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The best graphic design tools in August 2018

We’ve curated a cracking collection of fantastic new graphic design tools this month, all of which are guaranteed to speed up your workflow and help get those creative juices flowing. 

From a slick new keyboard that claims it’s the product “Apple should be making – but better” to a beautiful new book packed with tips and tricks for making it as a designer, and more, we’ve got all the best new tools for graphic designers right here. 

01. Kono Hexgears X-1 keyboard

This wireless mechanical keyboard promises peak performance everywhere

Manufacturer: Kono, Hexgears
Keyboard type: Mechanical
Connectivity: 4 device Bluetooth wireless connectivity; USB Type C
Lighting: Full USB and backlight modes
case: Machined aluminium
Price: $99
Reasons to buy
+4 device Bluetooth memory, 6KRO+Cutting-edge RGB lighting tech+Ultra portable
Reasons to avoid
-Review product not available yet

If you’re one of the thousands of creatives around the world crying out for a mechanical keyboard to use with your Apple device of choice, the new Kono Hexgears X-1 keyboard will be of interest. Launched as a Kickstarter campaign, the X-1 is an ultra-thin, high performance, multi-device Bluetooth mechanical keyboard that claims to be better than Apple’s Magic keyboard. 

Kaihua ’Choc’ switches promise 70 million presses (which is much longer than industry standard Cherry MX switches, say the team), while discrete wired (USB-C) and wireless (Bluetooth) modes give you ultimate portability. 

The Kickstarter, which will run until 23 August, 3:59 PM BST, has easily beat its funding goals. If you want to support the project, you’ll need to pledge $99 or more before Thursday to secure your own X-1.

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02. Book of Ideas: 2: A Journal of Creative Direction and Graphic Design

Advice, insight and inspiration for designers at any stage

Publisher: Brand Nu
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
ISBN-10: 0993540015
ISBN-13: 978-0993540011
Pre-order price: £16.99
Reasons to buy
+Beautifully laid out+Stunning work+Instant inspiration

Designer Radim Malinic is gearing up to release the second volume of his best-selling journal, Book of Ideas 2. In the follow-up, he shares more learnings and musings on how to succeed in the fast-paced creative industries. Chapters cover everything from using humour and how to entertain the “right wrongs” to creativity for good, embracing limitations and more. Malinic's new graphic design book is due for release on 7 September, but you can preorder now for £16.99.

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03. Microsoft Surface Go

Microsoft’s smaller Surface is great for travelling, students and creatives on a budget

Processor: Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y
Storage: 64GB eMMC; 128GB SSD
Memory: 4GB; 8GB RAM
Display: 10-inch PixelSense touchscreen, 1800 x 1200 (217 PPI)
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615
Dimensions: 245 x 175 x 8.3 mm
Connections: 1 x USB-C, 3.5 mm headphone jack, 1 x Surface Connect port, Surface Type Cover Port, 4 1 x MicroSDXC Card Reader
Reasons to buy
+Superb design+Highly portable
Reasons to avoid
-Keyboard cover is extra-Less powerful than an iPad

The ultra-portable Surface Go is a 10-inch Windows tablet that aims to be a smaller and more affordable Surface Pro. A follow-up to 2015’s Surface 3, the tiny tablet runs a full version of Windows 10 (in S mode) on an Intel Pentium chip, and starts at $400 with 64GB of flash storage and 4GB memory – that’s double Apple’s latest iPad.

Like the rest of the Surface family, the Go features Microsoft’s excellent hinge, which bends nearly 180 degrees, turning the machine into a digital canvas for drawing and note-taking. And if you invest in a new Surface Go Type Cover keyboard you’ll find typing more comfortable than other 10-inch devices, with full-sized keys (positioned in a smaller space) and a glass trackpad.

The responsive display is gorgeous. It isn’t the sharpest at 1,800 x 1,200 pixels, but colour accuracy is excellent. However, the new iPad is technically more powerful – if you’re looking for a device for high-res image editing or video editing, the Go isn’t for you (although our friends at TechRadar report surprisingly powerful 3D rendering from the Go, thanks to Intel’s HD Graphics 615 card).

Unlike the latest iPad, though, the Surface Go boasts a USB-C port and microSD card reader. This means that the tablet’s storage can be increased, and the Go has two ways to hard-wire a dock and expand displays.

If you’re after a highly portable, full-blown 10-inch computer as a secondary device, the Surface Go makes for a lean, mean travel companion, and is worth a look.

04. Procreate 4.1

New creativity and workflow features make this excellent iPad app even better for artists

Developer: Savage
Version: 4.1
OS: iOS 11.1 or newer
Supported on: 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2015 and 2017 models), 10.5-inch iPad Pro, 9.7-inch iPad Pro, iPad (6th generation/2018 model), iPad (5th generation/2017 model), iPad Air 2, iPad Air, iPad mini 4, iPad mini 3, iPad mini 2
Reasons to buy
+New features+Very affordable 
Reasons to avoid
-iPad only

Procreate 4.1 has landed, bringing more top tools to Savage Interactive’s excellent sketching, painting and illustration iPad app. Among the new features are an incredibly fast Liquify filter that lets you push, pull, pinch and twirl your artwork at 120fps – you can also scale the pressure, and use the live Reconstruct feature to tweak your changes to perfection. Warm Transform, meanwhile, enables you to wrap, fold and curve layers into position, while the new Symmetry Drawing Guide creates mirror strokes while you draw, speeding up your workflow. 

The app’s new Perspective tools have also been expanded to include 2D and Isometric Guides, and additional gesture control improvements also aid workflow. The update is free for existing users, and £9.99/US$9.99 for new customers.

Also read: 30 of the best Procreate brushes

05. 50 Gouache Shader Brushes for Affinity Designer

These stunning gouache textures are also available for Procreate and Illustrator

Compatible with: Affinity Designer (also Adobe Illustrator and Procreate
Hardware needed: Computer or iPad
Price: $17
Reasons to buy
+Superb brushes+Great detail+Affordable

Add rich gouache effects to your designs with this pack of 50 gouache brushes for Affinity Designer (you can also get them for Illustrator and Procreate). For $17, you get: 10 gouache liner brushes for giving the edges of objects a textured feel; 20 great 360-degree gouache shader brushes for adding depth to your work; and 20 gouache edge shader brushes for applying gouache textures to edges without the need for a mask – saving you time and CPU.

06. Grid Builder – Layout Composer

Lettering layouts never looked better

Compatible with: Photoshop, Illustrator, Procreate, Sketch
Price: $19
Reasons to buy
+Improves your lettering compositions+Can be resized for unique art+Very affordable 

Hand lettering artists Ian Barnard and Stefan Kunz have teamed up to create Grid Builder, a set of 35 individual grid shapes you can use as guides to ensure great composition within your lettering work – “so it doesn't look like letters just thrown onto a page”. The grids can be resized, stretched and re-coloured​ so that every layout you compose looks completely different from the next. And they work in most main lettering programs too, from Illustrator and Photoshop to Procreate; on desktop and mobile. The set costs $19.

07. Texture Brushes for Photoshop

Add depth to your Photoshop images

Texture brushes: 107
Compatible with: Photoshop CS6+
Price: $19
Reasons to buy
+Diverse set of brushes +Compatible with Photoshop CC 2015+ and Photoshop Sketch

There are 107 texture brushes for Photoshop in this $11 mega bundle from illustrator and designer Jasmine Lové. They react to pen-pressure, pen-tilt, rotation and directional functions, and you can build many of them from light to dark for fantastic shading effects on 3D objects in your paintings. 

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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.