Let’s talk about what’s in my toolbox. Do you ever wonder what design tools or resources graphic designers use to stay up-to-date with the industry? Well, I’m here to spill the tea on every single resource I use that helps me be the designer I am today.

Even if you’re not a designer, this list could be helpful as I will be discussing many free resources that anyone could take advantage of, whether it’s for a school classroom flyer or a new email marketing campaign for your brand.

Inspiration

Before getting started on a project, it helps to do some research to see what else is out there. It also helps me determine what to do vs. what not to do, or it can give me some inspiration to help me get started. Finding inspiration is the first step I take before I start any project.

1. Dribbble

 

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Dribbble offers so many ideas for illustration, logo design, UI/UX design, layout, and more. Most industry professionals have an account where they will periodically share shots from a project, could be a work in progress, the final project, or something they are working on for fun.

 

2. Pinterest

 

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Pinterest is all about what you search, making it a great design tool. Pinterest is similar to Google in the fact that it operates as a search engine; you can find anything on Pinterest. Looking for some business card design inspiration? Type your topic into the search bar—there are likely to be thousands of relevant results.

 

3. Behance

 

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Behance is more of a portfolio site, but it too offers great search options. A lot of the projects on this site are designed in long-form so you can scroll down a long page to see the evolution of a project which can be awesome to see.

 

4. Site inspire
Site Inspire is a great resource to get inspiration for web design. It’s a showcase of websites linked to their respective sites. You can search by design style, industry, and platforms. It’s a great tool to find some unique functionality or design styles out there.

 

5. Codrops

 

 

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“Useful resources and inspiration for creative minds” is how the brand describes itself. If you check out Codrops “Playground” page, you will see hundreds of different experiments designers and developers create to push their creative limits. There are endless ideas for website animations and functionality. If you want some inspiration for some menu animation for your new website, this will be a great site to check out.

 

6. Awwwards

 

 

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Awwwards is a fantastic website that delivers awards to the best sites in the industry based on different industry categories. Awwwards is also a great resource for getting inspiration for websites. The Collections page is worth checking out because it provides all sort of inspiration based on groups like about pages or footer design.

 

Essential Design Tools

Below we will get into the specific tools I use to help with crafting color palettes, type choices, along with where I find free photos and icons. Because I have a photography background, I would prefer to shoot custom photography for our clients, but sometimes that isn’t always possible. That’s where commercial-free photos can come in handy. These photos are also useful for anyone out there.

 

Colors

I love to experiment with color palettes. It’s one of my favorite parts of the design process. There are so many outlets you can use for inspiration. Not only can the items below get your creative juices flowing, but so can taking a look outside or looking at everyday objects around you.

 

7. Coolors

 

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Coolors is different because it allows you to explore premade color palettes that other members have already created. You can browse by the latest palettes, or you can type a color into the search bar to find some palettes with a specific color. Say you know you need to have blue in the palette but aren’t sure which colors would complement the blue. Type “blue” into the search bar and see for yourself what colors look best with it.

You can expand a palette and adjust the tints or shades of one specific color—or you can lock particular colors and hit the spacebar for the system to auto-generate the best colors to go along with the ones you locked. One of my favorite resources.

 

8. Pinterest

I love exploring color palettes and once again, Pinterest is a solid choice, because a lot of the ideas get pulled from real life photos (like an orange, a butterfly, or an ocean). Seeing real life examples helps me achieve certain moods I’m looking for and can make choosing the correct palette much easier on me.

 

9. Color Psychology

Color psychology is important. To learn more about the importance of keeping it in mind when designing and marketing for brands, check out this blog post, I wrote about it. The tool I use the most for referencing every single thing you need to know about color is this blog post by CoSchedule. The post gets into everything from explaining the types of different colors, what you need to know about designing for color blindness, to what emotions each color gives off.

 

Fonts

When it comes to choosing fonts, I want as much flexibility as I can get. With so many free options available to us, it makes choosing a (free) font so much easier. Below are my two favorite places to go for free fonts.

 

10. Google Fonts

Google Fonts is a great tool for browsing and downloading free fonts. It lets you select more than one font, so once you have all the fonts you’d like to download you only have to click the download button once to get every single typeface in one download. You can search by category (serif, sans-serif, display, etc.) Language, or font properties (such as thickness, slant, or width).

 

11. Adobe Typekit

You will need to have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription to access the benefits of Adobe Typekit. If you do have a subscription, don’t forget about this critical design tool. There are a variety of fonts within Typekit that you can access that you would otherwise have to pay for so you can get more variety of fonts with this option.

 

Free Photos

Photography is an essential asset in any marketing material, website, or print piece. I would prefer to take custom photography for every one of our clients, but sometimes that isn’t possible. In cases where we don’t have a budget for custom photography, I resort to free photography resources. You’d be amazed at how many websites have commercial-free photos for your use.

 

12. Unsplash

 

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Unsplash is my favorite because of how many photos there are to choose from. Element5 has a stock photography page on Unsplash with over 12,00,000 views!

 

13. Pexels

 

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Pexels functions similarly to Unsplash, but you might find different photos here than you would on Unsplash. For example, Unsplash has more landscape and food photography and Pexels has more office and people shots.

 

14. Death to Stock

 

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Death to stock prides themselves on producing quality photos that don’t look like stock photos. From an aesthetic standpoint, I would prefer this one overall. The only downfall is the quantity. There aren’t as many to choose from as you have to sign up for its newsletter to receive a free pack each month.

 

Free Icons

Below are my favorite websites to access free icons for just about anything you need. As an agency, we value custom icon design for each project but sometimes being able to access free generic icons can be beneficial to both our clients and us.

 

15. The Noun Project

The Noun Project is a library of free icons created by artists from all over. You have to give proper credit if you decide to use them for commercial purposes.

 

16. Creative Market

 

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Creative Market offers “Free Goods” every week. Each week, they upload a new set of free goods that range from photos, icons, illustrations, patterns, social media templates, and Lightroom presets. I make it a habit to check out the free goods every Monday and download the ones I think I will use the most to my resource library on my computer.

 

17. Icon Bros

Icon Bros has thousands of free icons, and you can also search by collection, which can help you have enough icons in the same style for an entire project.

 

Mockups

Below are my two favorite resources for finding both free and paid design mockups.

 

18. Pixeden

Pixeden offers so many different mockups for just about anything. They offer premium and free resources, which is nice.

 

19. Creative Market

Creative Market also offers many different mockups. They are usually not that expensive, and you can even find some in their “Free Goods” they offer each week.

 

News and Updates

Staying up-to-date with the industry is crucial when we live in a time where things change every day. To stay at the top of our game, we use Muzli.

 

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20. Muzli

We use the Muzli Google Chrome Extension, so whenever we open a new tab in Chrome, we automatically see six new updates within the design industry. When you sign up, you get to fill out what information you want to see, so the platform is fully customizable as well.

 

Applications

We wouldn’t be able to design the way we do without the applications we use every day. I will make a list of the top design tool applications I use on a day-to-day basis. I use Lightroom and Photoshop for photography. Illustrator is used for logos and vector illustration, while Indesign is for layout.

At Element5, we use a combination of Sketch and Invision for our web projects. Last but not least, Slack is a chat software we use to keep our office in communication. Slack calls itself a collaboration hub and it embodies that fully. You can create channels, groups, and it integrates with a lot of other software we use.

21. Sketch
22. Invision
23. Lightroom
24. Photoshop
25. Illustrator
26. Indesign
27. Slack

 

What are some of your favorite design tools? Let us know in the comments below.

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Author

Sara Kauten

Art Director

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