The Top 7 Tools Professionals Use to Create Eye-Popping Designs

Posted by John Shaver on Aug 29, 2013 in
The Top 7 Tools Professionals Use to Create Eye-Popping Designs

I'm glad you're here. This is an exclusive article and is accessible only to those that know the secret link.

Without further ado, here are the top 7 tools that professionals use to create eye-popping designs.

1. A Graphics Tablet

I'll start with the only one that requires a purchase.

A graphics tablet is an absolute necessity if you're an illustrator, but it can also be an extremely useful tool even if you're not.

You can do a lot more things with a tablet that you might imagine, and once you get the hang of using one, it's a more intuitive way to work.

  • Easily create hand lettering and skip the whole pen and paper step
  • Quickly create hand drawn design elements like arrows and flourishes
  • Expand your skillset by learning digital art
  • Edit photos in a faster, more natural way
  • The list goes on!

Having a tablet allows you to speed up your workflow and get creative without the restrictions of a mouse and keyboard.

After some practice, many pros only use the keyboard when it's time to answer emails, and simply ignore their mouse completely.

Wacom is the most popular brand, and they have tablets ranging from $50 and up for both hobbyists and professionals. Although it's not free, it's a very inexpensive way to improve your work.

A great way to get started if you're new to graphics tablets is to check out these 25 Tutorials for Getting Started with your Wacom Tablet.

2. A Stock Resource Collection

Clients want great looking designs for as little money as possible, and in the shortest amount of time possible.

The most effective way to cut down on your turnaround time is to use and customize stock resources instead of designing everything from scratch.

This isn't meant to be a promotion for you to buy things on Design Panoply — although I must admit I wouldn't complain — because there are a ton of freebies out there (including our own).

Having a good collection of textures, brushes, styles, and more to pull from is a huge time saver, and a lot of times you can find resources that are beyond your own design abilities.

I recommend being conservative with your use of freebies, because they sometimes tend to be lower quality, have limited licensing, and have been used by more people.

I absolutely love the collections at Creative Market, and it's my "go to" site when I need inexpensive, quality resources in a jiffy.

3. A Place to Get Inspired

There are some amazing designers out there, but even the best of the best have a creative block now and then.

Even if you're not having trouble coming up with ideas, it can't hurt to learn a new design style or two. When you're not working, you should be still be improving.

Here are some of my personal favorites when it comes to inspiration.

  • - A Pinterest-style site, but with less homemade crafts and inspirational quote posters
  • Dribbble - A show and tell for designers with some seriously impressive work
  • Pinterest - A great way to get inspiration from multiple sources

4. A Design Mentor or Group

Starting out in the world of design can be a scary, lonely place. Most professionals didn't get to where they are as a lone wolf competing against the rest.

It's smart, and beneficial to build some allies. Having someone to personally go to when you have questions can be invaluable.

A lot of times, people are simply too afraid to ask questions, but those that don't often find themselves giving upearly because they feel lost.

Don't be afraid to simply email someone, anyone, and ask questions. There are plenty of design blogs with friendly owners, like me, who are willing to help out fellow designers in need.

The only design forums I can wholeheartedly recommend can be found at Reddit. Here are some of my favorites.

  • r/Photoshop - If you find a design and want to know how it was done, this is the place to ask
  • r/graphic_design - You can ask questions, find inspiration, and just chit chat with other designers

5. A Basic Knowledge of Copywriting

Design is more than making things look pretty. It's about conveying a message in an attractive way.

Eye-catching design is just as much about copy as it is about layout, balance, and all the other design terms you can think of.

Imagine coming across the most beautiful design you've ever seen, but the words are all in an alien language. It doesn't matter how good it looks, you still don't know what it says.

People design things because they want the viewer to take action. The most successful designers know this, and have an understanding of how to write good headlines and body text.

The ultimate resource in copywriting (in mine, and many others opinions) can be found at CopyBlogger.

And the most useful single copywriting resource I've ever found is this cheat sheet for writing blog posts that go viral, because it can be applied to anything, not just online articles.

6. A File Sharing/Sending Service

Typically, you'll be sending out flattened, compressed files like JPGs. These are small enough to send via email or Skype.

There comes a time when you need to send a 11" x 17", 300DPI, 100 layer PSD file that's 500MB in size. No email provider is going to be able to send or accept it, so what do you do?

There are plenty of free ways to upload, store, and share files publicly and privately with others. I've had great experiences with each of the following.

  • Dropbox - Quick and easy to sign up for and integrates with all your devices
  • Google Drive - Allows you to share files and collaborate with others
  • WeTransfer - No sign up necessary, just upload and send or get a download link

7. A List of Useful Websites

Not everything can be downloaded as software. Sometimes you have to go to the web for what you need. If you're like me, your website bookmarks can turn into a mess after a while.

It's better to simply memorize and visit the sites you need to, when you need them.

Every pro has a list like this, and the more use you can get out of it, the better.

Here are some extra sites that I use regularly.

  • WhatTheFont - If you ever see a font but can't figure out which one it is, this tool will help, and there's an active forum of users for the really tough ones
  • TinyPNG - Web designers especially, if you ever want to shrink your PNG file size but retain full color and transparency, this is the place to go (if only Photoshop was smart enough to do this)

There's a lot more to becoming a professional, successful designer than a creative eye and a copy of Photoshop. The more surprises you hold in your bag of tricks, the more magical your show can be.

If you're not into magician metaphors, just know that everything here is a practical, useful tool to get you where you want to be.

Bookmark this URL, or keep the email that linked you here, because there will soon come a day when this list will give you exactly what you need.

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