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The best graphic design tools for April 2018

This month we’ve seen a whole host of new tools for graphic designers (opens in new tab). Here we've rounded up our favourites – which include an innovative Illustrator plugin, a book on breaking into the creative industries, brilliant new brushes and a 4k BenQ monitor aimed at designers.

Read on for our selection of the best new graphic design tools this April.

01. Phantasm v4

A must-have plugin for any designer who uses Illustrator.

Specifications

Software requirements Mac OS: Illustrator CC and CS6; Mac OS 10.7+
Windows: Adobe Illustrator CC and CS6; Windows 7/8/10

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible colour control
+
Easy to use

Pro colour-control Illustrator plugin Phantasm (opens in new tab) has received its biggest update in 12 years. If you’re not already aware of the highly acclaimed Astute Graphics Illustrator plugin (opens in new tab), Phantasm gives you incredible Photoshop-esque functionality in Illustrator, letting you easily adjust vector artwork, text, effects and embedded images with curves, levels, hue/saturation and other essential controls.

With the version four comes a new Phantasm panel for instant colour control, an improved vector halftone engine, a new vector halftone clipping option and a prepress correct effect with the ability to auto-apply to all layers. This is an invaluable plugin for anyone who works with vectors.

02. Oh Sh*t... What Now?

Honest advice for new graphic designers.

Specifications

Publisher: Laurence King; 1 edition (2 April 2018)
Hardcover: 128 pages
ISBN-10: 1780679637
ISBN-13: 978-1780679631

Reasons to buy

+
Funny and beautifully designed
+
Useful pearls of wisdom

Designer and author Craig Oldham’s new graphic design book (opens in new tab) offers a no-nonsense guide to breaking into the creative industries. Sharing experiences, ideas, advice, criticism and encouragement, Oldham creates a platform for meaningful discussion about how to get started in 'The Industry' and democratises the route to being a designer .

What now? Where do you live? Can you afford to live? How can you make money doing design? How do you get a job? Who do you want to work for and are you good enough? These are the questions Oh Sh*t... What Now? aims to tackle honestly.

"If nothing else it tries to make a meaningful and genuine attempt to help young creatives rather than perpetuate the same vacuous platitudes proffered by the industry," explains Oldham (opens in new tab) on Twitter.

With sections spanning education, portfolios, jobs, freelancing, working process and personal development, Oh Sh*t... What Now? makes for a comprehensive, insightful rescue for any new graduate or final year student. 

03. BenQ PD3200U 4K Designer Monitor

A fantastic 4K monitor aimed at design professionals.

Specifications

Screen size: 32-inch
Aspect ratio: 16:9
Resolution: 3,840 x 2,160
Brightness: 350 cd/m2
Response time: 4ms
Viewing angle: 178/178
Contrast ratio: 1,000:1
Colour support: sRGB 100%
Weight: 8.5kg

Reasons to buy

+
Huge 4k screen
+
Great price

Reasons to avoid

-
Takes up a lot of desk space

BenQ’s huge 32-inch Ultra HD display isn’t new: the PD3200U (opens in new tab) was added to the company’s Designer Monitor range in 2016. But thanks to its impressive performance, accurate colour reproduction, professional-focused features and reasonable price, it’s one of the best monitors you can buy today if you’re a designer or creative.

The IPS panel has a native contrast of 1000:1 and offers good viewing angles, with a 100% sRGB color gamut, plus Rec. 709 for video production. It also comes with a KVM (Keyboard Video Mouse) switch, which lets you plug in a second computer for graphic design (opens in new tab) and switch between the two while using a single monitor, keyboard and mouse. 

If you’re looking for a 4k monitor (opens in new tab) that will improve your productivity thanks to its sheer size – let alone handy pro features – the BenQ PD3200U is worth a look – just make sure you have space on your desk. 

04. Hand Drawn Illustrator Brush Bundle

Four best-selling vector brush packs bundled into one.

Specifications

Price: $49 (usually $116)
Compatibility: Illustrator CS4 and higher

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible brushes
+
Great value

Design assets company RetroSupply has bundled together four of its most recent, best-selling packs of Illustrator brushes to create the Hand Drawn Illustrator Vector Brush Bundle (opens in new tab)

In it, you get 321 high-res brushes –including vector engraving brushes, fine liner pen brushes, stippling brushes, and vector halftone brushes and swatches – and the usual example files of artwork from RetroSupply to demonstrate how the brushes might be applied. 

The best part? These would normally cost $116 if you bought the packs separately – but you can get the bundle for $49. That’s a 42 per cent discount. 

05. Chalk Dust Procreate Lettering Kit

The best chalk brushes we've found so far.

Specifications

Price: $19
Compatibility: Procreate App version 3 and 4
Hardware: Apple iPad with OS 10/11 Apple Pencil or similar stylus

Reasons to buy

+
Amazing chalk effects
+
Easy to use

Create chalkboard lettering and artwork from the dust-free environment of your iPad Pro with Ian Barnard’s Chalk Dust lettering kit for Procreate (opens in new tab). (There’s a Photoshop version of the Chalk Lettering Kit (opens in new tab) too).

Created from real chalk textures, these realistic Procreate brushes (opens in new tab) include two bonus script brushes from hand letterer Stefan Kunz and six blackboards. The pack also comes with a tips and tricks guide sheet, as well, showing you how to create shadows, shading and drawing elements like banners and floral elements.

06. New Wacom Intuos

A great tablet for creatives on a tight budget.

Specifications

Product type: Tablet with pressure-sensitive, cordless, battery-free pen
Size: small - 200 x 160 x 8.8 mm; medium - 264 x 200 x 8.8 mm
Express keys: four
Pressure Levels: 4096
Colours: Black, pistachios green
Weight: 499g

Reasons to buy

+
Good drawing experience 
+
Bundled software

Reasons to avoid

-
Some reports of nib wear

Last month Wacom announced an upgraded version of its entry-level Intuos pen drawing tablet (opens in new tab). Available in small and medium sizes – and a choice of three different colours – the new Intuos models boast improved accuracy, a built-in pen tray, four express keys and, if you choose one of the Bluetooth models, a whopping 60 per cent boost in battery life.

The new tablets also comes bundled with up to $160 worth of creative software for drawing, painting and image editing. This includes Corel Painter Essentials 6 for design and illustration, CELSYS CLIP STUDIO PAINT PRO for comic and Magna creation, and Corel AfterShot 3 for photo editing. Ideal.

You can pick up the Intuos S for $80 / £69.99, the Intuos S with Bluetooth for $100 / £89.99, and the Intuos M for $200.

07. Typerium

New content creation platform promises to empower creatives.

Reasons to buy

+
Protects creator's IP 
+
Faster payment

Reasons to avoid

-
Not launched yet

Typerium (opens in new tab) is an ambitious new decentralised content-creation platform promising a marketplace, social media network and new creative design software to boot. It hasn't launched yet, but when it does it'll be the latest creative venture to capitalise on the blockchain economy in the name of tackling piracy for content creators. 

At the heart of Typerium is a decentralised marketplace that's designed to protect the intellectual property rights of content creators. It promises an 85 per cent commission on all sales, and dramatically faster payment times thanks to its blockchain economy. 

And aside from its marketplace and integrated blockchain ecosystem, the platform spans two additional areas. It's developing its own integrated design software to “allow creators to produce high-quality visual content for any platform” and publish content with a single click. And a new social media network is also being developed – which claims it will reward users “so you don’t have to rely on just your sales”.

"Creators earn tokens by creating content," says the website, "and when consumers license that content, everyone earns a share of the value through our unique reward system. We’re building a community that’s driven by user contribution, so you don’t simply have to rely on sales, you’ll also be rewarded overtime a transaction takes place.” 

Read more: Introducing Typerium: a crypto marketplace that aims to revolutionise the creative industry (opens in new tab)

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Julia Sagar
Julia Sagar

Julia is editor-in-chief, retail at Future Ltd, where she works in e-commerce across a number of consumer lifestyle brands. A former editor of design website Creative Bloq, she’s also worked on a variety of print titles, and was part of the team that launched consumer tech website TechRadar. She's been writing about art, design and technology for over 15 years.