A quite comprehensive list of design resources and tools I use or intend to use, or don’t want to forget in case someday I might want to think of using… or they just looked nice. Sort-of ordered by relevance, with my go-to tools at the top. Please note: not listing obvious ones – these lists are for things I keep forgetting.
|Chapter 1:||Making Graphics|
|Vectornator: a challenger to Illustrator, for free… for Macs.||Full desktop app, free(?!), account required, Mac only.||Wait – this app has a built-in timelapse tool. And you can edit vector nodes of live text? Looks as heavy as Affinity, and it’s free! (For now? They say they are evaluating their marketing.) Um, Mac only though. How am I only seeing this now, with so much focus on marketing (fancy Webflow site, but spelling errors…) I’d try it if I could.|
|Synthetik Studio Artist – AI-boosted graphics||Full app; free trial; account required.||AI-powered art, very similar to what Adobe promised with their Sensei engine: mosaics, realistic brushes, etc. Handles video too? This is what the Queen’s Gambit Behance guy uses for his complex mosaic art. (Check his work at behance.net/tsevis.) The free trial doesn’t expire, but exported images are watermarked.|
|Photility Picture Medley: photo mosaic wizard||Free; desktop app (Windows, Macs need a workaround); no sign-in required||Weird standalone app for large photomosaics by Steve Dodge, respect to him. If you need to build a massive photo-mosaic based on a target image, just line up your hundreds of photos and throw them at this thing. (Haven’t tried it yet, not sure what to use it on.)|
|Photopea: free Photoshop alternative||Free, browser-based; no sign-in required.||The only real free alternative to Photoshop, and it’s browser-only. Ah well, won’t complain. Handles smart objects / mockups, opens anything (including AI), exports without fuss. And no sign-in required? God bless them. (Note: the MagicCut tool crops pretty nicely.)|
|Adobe Comp: like Canva, but Adobe?||Free; mobile app; Adobe account required||Free (well, I thought Spark was free) phone app for quick design, by The People Who Brought You Everything.|
|Inkscape: The OG vector alternative, but supercharged.||Free and open (it’s Inkscape); desktop app||Inkscape 1.1 is fast! Allows use of Adobe or Corel keyboard shortcuts, now supports JPEG export, UI is friendlier. Mesh fill and Boolean operations too! Startup screen has templates for social media and print. Definitely worth a try.|
|sK1 Vector Graphics Editor: Inkscape Lite, with a few surprises.||Free; desktop app; no sign-in required||Inkscape isn’t libre enough for you? Try sk1, built by the late Ihor Novikov. Claims to run all the proprietary graphics formats, including those by Adobe – and is planning to export to them as well. I thought it only had the Combine path operation – it also has Trim, Intersect, Exclude, and Fuse. I keep a portable install, just in case: 130MB for instant vector power, anywhere. And the interface really makes sense.
BTW, LibreOffice Draw is good enough for most standard logo jobs – speaking from experience. Handles 3D objects too. Plus, you won’t owe Microsoft anymore.
|Artboard Studio: bespoke product mockups and scenes||Free basic package; browser-based; account required||If you only needed PhotoShop for mockups, now you don’t need Photoshop. Fully dedicated to customizing product shots and scenes, with a sensible Smart Object-style interface, and a growing collection of templates and objects. (Throw some succulents next to your carton, why don’t you.) Free templates also expanding, should cover most basic needs. Note though: free exports are only for personal use. Not sure if that covers portfolio?|
|Penpot.app: SVG-based vector graphics editor||Free; browser-based; account required.||Free and open-source alternative to Sketch, based on SVG only. Collaborative, suited to UX/UI projects – you can annotate, control versions,|
|Excalidraw: simple graphic design with SVG||Free, browser-based; no sign-in required.||SVG-based drawing tool. Like an Inkscape for beginners? Very useful. (Good choice for netbooks or sandboxed machines.)|
|Metaflop: play with settings, download your original font||Free; browser-based; no sign-in.||Create a font with just variable sliders, fully own the result. (You always start from a metafont.) Free, open-source, exports simply, no code.|
|Metapolator: revolutionary font editor, work-in-progess||Free; browser-based; no sign-in. (Firefox preferred?)||(Built with the same engine that runs MetaFlop.) This free font editor wants to disrupt the traditions of digital type design. Idea is, edit fonts as a collection, not as glyphs – aiming for cohesion across the whole typeface. Even more interesting – instead of drawing closed shapes with your vector paths, each simple curve can define a complete stroke: the letter ‘I’ would have six nodes in total. Early days for the project, may never be beginner-friendly. But very cool.|
|AndRepeat Type Generator: abstract experimental font generator||Free, browser-based; no sign-in required||Every letter is a colourful abstract shape. Lovely samples, nice UI – more variable settings to choose from that you get with actual font generators, actually. David Carson probably lives on this site. Good for packaging and patterns, maybe? (Check out the main website though: AndRepeat is unpacking some interesting visual concepts.)|
|Chapter 2:||Processing Graphics|
|Cyan : CMYK – RGB conversion for image files||Free; desktop app; no account required||Haven’t found anything else like this – convert RGB images to CMYK, or vice-versa, with minimal shifts in perceived colour. Processor heavy, because of course it is. But it works. Amazing utility.|
|VTracer: free raster to vector tool that actually works||Free; browser-based; no account required.||(Developed by VisionCortex.) Free converter sites (where ‘free’ also include you downloading your converted file) often have this shearing / feathering problem with their vector output, especially with low-res source files. This one lets you control how the engine works, with simple sliders. Check the samples at the bottom of the page to see how it works.
Aspose Vectorizer is the straightfoward choice for high-res flat illustrations, but watch out for the feathering thing.
There’s also TraceSVG.com – very simple, quite accurate, but only outputs in black and white. Best suited to logos?
|PngQuant: Batch image compression for power-users||Command-line tool, check page for plugins.||Quality PNG compression utility, but uses command-line. The page does list different places you can get their tool with a UI, including a Google Play app.|
|Squoosh.app: image compressor||Free; browser-based; no sign-in.||Image compression / optimization. No batch processing though. First drag-and-drop step looks intuitive, but it took me a bit of time to figure out the actual processing interface. And where to export? You get three guesses – I needed all of them.|
|PhotoMosh.com: Glitch your photos and videos, why don’t you.||Free version; browser-based; no sign-in required||(Built by Joseph Turner, aka Airtight – versatile artist.) Anything from the photocopier style to more advanced distortion techniques. (Videos are processed in a stream, which you can record and download. 4‑second maximum.) Also accepts webcam footage.|
|Chapter 3:||Stock Assets|
|Pexels.com: my go-to stock image library||Free for commercial use; account not required;||Home away from home. Not sure why I use this more than Unsplash, maybe it’s just familiarity. (Unsplash has a creator account on Pexels though.) Lazy-loading infinite scroll, so watch your data. Or is it just me who has to worry about that?|
|ClipArt ETC: academic image library, nice vintage collections||Free for personal use only; attribution required||Interesting library of clipart from University of South Florida – mostly vintage, with some original art from Alice in Wonderland. Note: this is intended mainly for educators, so there’s a paid license for commercial use, and they are big on formal attribution. I only use these vintage illustrations for personal work, but it’s something to keep in mind.|
|OpenClipart.org: miscellaneous vectorized objects||Free for commercial use; no sign-in or attribution required.||Weird old-school library, as to be expected by the term ‘clipart’. But there are Wikipedia-type killers just sitting at home vectorizing random public domain images, so when I need an old-school drop capital or a nondescript dog, I check here first. (Shoutout to this one artist with the weirdest complex compositions)|
|Nappy.co: BIPOC stock images||Free for commercial use; attribution not required; no sign-in required||Great interface, very necessary resource. You can actually search images by complexion? Interesting. A bit urban / lifestyle-focused though. Used to be 0 results for ‘Agriculture’; now there’s 3; ‘farming’ has 8 images.|
|OpenDoodles.com: nice set of casual vector illustrations||Free for commercial use; No sign-in required; attribution not required||Brush-heavy series of illustrations, free to use. All one illustration style, black line with accent fills. Download as SVG. (BTW: by Pablo Stanley of blush.design, which has more collections and a scene design interface – free limited account available, team is recruiting illustrators.)|
|Unblast.com: Stock asset roundups||Check individual licenses; attribution not required; no sign-in required||Very well-sorted templates, mockups, stock assets – but it’s a showcase site. It’s easy to browse their categories, organized file format and content type, but downloads are linked off-site. (Just noticed, they showcase 3d models too? Interesting.) They welcome submissions too, note that. (I can see how this helps creators… does make asset management quite complicated for downloaders.) Opportunity: they’re recruiting designers for an in-house creators unit.|
|Nounproject.com||Free for personal use; attribution required for free downloads; sign-in required||I used to love The Noun Project. I still love the Noun Project, I guess? Started from a digitized and open library for the International Typographic Symbols set, quickly became a Wikipedia-style mission to host icons for every culture, every topic. When I found it, you couldn’t download without creating a free account. Now those free downloads can’t be edited (that includes changing the color) and attribution is a must. Still a great site, millions of useful icons, growing list of great services, I just prefer ‘Free as in Free’, even as a creator. (Shout-out to Amos Commey, serious contributor.)|
|Getloaf.io: animated SVG icons, with proprietary editing app||Desktop app; free pack includes commercial use;||Animated svg icons, editable. Free pack only comes with 74 icons though, and you can’t use the editor to create your own. Too bad. (Found on ProductHunt.com, which is dangerously fun to browse. )|
|Robbiepearce.com/softies/: nice SVG pack (400+ icons)||Free for commercial use; no sign-in required;||Quality SVG icon pack, very nice site. But only viable if you need a handful of free icons for your project to download one at a time – the full pack costs $5, comprising “over 400 SVGs, three sizes of PNGs, an IconJar file and the Sketch source file.” Hopefully I can build something as functional for the Adinkra pack, someday soon.|
|Beautiful Web Type: need free fonts? Start here.||Showcase site; free for commercial use; no sign-in required;||Open-source fonts never looked so good. A small, opinionated, expert curation of free typefaces by Chad Mazzola, with well-coded type specimen pages for each font, and quality suggestions for use. If I had to, I could live on just this collection, even for paid projects.|
|FontSquirrel: Dependable alternative to Google Fonts||Individual font licenses, (filter for commercial-use); no sign-in required; no attribution required||Don’t sleep on Font Squirrel. Their tags are very helpful to me on weird projects, and a lot of free type designers think of them first. Couple of fonts I can only ever find on this site. Plus their Webfont Generator allows you to upload compatible web-free fonts to their server, and link your website to that. Very useful for web design.)|
|Fontlibrary.org: Home of libre fonts||Free for commercial use; no sign-in required||Legit standard fonts! Specifies that only ‘free and open’ licenses are accepted, but the selection is surprisingly solid. Personal digitizations of classic typefaces: if you need a Garamond or blackletter or Didone, just type a keyword, see what you get. Plus – every font is web-embeddable from the site’s server; amazing. (Run by the Fabricatorz Foundation, the people behind OpenClipart.)|
|UseModify.com: Modern type library, remixes encouraged.||Free for commercial use; no sign-in required||A 2020-type of – brutalist fonts, dark theme, etc… Several quality display fonts, looks like. And modification is encouraged, as the name implies. Nice.|
|Velvetyne.fr: Post-modern type library||Free for commercial use; no sign-in required||One step further into the new-school, display-type era. Library founded(?) by Jeremy Landes, very opinionated typefaces.|
|Collletttivo.it – the Italian Velvetyne? Very nice serifs.||Free for commercial use; no sign-in||Very very nice serifs. And check Mazius, which is a lovely typeface. The website design is something too.|
|Open-Foundry.com – the urban Google Fonts||Free for commercial use; no sign-in required||Interesting big type, big customized display specimen posters, and black-and-white scheme. A curation of some open-source favourites, with new ones coming in (submissions are encouraged, with an upload call-to-action on the front page).|
|Fontpair.com: inspiration and type specimens||Showcase site; no sign-in||Great typography resource for free web type combinations. Great UI, test the typeset fonts right in the browser, great examples of the pairings in the wild.|
|Fontbrief.com: project helper, but limited access||Showcase site / generator, proprietary fonts; um – newsletter subscription required.||Should this be under Inspiration? Definitely a useful tool for project type research. Saw this on Stefan Sagmeister’s IG features – the site suggests typefaces based on simple prompts about your client’s industry. You can’t use this without providing your email address for the newsletter though. I might, let’s see.|
|Reverse image search: check your logos||Artist.ninja/reverse-image-search – optimized for art (to find similarities, copycats, unauthorised use, etc). Doesn’t seem very accurate.
Try TinEye.com, which seems to search really specifically for that image… Still, Google Images ‘Seach by Image’ is probably best for avoiding accidental plagiarism.
|OpenRGB: Open-source device color management||Free; desktop app; no sign-in required||One system for all your device. Runs only on listed GPUS? Tried it (as admin), didn’t seem to find any device to calibrate. (Also works on lights, BTW.)|