Corel Painter here.

16. CodePen Projects

Screenshot shows CodePen Projects in action

Coding environment CodePen now lets you build websites within it

Most web designers will know CodePen as a way to test, showcase and critique each other's code snippets. This year, though, it has expanded its appeal by launching its own IDE (Integrated Development Environment).

CodePen Projects lets you build websites within your browser and preview them while you’re building them. You can start from scratch or use templates, and there are some pretty smart debugging tools too. Read more about CodePen Projects in this blog post.

17. Photoshop Curvature Pen Tool

Photoshop's Curvature Pen Tool draws a kingfisher

Photoshop’s new tool makes it easy to draw curves

This October, Adobe released the latest big update to Photoshop CC, version 19. And the biggest news was the addition of a brand new tool to the software to make drawing curved lines easier. 

Found under the Pen tool in the Tools panel, the Curvature Pen tool lets you to click to add points, and then automatically create curves between them. You can then push and pull segments of the curve to modify it. Learn how to use the new feature here

18. Adobe Dimension

Adobe Dimension screenshot shows a kitchen counter with grapes, glassware and a beautifully designed Gatsby champagne ice cream tub

Create photorealistic comps with 2D and 3D assets using Adobe’s new tools

Initially launched in beta as ‘Project Felix’, Adobe Dimension is a new tool for 2D to 3D compositing. You can use it to create photorealistic comps with 2D and 3D assets, as well as applying 2D art to a 3D model. You can read more about how to use the new tool here.

19. Cineware for Illustrator

Screenshot of the Cineware for Illustrator tool in action to wrap coffee cup label designs around 3D cups

This cool plugin makes Adobe’s Illustrator and Maxon’s C4D play nicely with each other

Maxon, the maker of Cinema 4D, has spent the last few years working with Adobe to make the interoperability between their software suites more and more seamless for users. And this October they upped the ante with the release of Cineware for Illustrator. 

This free plugin offers a new way to bring C4D assets into Adobe Illustrator, and easily combine 2D and 3D graphics in a similar way to Adobe Dimension (above). Read more about the plugin in our article about it

20. InVision Studio

Screenshot of InVision Studio being used on an astronaut image design

Will InVision’s new app be a Photoshop killer?

Over the last year or so, InVision has become well established as a web- and app-prototyping platform, and now for January 2018, it’s upping the ante by launching its own Photoshop alternative, InVision Studio. 

This tool will seamlessly fit into the InVision environment and mean you no longer have to design your UI visuals in one app and import them into another. We’ve not seen the tool in action yet, but InVision seems pretty confident, calling it “The world's most powerful screen design tool”. We can’t wait to see it in action.

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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, 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.