There is no perfect set of tools for graphic designers. We’re all unique, we all work in different ways, and budgets always come in to play. I’ve put together a breakdown of major factors when building the best graphic design hardware and software toolbox based on my experience. Consider the following as a guide, rather than a set of absolute rules.
Keep it simple
I’ve been a graphic designer for 30 years, using the Macintosh the entire time to produce work for some great clients. I’ve worked for ad agencies large and small, a design firm, printing companies, and I’ve freelanced full and part time. Over the years I’ve learned a few short rules as it pertains to building my design toolbox and getting things done—and it has held true everywhere I’ve worked. Those rules are: keep it simple no matter the cost, don’t get caught up in software trends and gimmicks, buy a little more than you think you need, because you will grow into it. The following is more specific advice for building your design toolbox.
Stick with the standards
Graphic design is an expensive field to get into. Buying a Mac ain’t cheap, but software can dwarf the hardware cost if you let it get out of control. The key is knowing where and when to invest your money. Notice I didn’t say spend your money. You can spend money on cheap software and hardware, but you’ll find that the cheap route ends up costing more in the long run.
When you start a design career, you’re probably looking to get in as cheaply as possible, but that’s not a wise way to look at it. Invest in the best hardware and software you can possibly get your hands on and it will serve you well for much longer than cheap alternatives.
If you’re starting from scratch, you’re probably looking at between $2,500 to $3,500 for a great Mac setup. Then you have to invest in some fairly expensive software—though in recent years it’s been getting easier to manage due to Adobe and Microsoft going to subscription models and other software dropping substantially in price. The point is, don’t complain about the cost of doing business. It’s just that. If you’re even a halfway decent designer, you’ll make up the cost of the software subscriptions in under 20 hours of billable hours (if you don’t, then you’re not charging enough). The cost of the computer is written-off over the course of years, it’s not like you have to buy a new one every month or year. Money well-spent now will pay off for a long time.
No matter how much you spend, stick with the standards. Adobe’s creative apps running on a Mac are the standard for the design field. It’s what is expected. You can get away with running any type of PC and a variety of apps, but you may find yourself on the outside looking in.