Equipment for a Graphic Designer

I was recently contacted by a designer who had been out of the industry a little while and wanted some advice on what sort of computer/software set up I would suggest. As a designer who deals more predominantly with print design I would definitely go for a Mac. Although design for print software is now readily available on the PC from my experience more designers who design for print use Apple Macs.

The new Imacs with computer and thin screen all in one are great giving you a nice large screen (19″ or 24″) without taking up to much space. I would go for at least 2GB memory, the more the better if you are using Photoshop a lot and any 3D packages.

An A3+ Inkjet printer is ideal for printing out any visuals required, possibly postscript colour management software – Iproof (gave me loads of problems) or Print Fab, try out the demos of these before you buy them (I wish I had). I was using an Epson Stylus R1800 but was having problems with colour casts and have now swapped to a Canon iX4000. You can also get round a non postscript inkjet printer by creating a PDF first and then printing that, though the colours may need some tweaking.

Fonts and Font Management
Mac system software now comes with built in Fontbook for managing fonts or you could look at a third party font management system such as Suitcase

Several fonts will come with your Mac and software packages. More can be bought from many sources such as linotype and Faces. Free fonts are also available from many sites such as Dafont, though I wouldn’t generally use these for main body copy as they don’t always have a full character set or good kerning.

Adobe Creative Suite can give you all the packages you would need for most design for print jobs – Photoshop for image manipulation, Illustrator for vector work, Logo design etc, InDesign for page layout, Acrobat for creating print ready PDFs.

I still prefer Quark Xpress for page layout over InDesign but many designers are now swapping/have swapped over to Indesign. As a package Creative Suite works out far more cost effective than having to buy Quark Xpress plus Photoshop and Illustrator.

Also for pulling in supplied Word/Excel files into layouts is the Open Source (free) Office Suite NeoOffice which I use regularly and saves having to pay for Microsoft Office.

If you are going to do some web design work the standard packages are Dreamweaver and Flash, which you could buy along with the other Adobe software in a bundle if you need them. If you intend hand coding there are lots of free text editors out there – Note Pad, Crimson Edit etc etc.

Most images these days are supplied digitally so a fairly basic scanner is usually fine. Mostly I use mine for scanning in sketches of logos etc. I would go for an all in one black and white laser, copier, scanner.

Backing Up
An external USB firewire hard drive or some free online storage space if ideal for backing up your work

Other things to consider
Virus/firewall software and Mac Maintenance software

What about free open source design software?
For print graphics I there are some open source packages that you could use, though personally I haven’t tried them and don’t know of anyone who uses then professionally. If you are going to be working for other design agencies you really need to be using the professional packages so that you can pass documents between each other. If however you are going to be designing directly for clients and no-one else needs to be able to edit your files I guess Open Source Options would be possible to use as long as you could output them to print ready PDF.

  • Scribus – Open Source layout/desk top publishing
  • Gimp – Open Source Image Manipulation other free photo manipulation software can be read about here – mac, pc
  • Inkscape – Open Source Vector Graphics Software
  • Komposer – Free WYSIWYG web design software
  • Aptana Studio – Open Source web development software
  • Blender – Open source 3D design and animation software other free 3D software is listed here
  • Synfig – Open source vector animation
  • NeoOffice/Open Office – A free open source Office suite

What would be your suggested set up for a graphic designer?

learn logo design online

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  1. Posted June 12, 2008 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Hi Tara – I would add one essential piece of software: FileZilla (for FTP file transfers). A day does not go by for me without it!

  2. David Morin
    Posted June 12, 2008 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    People stil use Quark? I guess I’m out of the loop, in my neck of the woods it is as if the company fell off the map.

    One quibble, Suitcase is the pits, I far prefer Linotype Font ExplorerX which is cleaner, simpler, smarter, and best of all… free.


  3. Posted June 12, 2008 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    HI Eric – thanks for the FileZilla suggestion, I use Cyber Duck on my mac

    Hi David – A lot of people round here still use Quark, but I think Indesign seems to be taking over, I guess I will have to make the switch but I had Indesign’s picture handling. I hadn’t heard of Linotype Font ExplorerX , thanks for the suggestion, I might take a look at that myself.

  4. Celso
    Posted June 12, 2008 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    I don’t second the Mac supremacy thing.

    Don’t get me wrong – I know lots of people who use Macs, but also lots of people who use PCs. Both get the job done. Macs are usually prettier. PCs are usually cheaper. That’s how I see the issue.

    Other than that, great list. All the basics are covered (and the advice is sound!).

  5. Posted June 12, 2008 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Can I add two important items of equipment for a graphic designer:

    1. A pen/pencil
    2. A pad of paper

    These are the most important and they won’t need upgrading, they won’t crash (unless you screw the paper up or your pen leaks!) and they won’t go out of date!

  6. Posted June 13, 2008 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    I use FireFTP, which is Firefox’s FTP program, for file transfers. Your list is great, and I’m especially interested in options for an inkjet printer which can print colours as reliably as can be expected (given they’re inkjets and not professional digital/offset)

  7. Posted June 13, 2008 at 7:31 am | Permalink


    Your website information is very useful for me

  8. Posted June 13, 2008 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the insight, Tara, and what a great addition from Gareth (Dot Design).

  9. Posted June 13, 2008 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I would also add a Wacom tablet to the list! I remember you had a bad experience with them, Tara, but I love mine and there are effects I create that simply couldn’t be achieved with a mouse.

    Hehe, loved the pen and paper addition that Dot Design added!

    Just a note about my setup: I’m primarily a print designer and I use a PC with Creative Suite 2, including InDesign, though sometimes I do get files from other designers in Quark, so I have that, too (I’m an in house designer, not a freelancer, though, so it’s easy to afford both because it’s not my money!).

    At home, I also have a PC running Vista and CS3, but no Quark. I do find that sometimes Photoshop lags in Vista even when doing the simplest things, which is something I’ve never experienced with XP. Also, I have yet to find a fix for the Print to PDF bug in Vista (it doesn’t work!!)

  10. Posted June 14, 2008 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    For an external hard drive I would recommend acomdata’s PureDrive 500GB 7200 RPM eSATA ($110 at Newegg). As for the rest I just sat here and drooled….

  11. Posted June 14, 2008 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Hi Tara, Interesting article.

    One question, you say you use the new iMacs. I have been put off these due to their glossy screens – are these easy to colour calibrate? I have read that these new screens on the iMac are great for watching films or playing games as they give a great high contrast image but this may not be so good when working on print projects when you need more realistic colour?


  12. Posted June 15, 2008 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Useful information, thank you for sharing.
    As back-up device I would recommend a simple flash drive, they are large enough nowadays :)

  13. Posted June 15, 2008 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Can anyone make a similar list for the windows world?

  14. Posted June 15, 2008 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    I’m from the world of Windows ;) and I would say it’s pretty much the same. You need a good graphics card, about 4 GB memory and plenty of hard drive space. Everything else is cross platform. View Sonic screens are good for color reproduction, but I find that I don’t worry about that much, even though I’m a print designer. I’ve never had so many fonts that I need 3rd party software for handling it, but Extensis does make a version of Suitcase for Windows.

    Also like I said, Vista can be buggy with CS2/CS3 (the only versions I’ve tried with it), so if you can, I would advise sticking with XP for now. Also it’s a pain that you can’t print to PDF with Vista. I haven’t tried exporting from InDesign with Vista yet, but there might be some problems there, too, which is why I’m duel booting with XP, just in case I need it.

  15. Posted June 15, 2008 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    I’m a graphic designer and I built my first computer a couple months ago after hours of research (ugh). I stuck with Windows XP Home, because Vista has too many bugs for my taste. For a graphics card I chose the XFX GeForce 8800 GT 512MB and for the monitor I went with a HP w2207 22″ widescreen. I only have 2GB of memory (G.SKILL PC6400) and one hard drive (SeaGate 320GB Barracuda), but I plan on getting a second HD for Photoshop to use as a dedicated scratch disk. Graphics card, monitor, and a good CPU (I have the Intel Quad Q6600 SLACR) are the main components you should splurge on for graphic design.

  16. Posted June 16, 2008 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Before you have to learn the hard way, always back up your files on a secondary hard drive. It can be internal, but it should be separate from your OS disk. External drives aren’t a bad idea either (I run a backup to an external about every 6 weeks–should be more often–and put the latest working files on it).

    And you’re right about Vista issues… I did finally fix that PDF writer bug by reinstalling Acrobat Pro 8 again.

  17. Posted June 16, 2008 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    I fully agree with you.Maybe a good Nikon or Canon camera is needed for a graphic designer also.

  18. yannis
    Posted June 17, 2008 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    Hi there another software which is ok (not the great)
    is the coreldraw suite (x4 is the latest).Is coming with a full suite(power trace,photo editing…) and u can do web work except print. On the oldest version the main disadvantage was that was crashing so often but the newest version has been improved. For me is a reasanoble solution and the main thing that is much cheaper(£170inc VAT) than the adobe one.Also is file compatible with all the adobe and microsoft formats.

  19. Posted June 17, 2008 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I am a die hard PC loyalist. Never had any problems designing on it. Never needed to try anything else. Nonetheless, a good list with all the basics covered.

  20. Posted June 18, 2008 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Would you say a tablet was necessary for serious graphic design? Also, I have a Macbook which is my only computer, I haven’t the budget to upgrade to a Pro or get an imac just yet, would you recommend getting an external 20″ Apple cinema display and have you had any experience with these displays? Thanks alot

  21. Posted June 19, 2008 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    Lauren, as soon as funds allow I’m going to get a second hard drive or that external acomdata PureDrive I mentioned. Building this computer sucked up all my spare cash. As for Acrobat 8 I really don’t care much for that one so I’ve stuck with version 7.

    guadeloupe, I agree. A good digital camera is as much an asset to a designer as Photoshop. I’d always wanted one myself and last summer I happened upon a $400 Sony CyberShot DSC-H2 sitting all by its lonesome in the display case at Target with an orange clearance sticker on it for $87.49. The clerk was as shocked as I was by the huge price reduction, and of course I bought it immediately. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the camera and it takes awesome photos. Talk about the deal of a lifetime, eh?

    yannis, CorelDraw is an awesome program. A very excellent artist named Mike Kungl uses that program to make his beautiful art deco posters (along with Photoshop and Painter).

    Steve, a Wacom tablet is a vital addition to any designer’s toolbox. I have been wanting one myself for some time, especially that gorgeous-looking Cintiq (drool). The same can be said for the Apple cinema displays; they are quite pricey but then I have heard nothing but praise for them. It all depends on whether or not you can afford these things or (as in my case) justify spending all that money.

  22. Posted June 19, 2008 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the help. If I get an apple cinema display it will only be the 20″ model which should be more than sufficient for my needs. The Wacom tablets are really expensive but you can get the Wacom Bamboo for quite cheap although this might more of a mouse replacement, not a graphic design tool, il probably have to save up for a more expensive one, right now Im doing fine without it however, I keep hearing people say how useful they are!

  23. Posted June 19, 2008 at 5:09 am | Permalink

    A Wacom is one of those things you didn’t know you couldn’t live without. Once you get one, you will probably never go back.

    There are things you can do with a tablet–like on-the-fly opacity and brush tip width control–that you simply cannot do with a mouse. There are even more options when you start getting into the Intuos and Cintiq models because of the levels of sensitivity for things like pen tilt and rotation (though I wouldn’t invest in a Cintiq unless you are an artist, illustrator, cartoonist and need that super-fine level of control). I have an Intuos3 and love it.

    Sure you can get along ok without a tablet, but you’ll wonder how you did it once you get one!

  24. Posted June 19, 2008 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I use a MAC at work and PC at home. Haven’t found any difference between them and i use photoshop on both. Could do with a graphics tablet which would help me draw. I also use flash just for simple animations and then dreamweaver for authoring sites.

  25. Posted June 23, 2008 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I could say computer is the most basic tool in graphic design. My second is the adobe suite.

  26. Posted June 23, 2008 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    There are a couple of softwares you listed that I didn’t know thanks for that!

    If you have some experience with programmation, you may also try Flex. It generates .swf, as Flash, but it is more programmer oriented.

  27. Posted June 24, 2008 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Hmm. i like the suggestions except for the quark express its expensive and i think its unnecessary. I would also prefer a pc though :-) but thats just me.

  28. Posted July 3, 2008 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    i hear a lot of rave reviews about Canon iX400, are you also satisfied with yours? i might get one…

  29. Charlene
    Posted July 4, 2008 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    what computer specifications would i need, to run Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver etc. Also does anyone know how too get all this,cheap!

  30. Posted July 4, 2008 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    @Charlene: you’ll need at least 2 GB of RAM (preferably 4), about 3 GHz processor (duel-core is nice), a decent video card and lots of hard drive space.

    If you are a student or you work for a non-profit, check out Academic Superstore (though I’m not sure if they ship outside the US) for your software. Otherwise, you’ll have to pony up for the suite at full cost. Good news is that future upgrades are at least half the price!

  31. Posted July 6, 2008 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    Your list is jampacked the only thing left is a skilled graphic artist:)

  32. Posted July 9, 2008 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if it has been mentioned, but let me say that I’ve been using Extensis’ Universal Type Server for a few days now and it is spectacular!

    Adobe apps run MUCH smoother with this new software than they ever did with the Suitcase X11 server version. And you don’t have to keep the app running to have your fonts available anymore.

    A font server isn’t for everyone, but if you have 10 or so Macs at your location, it’s the bomb!

  33. Posted August 25, 2008 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Hi Tara, there is another great tool for file sharing, it is Smart Extranet, you can find it here
    You can share all types of files, you don’t have to worry about the size anymore, and you can share your work with your clients/partners in extranet work zones. It is really ideal for all graphic designers!

  34. Posted September 2, 2008 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Great run-down!

  35. Posted October 16, 2008 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    thanks for that useful list.. great for newbies like me. =)

  36. Posted November 20, 2008 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    One useful tool that I always find handy for quick fixes is firehand ember. It is a highly-rated photo viewer, manager, and touch-up system.

  37. Posted December 13, 2008 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I was just thinking about Equipment for a Graphic Designer and you’ve really helped out. Thanks!

  38. Posted January 15, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    That firehand ember tool really does come in handy. It loads up really quick and lets me touch things up or resize. Another useful tool I suggest is ST Thumbnails Explorer. Its a small tool and lets you preview eps and ai files without loading them into Illistrator.

  39. Posted January 16, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    That ST Thumbnails Explorer saves me tons of time. THANKS!

  40. Posted February 11, 2009 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I would add a decent graphics tablet to that list – wacom are the best and these days you can get an entry level one so cheap – a definite must for any illustrator.

  41. Posted August 31, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I would certainly recommend the new imac and adobe creative suite they just make the job of being a designer far easier. I often like to have quite a few design books handy as well just in case I am having designers block :)

    I used to use quark but really like indesign as it is nice to use all the adobe programs as a set. If you have used quark and are familiar with adobe illustrator it is quite quick and easy to pick up indesign will save a lot of money to as quark was quite expensive last time I checked.

  42. Posted November 22, 2009 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Pretty nice list of software. In my opinion, Adobe’s softwares are the Best out there! They are expensive but they worth every penny. I have been using Photoshop for more than 6 years now and I learn new things everyday.

    Gimp is also a software that I like alot when comes to manipulating pixels and stuff.

  43. Posted March 9, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Nice comprehensive list. I’m curious if anyone uses online data backup options regularly, and if so, if you’ve had a problem with large volumes of data? Particularly since a lot of internet service providers like TimeWarner, Comcast, AT&T etc. cap your monthly upload/download use.

  44. Posted March 9, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Hi Riley

    I have only backed up small files online – I think it would just take too long to back up psd files online. For backing up my main design files I have a couple of 500gb hard drives (lacie rugged drive).

  45. Ismail Wasway
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    I am the head graphics designer for a new magazine for the youth in the local community, and we were looking for things that would be needed to set up a graphics design workshop, thank you for the information, but is there more? could a drawing tablet help?

  46. Posted October 20, 2010 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Hi Ismail

    This post might help you, its one I wrote a couple of years back called Equipment for a Graphic Designer

    This post Can you teach yourself graphic design might also be of help (I know you are not teaching yourself but it has some learning resources)

  47. Neozee
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    hi.. i got a task to design a space/product wherein a designer can comfortably work. so it would be nice if i knew his various needs n also i would lyk 2 knw what the daily routine of a graphic designer is and what are the equipment he needs other than just softwares or computers.
    please help…

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  49. Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Great post…my favourite software has always been Adobe’s, but that’s probably just cos I got used to them! Like a comfort blanket.

  50. maryam
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    I use a graphics tablet (wacom bamboo pen) and it has lasted for more than a year, i recommend it for designers either as a sketching tool on your PC or as your actual mouse (Using a mouse had me swiping the table like a crazy person on photoshop) it really makes doing your work more efficient .

    Font management is also important. I like NexusFont :D then of course the master adobe suite which covers everything you need in graphic design and web design

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