Tools You Need
Welcome to week three of Saturday Skills! Today we’re going to dive into the Adobe Creative Suite and all the other programs and tools you’ll need as a designer. There are actually so many, so I’ll try to include all of the ones I can think of, even if I don’t use them. Let’s get started!
First off, Adobe Creative Suite is a must have as a designer. You literally can’t design without it. It includes all the programs you need such as Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, After Effects, Lightroom, and more. There are knock offs of some of these programs, but they aren’t even close to the quality and you won’t be able to share those files with anyone else because chances are no one will have that knock off program. So go ahead and sign up with Adobe Creative Cloud, I know it costs money, but trust me, you can’t do this without it. You can get a one month free trial of any of the programs as well, so if you’re not sure about it you can always start there.
If you’re a student or teacher, you can get a pretty sweet deal. For $20 a month, you get all the programs, which is normally $60. That’s the plan I started with when I was in college and it doesn’t change, so hop on it now before you graduate! (Also, none of this is sponsored, you just really need Adobe in your life.)
So now that you that you have the Creative Cloud, what do you do with it? You can read in depth about each program on their website, but for now I’m just going to talk about the ones you’ll mostly be using as a designer.
Illustrator - Illustrator is a vector drawing program. Vectors are objects/shapes that are scalable without losing any resolution. You’ll use Illustrator for logos, icons, illustrations, infographs, type-based designs, and more. Anything that needs to be made in multiple different sizes (such as logos) should be made in Illustrator, since you can scale something down to a business card or up to the size of a billboard and not lose any of the quality. In my opinion it’s a little easier to learn than Photoshop, so I usually suggest that beginners start here.
Photoshop - Photoshop is a raster based program, meaning that you will lose resolution as you scale things up and down. Photoshop is used for photo retouching and editing, web design, mockups, and more. It is not usually good for logos or designs with a lot of text, or anything that needs to be scaled up or down since it will lose resolution.
InDesign - InDesign is primarily a layout program. You can draw vectors in it, so it’s more similar to Illustrator than Photoshop. You’ll use InDesign for laying out books, magazines, articles, brochures, PDFs, anything that is layout based. You won’t want to design things like logos or artwork in InDesign, but it’s easy to pull those in from another program.
After Effects - After Effects is something you may or may not use as a designer. It’s an animation program. You can animate logos, images, or artwork that you pull in from other programs. It’s a little tricky, but once you get the hang of it you can create some really awesome animations. It’s definitely a plus to have on your resume.
Lightroom - Lightroom is a batch editing program. That means you can edit multiple photos all in one place (unlike Photoshop which is just one image at a time). As a designer, you might not use it, but I found myself using it a lot in school when shooting for different projects or to edit the photos going on my website. Since it’s so easy to use, I’d recommend at least messing with it for a few minutes.
These are not all the programs, just the ones you will primarily use as a designer. You can read about the rest on Adobe’s site.
There is one other non-Adobe program that I’ve used before and liked, and it’s called Sketch. One of the agencies I did contract work for worked in Sketch, so I used it for a few months. I liked it, it was a mix of Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. I only used it to design websites though, so I can’t say how well it works for anything else. It’s also outside of Adobe, so moving things over that I designed on an Adobe program didn’t translate perfectly. But overall I liked using it!
If you’re more into illustrations and hand drawn style designing, you may want to look into getting a drawing tablet. A drawing tablet allows you to use a pen to draw on the tablet, and it’s translated onto whatever program you’re using on your computer. It can be used as just a mouse, but it also gives you the ability to draw with pressure sensitivity and a lot of other cool features. If you’re interested, the most popular tablets are made by Wacom.
You can also use a regular tablet/iPad. There’s an app called Astropad that allows you to use Adobe programs on your tablet/iPad with a stylus. You do have to pay for it, but I don’t think it’s very expensive. I’ve never used it but I’ve heard great things about it!
There are a lot of other programs/websites that are super helpful whether you’re freelancing or just working on building your portfolio. These will help you stay organized and share files and ideas.
Google Docs - This is a great place to store all your ideas, freelance contracts, and any other form of document. It’s also an easy way to collaborate with other people.
Google Drive - Probably the easiest way to share files is through Google Drive. If the files you’re sending to your client are too big to fit in an email, send them through Drive. You get 15 GB and you can upgrade if you need more space. It’s also great because if you have a gmail account and use Docs, it’s all in the same place. Any way to consolidate where you keep your stuff is a great idea.
Dropbox - This is very similar to Drive, but you only get 2 GB of space. You can pay to upgrade.
Another thing that is really important to have is a hard drive to back everything up. I have a one terabyte drive, and every couple of weeks I backup my laptop. You never know when things will crash or you’ll spill water on your computer...like I did a while ago. Thankfully I had backed up my computer a few weeks earlier, so I didn’t lose too much.
Having a hard drive is also great because once you’ve finished out a project, you can back it up on the drive and delete it from your computer. Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. files can take up a lot of space, and I was always running out of space before I got a drive. And if you ever want to go back and access an old project, you just plug in your drive and pull it up!
The next couple of Saturday Skills will go in depth about how to use each of the Adobe programs. I’ll include videos and step by step instructions of each one so you can get started!