Guide to Graphic Design Tools with Features and Functionality
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Guide to Graphic Design Tools with Features and Functionality

Graphic design is about creativity and there are so many tools out there for various design tasks. With many design tools available, it’s important to know their use cases and functions. Graphic design tools come in all shapes and sizes. Some are versatile or multipurpose tools while others are specialized tools with certain features.

A design tool is a software application, equipped with features such as vector and raster editing, text manipulation, layers, color management, grid systems, precise alignment tools, guides, composition, and more. It allows you to create various design types, including logos, prototypes, banners, website designs, app designs, infographics, and other visual elements. Moreover, it offers a versatile platform for creative expression and professional graphic work.

In this guide, we will explore various graphic design tools, their features, and functionalities to help you make informed decisions about the best software for your needs.

Use Cases of Graphic Design

Graphic design serves different purposes in various areas. We can classify graphic design fields into broad categories. Some of these design categories are as follows:

  • Logo Design: Unique and recognizable symbol that represents a brand.
  • Web Design: Visually appealing and functional layouts for websites.
  • Print Design: Design materials for print, such as brochures, posters, and business cards.
  • App Design: Intuitive and visually pleasing interfaces for web and mobile applications.
  • User Interface (UI) Design: Crafting the visual elements and layout of digital interfaces for seamless user interactions.
  • User Experience (UX) Design: Overall user satisfaction optimization through usability and accessibility of digital products.
  • Advertising Design: Involves creating visually compelling graphics for promotional campaigns across various media platforms.
  • Illustrations: Visual representations, often hand-drawn, to convey a message or idea.
  • Infographic Design: Complex information, presented visually for easy understanding.
  • Editorial Design: Layout and design of publications like magazines, newspapers, etc.
  • Branding and Identity Design: Refers to consistent visual identity for a brand having elements that represent the essence of a brand.
  • Packaging Design: Design of product packaging, combining aesthetic appeal with functional design considerations.
  • Motion Graphics: Creation of animated visuals, adding dynamic elements to convey information or improve storytelling.

Graphic Design Tools by Use Case

For quick reading, we can categorize different graphic design use cases and provide a list of specialized design tools associated with each use case. For each use case, we also list some examples. This will help you to quickly find design tools for your requirements.

Use caseExamplesGraphic design tools
Logo designCompany logos, brand symbols, product logosAdobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, Affinity Designer, Inkscape
Web DesignWebsite layouts, interactive elements, user interfacesFigma, Sketch, Canva, Adobe XD
Print DesignBrochures, posters, flyers, business cardsCanva, Adobe InDesign, CorelDRAW, Affinity Designer
App DesignMobile app interfaces, navigation, app iconsAdobe XD, Figma, Sketch, InVision
User Interface (UI) DesignApp interfaces, website navigation, interactive elementsAdobe XD, Figma, Sketch, Canva
User Experience (UX) DesignUser flow diagrams, wireframes, prototypesAdobe XD, Figma, Sketch, InVision
Advertising DesignSocial media graphics, banners, display ads, profile picturesCanva, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Spark, Figma, Affinity Designer
IllustrationsDigital illustrations, character designs, concept artAdobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, Affinity Designer, Inkscape
Infographic DesignInformational graphics, data visualizations, chartsAdobe Illustrator, Canva, Piktochart, Infogram
Editorial DesignMagazine layouts, book covers, editorial spreadsAdobe InDesign, Affinity Publisher, Scribus
Branding and Identity DesignBranding packages, letterheads, business cards, envelopesAdobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, Affinity Designer, Canva
Packaging DesignProduct packaging, boxes, labelsCorelDRAW, Affinity Designer, Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape
Motion GraphicsAnimated logos, video intros, social media animationsAdobe After Effects, Blender, HitFilm Express

Features of Graphic Design Tools

Graphic design tools offer a certain set of features that can be broadly classified as follows:

  • Vector Graphics Editing: Creating and modifying images using mathematical paths, shapes, and anchor points for sharp and scalable designs. This means that you can resize the images to any size without losing quality.
  • Raster Graphics Editing: Editing images pixel by pixel, suitable for detailed and realistic graphics. Unlike vector images, you can’t scale raster graphics without losing quality.
  • Collaboration Features: Smooth collaboration through cloud integration allows working together with others in real-time, sharing and editing designs simultaneously.
  • Artboard and Canvas Management: Organizing and arranging design elements in a workspace for better structure and efficiency. It allows designers to manage multiple artboards or canvases within a single project.
  • Pen Tool and Bezier Curves: Drawing precise and smooth lines, useful for detailed and accurate designs. It allows designers to create and edit vector paths.
  • Mockup and Prototyping Tools: Creating interactive models or blueprints to visualize and test designs before finalizing.
  • Image Tracing and Vectorization: Converting the raster images into scalable vector graphics for editing flexibility.
  • Filter and Effects Library: Includes pre-built filters and effects for applying various visual enhancements and artistic effects to images.
  • 3D Design and Effects: Allow users to add depth and three-dimensional elements to designs for a more immersive and dynamic visual experience.
  • Animation and GIF Creation: Making images or elements move, and creating simple animated graphics for web or presentations.

Graphic Design Tools by Features Availability

The availability of features in graphic design tools depends on their overall purpose.

Some graphic design tools offer extensive support for certain features, while others provide limited support. In those tools, you will find general features as well as some unique features that differentiate them from others.

Here, we list them based on the availability of their features.

Graphic Design ToolsVector Graphics EditingRaster Graphics EditingCollaboration FeaturesArtboard and CanvasMockup / Prototyping
PhotoshopLimitedYesLimitedLimitedNo
IllustratorYesLimitedLimitedYesNo
FigmaYesLimitedYesYesYes
CanvaLimitedYesYesYesLimited
SketchYesLimitedLimitedYesYes
CorelDRAWYesYesLimitedYesLimited
Affinity DesignerYesYesLimitedYesLimited
Adobe XDYesLimitedYesYesYes
Adobe InDesignLimitedLimitedYesYesNo
GIMPLimitedYesLimitedLimitedLimited
InkscapeYesLimitedLimitedYesLimited
Adobe SparkLimitedYesYesLimitedNo
After EffectsLimitedLimitedLimitedYesNo
BlenderLimitedLimitedLimitedYesLimited

For other sets of features, you can find information on their availability in design tools below:

Graphic Design ToolsPen Tool / Bezier CurvesImage Tracing / VectorizationFilter / Effects Library3D Design / EffectsAnimation / GIF Creation
PhotoshopYesLimitedExtensiveYesYes
IllustratorYesYesModerateNoNo
FigmaYesLimitedLimitedNoLimited
CanvaLimitedLimitedExtensiveNoLimited
SketchYesLimitedLimitedNoLimited
CorelDRAWYesYesModerateLimitedLimited
Affinity DesignerYesYesModerateLimitedLimited
Adobe XDYesNoLimitedNoLimited
Adobe InDesignLimitedNoLimitedNoNo
GIMPYesLimitedExtensiveLimitedYes
InkscapeYesYesModerateLimitedLimited
Adobe SparkNoLimitedLimitedNoNo
After EffectsYesNoExtensiveYesYes
BlenderYesLimitedExtensiveYesYes

Plugins or Addons to Extend Functionality

Many of these graphic design tools support the use of plugins or add-ons to extend their functionality. This allows users to add more features to their existing design software and make them more versatile as per their design work requirements.

Figma

Figma is a cloud-based, real-time collaborative design tool. It is perfect for remote teams with a focus on UI/UX design. You can create responsive and user-friendly interfaces for websites and mobile apps using Figma’s versatile editor.

You can use Figma editor for free with basic features. The free plan allows a maximum of 3 collaborative design files. Figma also offers premium plans which include the Professional, Organization, and Enterprise plans.

The main features of Figma are as follows:

  • Real-Time Collaboration with Live Edits: Team members can make live edits. It means multiple users can collaborate on a single design file in real-time. Also, the users can share design assets with their teams. It brings efficiency, consistency, and creative synergy to design projects across the board.
  • Interactive Design Prototyping: Figma’s prototyping features allow designers to create interactive prototypes. It provides a realistic preview of the user experience.
  • Version History and Comments: The platform keeps track of version history. It allows designers to revert to previous versions if needed. The commenting features improve communication within design teams. It promotes a transparent collaboration process.
  • Vector networks: Create complex vector graphics and illustrations quickly, all within one object, without the need for separate path objects.
  • Versatility: Figma can be used for both UI/UX design and prototyping.

Canva

Canva is a user-friendly, web-based graphic design tool suitable for both beginners and professionals. It offers collaboration features and is known for its simplicity and accessibility.

The features and use cases include:

  • Template Library: Canva offers a wide range of customizable templates for various design projects. It includes eye-catching graphics for social media posts, banners, posters, stories, presentations, and more.
  • Drag-and-Drop Interface: Customize pre-existing templates or create designs from scratch with a simple drag-and-drop interface.
  • Brand Kits: Create a centralized brand kit by storing your brand’s colors, fonts, and logos for easy access.
  • Rich Content Library: Includes a rich collection of stock photos, illustrations, and fonts.
  • Marketing Materials: Professional marketing materials like posters and infographics.

Sketch

Sketch is a vector-based design tool, focused mainly on UI and web design. It comes with artboard management and prototyping features.

The features and use cases of Sketch include:

  • Artboard-based Design: For the design of complex interfaces, designers can create multiple screens or pages within a single document.
  • Symbols and Styles: Improve efficiency by creating reusable design elements such as symbols and styles for cohesive and consistent designs.
  • Prototyping Tools: Create interactive prototypes of your designs. It allows you to use and reuse common UI elements and their interactions across prototypes. You can also embed prototypes and share your work on other platforms, blogs, or websites.
  • Collaborative Design: Real-time collaborative design tools allow sharing of documents, workspace, components, etc. with designers, developers, or any decision-makers.
  • Plugin Ecosystem: Sketch supports a robust plugin ecosystem to extend functionality based on specific project requirements.

Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe Creative Cloud offers a collection of tools and services for creative fields. It includes creative tools for graphic design, digital art, photography, videography, and more.

For the graphic design field, it offers popular applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. Also, it has a vibrant ecosystem of plugins or add-ons available through Adobe Exchange. They can extend functionalities and features like additional filters, effects, and specialized tools. The developers often create plugins to address specific design needs.

With Creative Cloud, users can access their projects and files from anywhere, as it offers cloud storage and syncing capabilities.

Photoshop

Photoshop is a powerful photo editing software. It offers a wide range of tools and filters to enhance, manipulate, and retouch images. You can adjust colors, remove unwanted objects, and apply artistic effects to your photos. With its layering system and advanced masking options, you get precise control over image elements.

Illustrator

Illustrator is a vector graphics editor that is used for creating logos, icons, illustrations, and other graphics. It provides tools for drawing, painting, and designing with precision.

Adobe XD

Adobe XD is a user experience (UX) design and prototyping software. It is used for creating interactive designs and prototypes for websites, mobile apps, and other digital interfaces. With Adobe XD, designers can easily create wireframes, design layouts, and add interactive elements like buttons, forms, and animations.

Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign is publishing software that is mainly used for creating print and digital media publications, such as magazines, brochures, eBooks, posters, and interactive PDFs.

With Adobe InDesign, you get print-ready settings, layout, and typographic tools to create visually appealing designs. Also, it supports advanced features like master pages, which allow for consistent design elements across multiple pages.

Adobe Spark

Adobe Spark is a user-friendly, creative platform that allows users to create and share visual content like web stories, animated videos, web pages, and social media graphics.

With Adobe Spark, you can add text, images, and videos to your projects, and customize them with different themes, colors, and fonts.

After Effects

After Effects is a powerful visual effects and motion graphics software. It is used in the film and television industry for creating stunning visual effects, presentations, and animations. Using it, you can composite multiple layers of images and videos, apply special effects like explosions and particle simulations, and create dynamic motion graphics. It also supports keyframe animation and 3D rendering.

CorelDRAW

CorelDRAW is a versatile vector graphics editor. It includes both vector and raster editing features. It is perfect for various design tasks and includes support for 3D design.

The features and applications include:

  • Vector Illustrations: Provides a comprehensive set of drawing tools and features for creating complex designs. As an example, you can develop detailed technical diagrams efficiently with vector illustration tools.
  • Vector Art for Merchandise: Create unique vector illustrations for merchandise like T-shirts and mugs with CorelDRAW.
  • Page Layout Capabilities: Supports page layout for designing brochures, stationery, posters, and other print materials.
  • Bitmap Editing and Photo-Paint Integration: CorelDRAW integrates well with other Corel products such as Corel PHOTO-PAINT for raster layouts to provide advanced bitmap editing capabilities. This integration allows designers to combine vector and raster elements in a single project.
  • Typography Tools: Allow designers to work with various fonts and text effects.
  • CorelDRAW supports the use of macros, scripts, and plugins to extend its functionalities. Users can install or create custom scripts to automate repetitive tasks.

Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer is a professional graphic design software that is known for its powerful vector editing capabilities. It is a popular alternative to Adobe Illustrator.

The features include:

  • Precision Editing Tools: Includes the Pen tool and Node tool for precision editing.
  • Non-Destructive Editing: Gives flexibility to experiment and make changes without losing their original artwork.
  • Extensions Support: Affinity store offers various add-ons for purchase or free download which include extensions, brushes, and styles to improve workflow with extra resources.

InVision

InVision is a web-based prototyping and collaboration platform for designers. It allows designers to create interactive prototypes of their designs and gather feedback from stakeholders and clients.

The main features are:

  • Seamless Screen Linking: Easily link different screens or artboards together to create a realistic user experience.
  • Collaborative Features: Includes commenting and version control for team members to collaborate and iterate on designs.

GIMP

GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program is a robust, free, and open-source raster graphics editor. It also includes basic vector tools like the path tool.

Here are some features of GIMP:

  • Image Manipulation Tools: Crop, resize, and retouch images as well as apply various filters and effects. It also supports layers and masks.
  • Customization Options: GIMP allows to personalize workspace, shortcuts, and tool settings to suit specific preferences and workflow.

Inkscape

Inkscape is a free and open-source vector graphics editor with a focus on scalable vector graphics (SVG) as its central format. It includes:

  • Vector Drawing Tools: Offers a variety of tools for creating shapes, paths, and text, as well as features like gradients, patterns, and transparency effects.
  • Advanced Features: Bezier curve editing tools for precise shape manipulation and path editing capabilities to modify paths, curves, and nodes with precision.
  • Live Path Effects: Apply a variety of dynamic and customizable effects to paths, such as patterns along the path, envelope deformation, and perspective transformations.

Blender

Blender is a free and open-source 3D graphics software tool used for creating visual effects, art, 3D printed models, interactive 3D applications, animated films, and simulations.

  • 3D Creation Suite: Includes tools for modeling, animation, rigging, simulation, rendering, compositing, and visual effects.
  • Modeling Tools: To create highly detailed and complex 3D models, Blender provides modeling tools, such as sculpting, retopology, and mesh editing.

Conclusion

There are many graphic design software or tools out there. Some cater to a variety of design tasks, while others simply focus on certain aspects of graphic design. Therefore, it’s crucial for designers to recognize the core purpose of design tools, their features, and functionality. This helps streamline their design workflow and improve the effectiveness of their design process. It leads to the purposeful utilization of each tool.

Once you are familiar with different design tools, you may also want to improve your graphic design skills. We have a comprehensive guide on how to improve your graphic design skills, filled with valuable tips and practices.

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