Essential Tools for Graphic Designers

Inspired by Jacob Cass’ recent post, I decided to do one of my own Graphic Design Essentials articles. This first part is hardware-based and the second will be the apps and software that run on said hardware. Hopefully, it will show you an insight into what I do and how I do it, secondly introducing you to some design tools that you may not have heard of.

I have also included some ‘recreational’ gadgets that deserve inclusion, although not directly relatable to graphic design.

The Workhorse

I love this computer. It’s rarely turned off unless for a software update or weekly clean. My previous machine was a 17″ Macbook pro with 2GB RAM which got me through University. It was great until the end, having zero problems (except one battery that needed replacing) and despite it’s relatively low amount of processing power, ran Photoshop and iTunes flawlessly.

The iMac was bought mid-2011 and came shipped with 4GB RAM by default. For the sake of an extra £40 off ( the boost to 12GB is worth it — it’s maximum can be 16Gb but for the time being that’s an unnecessary luxury. The 27″ allows for excellent viewing when designing logos as there is so much screen real-estate to work with.

A final point is that it’s gorgeous. Sitting on a glass desk, it looks amazing, especially when accompanied by the wireless Apple mouse and keyboard. It’s no surprise that it tends to be the computer of choice for designers worldwide.

Portable Workhorse

As much as I doubted it’s purpose on initial release, the iPad mini has become my portable workhorse. Definitely one of the graphic design essentials I recommend everyone owning. It’s great to show friends and family, or potential clients your portfolio on, either by an image slideshow or just opening up your website.

Replying to emails on the iPad is a little more hassle and I tend to wait to get back to the computer before doing it.

I currently have several external hard drives, the Western Digital My Book (1TB) and Western Digital Elements (1TB) amongst others.

I’m by no means a WD fanboy, these were just purchased as they were the most popular choice on Amazon at the time, coming in around £80 each. They do look good and sit well with the Apple design ethos, which is nice.

The first contains my iTunes music, podcasts, videos, etc and RAW photos, with the second being given two 500GB partitions for Time Machine backups and manual backup of client work, folders and software. This setup may not be ideal, but it works for me.

I use the Canon Pixma iX6550 for all my printing needs recently, which I talked about in a previous post found here

When I find pens or pencils I like, buying them in bulk seems like an obvious choice, in case they stop making them. Current favourites are the Pentel P205 mechanical pencil with spare leads and the Uni Pin sets. Usually I will sway toward a 0.1 or 0.3 for illustrating, but it’s good to have a range for shading or block colour.

I’m not a paper snob and will draw on anything generally. Moleskine tends to be the sketchpad of choice for designers, but I think that’s an image thing (unless Moleskine are reading this, in which case they are ‘great’ and I would use them if they send me some!) For logo design, I sometimes like to use standard graph paper, as the lines are faint and allow for detailed line/shape balance. Logonest’s “My Nest” dotted sketchpad is also a great little pad to have in your bag.

I started with a Canon Powershot many years ago and upgraded just over a year ago to an intermediate one. Currently, I have two, the Canon 450D as a backup to the Canon 60D. Both are excellent cameras for everyday usage, the 60D offers a few more ‘advanced’ features for a relatively low price.

Along with the kit 18–55mm lens, I purchased a great accompaniment of the 55–250mm zoom lens. A perfect partner. The ‘nifty-fifty’ also became a firm favourite early on, and it’s what sits on the camera as I write this. Essentially, these three lenses are all you need, with one super-wide, one excellent zoom and a 50mm prime that works in low-light conditions. Before a trip to Italy I did purchase a 100mm f2.8 macro which I later sold on as the £400 price was a lot for a serious amateur (I did re-purchase it and don’t regret it!). Last year I upgraded the kit lens to a more expensive Canon 15–85mm which goes from super-wide to decent zoom — perfect for walking around and snapping street photos!

I use a cheap (fake) version of a BlackRapid strap that I found on eBay at a fraction of the price. It works just as well and until someone persuades me otherwise, I wouldn’t pay upwards of £50 for a strap. eBay is amazing for budget camera accessories such as batteries, SD cards and filters, you just have to do your research.

Work and music tend to go hand in hand but blasting Amon Tobin at 2am doesn’t always work. I have two pairs that I like, for home and gaming I use the Sennheiser HD202’s. Incredible sound, noise-cancelling and top-scoring reviews for under £40 are good in anyone’s books.

For out-and-about I tend to prefer something less obvious with the iPod. Sound Magic’s E10 are incredible value for money. Walking down a busy street all you hear is the music, not even the construction worker drilling 5 feet away! They do take a little while to get used to, hearing your own heart beat in-between songs, for example, is a little odd.

Playstation 4 beats out the new Xbox in my eyes, so far at least. Microsoft botched their release in my eyes, forcing users to buy a camera addition seems straight up dumb.

If I could afford a top-grade gaming PC I would buy one, but the console is perfect at the minute for me. Current games include Fifa 14 and Battlefield 4. Don’t get me started on Call of Duty, that’s child’s play.

My TV is a 40″ Sony Bravia which has incredible colour and contrast for both movies and gaming. I don’t think bigger is always better, 40″ is certainly fine for the room it’s in. I tend to watch movies and TV shows through the Xbox (via USB pen) or DVD, the PS3’s Blu-ray is tempting if not future-proof.

Other gadgets used on a daily basis are much too uninteresting, such as an electric toothbrush and rechargeable batteries — if you are still reading by now that would only force you to leave!

That concludes part one of the Graphic Design Essentials post. The second part will list the applications and software that have found their way into my dock through daily use. Hopefully, you will find something here of use, by all means try the things I use and see if they work for you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything I’ve talked about — is there a better option? What are your Graphic Design Essentials?

The second part of the tools I use can be found here.

[Updated January 2015]

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Originally published at on December 23, 2011.

Inkbot Design a Creative Graphic Design Agency in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Experts in Logo Design and Branding.

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