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?

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