Graphic Design Essentials - What tools do you need?
Updated: Nov 28, 2018
Are you interested in getting into graphic design? Here is my recommended list of tools of the trade.
I call these essential items as you will likely want to collect these items to be a successful graphic designer. Having said that, you certainly don't need everything listed here right away to get started and I have tried to give a few options on the more pricey items. Hope this guide helps you pick out the right graphic design tools for you!
Let's start of with a decent spec PC for graphic design. Most graphic design packages put a fair amount of strain of your PC so it's most important to ensure you have sufficient RAM and decent processors. I would suggest 16 GB of RAM if possible or a minimum of 8GB of RAM. An i5 or i7 processor and a minimum of 2.2 / 2.4Ghz processor speed.
You may think you need a specialist graphics card, but unless your looking to get into video editing, the graphics card is probably fine on most models.
You will get higher specs for your money with a desktop PC. I would recommend something like this HP 8300 which comes with 16 GB of RAM, a Core i5 Processor, 3.2 Ghz processor speed and a 1TB hard drive.
Take a look at the HP 8300 on Amazon - https://amzn.to/2DmUkLT
If you're on tighter budget, maybe something like this Dell Optiplex with 8 GB of RAM, Core i5 Processor, 3.2 Ghz processor speed and a 240 GB hard drive.
Take a look at the Dell Optiplex on Amazon - https://amzn.to/2DHV67k
Take a look at the Dell XPS 13 on Amazon - https://amzn.to/2QIDBXb
On a tighter budget? Take a look at the Acer Extensa 2540 which drops you to 8GB of RAM but still has the Core i5 processor and gives you 2.5Ghz processor speed. It comes with a 256 GB hard drive.
Take a look at the Acer Extensa 2540 on Amazon - https://amzn.to/2QN5sWj
Or to spend even less, you could opt for the Lenovo IdeaPad 320 with 8GB of RAM, i3 processor, 2.4 Ghz processor speed and 128GB of hard drive capacity.
Take a look at the Lenovo IdeaPad 320 on Amazon - https://amzn.to/2zeHCMt
External Hard Drive
This one is super important. The last thing you want is to put all your time and effort into your design work, only to have something happen to your PC and you lose it all. You should find a way to back-up your work. The benefit of having an external hard drive is that you can also use this to transport large files if required.
I personally use a Toshiba external hard drive so take a look at this one and select one that suits your needs in terms of your budget and the memory capacity.
Take a look at the Toshiba HDTB410EK3AA on Amazon - https://amzn.to/2ONEVGz
Many designer use a Pen Tablet so they can draw freehand elements during their workflow. These tablets also generally come with buttons that can be assigned to shortcuts in your graphic design programs that will speed up your workflow.
The most well know brand used by graphic designers is the Wacom. They offer the standard Wacom Intuos tablet in small or medium sizes. The budget model is wired and all other models use bluetooth connectivity.
Wacom Intuos S - https://amzn.to/2DH3ZxL
Wacom Intuos S with bluetooth - https://amzn.to/2Kb4X5C
Wacom Intuos M with bluetooth - https://amzn.to/2zW2M1j
The Pro version has extra features including more customisable shortcut keys.
Wacom Intuos Pro S - https://amzn.to/2QOQjDF
Wacom Intuos Pro M - https://amzn.to/2DqibKs
Wacom Intuos Pro L - https://amzn.to/2PwAyEN
You most likely already have a mobile phone but a decent smartphone is an important tool as a graphic designer. For a start, you may want to use the camera(s) to take images of your work. You might be sharing your work on social media for example Instagram which is pretty much a mobile only platform. You may also want to take advantage of the various design related applications available as part of your Adobe Creative Cloud or some of the plethora of other apps available.
I current use the LG G6 which is not the newest model but has respectable specs and benefits from having a large and wide screen and dual lens camera so I can take tighter or wide angle photos - all for a very reasonable price.
Take a look at the LG G6 on Amazon - https://amzn.to/2RZhEUa
In term of software, the industry standard is the Adobe Creative Cloud suite with programs like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign being widely used in the graphic design industry. Following the Adobe MAX conference this year, there is also a lot of buzz around Adobe XD being the next big thing.
Adobe's pricing is based on a monthly subscription which may be costly in the long run compared to paying upfront for any given program. The benefits are that you have access to the whole range of Adobe creative applications and will always be able to update to the latest version. Adobe also include Typekit in your subscription giving you access to a collection of 14,000 fonts and just announced this year (2018) at the Adobe MAX conference that they are opening these up to have no limit to the number you can sync directly with your Adobe programs which was great news for users like me!
Single apps are available if you want to concentrate on learning just one, or if you are a student (or a teacher) the price is heavily discounted.
If you can't afford the Adobe suite right now and want to try out some free alternatives, they include GIMP which is comparable to Adobe Photoshop, Darkable is similar to Adobe Lightroom and Davinci Resolve has a free version of it's editing suite to consider instead of Adobe Premier.
If you want to keep track of your projects and stay organised, I use and would highly recommend trying out an app called Trello. The app is free to use and works on both desktop and via a mobile app – allowing you to make customisable pin boards for your tasks, thoughts and goals.
Artistic Tools for Physical Creations
As a graphic designer, you will spend a lot of time working at the computer screen – but you will also need some tools for coming up with ideas, sketching and noting things on the move.
Yes, we are all about digital creation, but when you are out and about, you may want to keep a small notebook to use as a sketchpad when inspiration strikes, or to note down anything you need to remember for later. I found these Dingbats high quality hardcover notebooks on Amazon which are “made from degradable and recyclable materials and 100% Vegan”.
Pens and Pencils
You will need some pens and pencils too. You may find you discover your own favourites brands and styles but I will give a few recommendation for you.
You may want to invest in a set of pencils with various hardnesses like these ARTEZA Professional Drawing Sketch Pencils.
I have this pack of Sharpie coloured permanent markers. These are great but keep in mind these are permanent markers and will bleed though thin paper so be careful!
For a set of softer water based ink colour pens, you could try this set of Marker Pens which has both 3-6mm tips at one end and 1-2mm tips on the other.
You're all set! Thanks so much for reading, I really hope this has been helpful to you.
I will reiterate that if you are interested in graphic design, grab whatever paper and pens you have around and start coming up with ideas and drawing other peoples and if you want to develop your interest and don't have much of a budget right now, just pin this article and collect these items over time.
Full disclosure: if you use some of the links on this post, it helps me out as I get a small commission on some purchases and it doesn't effect the price you pay. These are my recommendations based on my experience but feel free to click through on any link and then shop around to make sure you are happy before purchasing.