It’s never been easier to run your own business as a designer. With a wealth of tools out there to help you throughout the entire design process, you can spend less time banging your head on the desk and more time pumping out streamlined design projects.
Having said that, the increase in design tools doesn’t always make your life easier. There’s almost an excessive amount of tools out there, and not all of them suit a freelance designer who’s managing their own business and working on a budget.
How do you know which to choose when there’s 27 project management tools and 15 wireframe tools that come up in just a cursory search?
To help you decide which tools to spend time learning, we curated this list of the 10 best freelance design tools—separated by what they’re most useful for—putting the cream of the crop in one handy place.
1. Design collaboration tool: Zight (formerly CloudApp)
As a designer, you know how impossible it can be to explain or translate a design verbally. Zight (formerly CloudApp) makes the impossible possible by letting you visually present and share your designs with clients and teammates, getting instant feedback and annotations and making design collaboration easier and faster than ever.
Web and product designers can create video recordings walking through their designs, and even add sound to provide commentary on their work. You can use Zight (formerly CloudApp) to document your design process with GIFs, videos, or screenshots and share it with colleagues and clients, or even create training videos for other designers.
The program will streamline your workflow and take your design collaboration into hyperspeed, eliminating those long, wordy back-and-forths and making it one of the most essential and powerful design collaboration tools.
2. Graphic design tool: Affinity Designer
Move over Adobe, there’s a new design company in town and it’s taking the industry by storm! Affinity Designer is an extremely intuitive and easy-to-use app that’s almost entirely dedicated to web and graphic design. A (big) step above Photoshop, Affinity has a simple UI that focuses on the main tools and features a designer would need, removing those that aren’t as important so you can stay focused.
The most notable features are a 1,000,000% zoom (yes, you read that right), and the ability to undo and go back over 8,000 steps—as a designer, that’s a lifebuoy you’ll definitely be grateful for at some point in your career.
With color control that lets you work in RGB or LAB color spaces or end-to-end CMYK and ICC color management if you’re designing for print, plus unlimited artboards that you can export at 1x, 2x and 3x resolution in one operation, it has everything you need to produce high quality designs no matter what your medium.
Affinity also features adjustable, non-destructive layers that allow you to edit images or vectors without damaging them.
3. Design preview tool: Skala Preview
Don’t trust your clients’ computer to interpret your designs correctly? Skala Preview lets you send lossless, color-accurate, pixel-perfect design previews to any iOs device so you can have the confidence that clients are seeing exactly what you’re seeing. Unless they happen to be colorblind… Oh no wait, even then! The program factors in protanopia, deuteranopia, tritanopia, and even total color blindness to ensure your designs are seen the way they’re intended to be.
Another great feature of this app is its real-time Photoshop preview, letting clients view your canvas as you edit—no saving required (provided you’re using CS5 12.0.4 or newer). This app is great as it lets you clear up any design mishaps and make changes during the design process rather than later on.
4. Wireframe tool: Balsamiq wireframes
This is a designer’s dream tool for wireframing and sketching out ideas. Easier to use than a whiteboard, Balsamiq lets you drag and drop elements to sketch out designs and put them together for initial feedback. The great thing about Balsamiq is its focus on structure and content, helping you pump out the main details of a design without the distractions of color and finer details. You can really iron out design problem-solving issues without committing too much time and energy to the process.
The program includes hundreds of built-in UI controls and icons, as well as ones shared by the Balsamiq community. You can export your wireframes to PNG as well as interactive PDFs, and create templates and reusable component libraries for similar projects. Use this program for rapid prototyping, wireframing, brainstorming, interaction design, and anytime you want to present a simple interface without the complications of color and other design elements.
5. Business management tool: AND CO
As a freelancer, it’s your responsibility to manage workflow, projects, clients, timelines, and invoicing. But as a designer, that’s probably not your forte—nor your greatest passion! Enter AND CO: a creative freelancers’ haven for running the backend of your business.
You can use AND CO to keep track of your project deadlines, paid and unpaid invoices, expenses, and overall income. Track time on your projects and turn this tracked time into invoices in seconds. Put together proposals and contracts that help you win jobs and cover yourself. This is the all-in-one app you need to run your own freelance business, and with its intuitive UI and beautiful design, you’ll at least get your admin done from an aesthetically-pleasing app (no spreadsheets here).
6. Animation tool: Rive
Web designers and game designers can’t go past Rive, a brilliant browser-based tool that makes it super easy to animate and design vector art. Use it to create sophisticated interactions, animated icons, onboarding screens, game characters, and anything else that needs the added flair (pun intended) of a little movement.
The program lets you work in real-time with assets that run in your final product so that you don’t have to redo that work in code.
7. Image compressor: Squoosh
Too much time is spent uploading images as a designer, and Squoosh will help you reclaim some of that time back. A freelance designer’s dream, Squoosh lets you compress images without sacrificing quality so you can upload faster, store more, and enjoy speedier website loading times.
Brought to you by Google, the free app is incredibly easy-to-use. Just drag and drop an image into Squoosh and use the slider to modify the compression. You can view in real-time how the image quality changes with compression, and settle on a nice balance between a reasonable file size and a clear image. Squoosh can be used both online and offline, and it will save you tons of uploading time as well as storage space.
8. Design freebies: Design DB
Smart designers know you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. DesignDB is a beautifully curated list of free design tools that will transform the way you work (and how fast you put together a design). Here you’ll find everything from UI templates and icons to photoshop layers, vectors, sketch libraries, and more.
You can view tools by category or filter them by keyword to quickly find what you’re looking for. Templates are separated by industry, making it super-easy to jumpstart on a project and make progress in no time at all.
9. Team project management tool: Flow
For designers who work as part of a team or on projects with multiple client stakeholders, Flow is your collaborative workspace. Designed to help you stay on top of projects that involve multiple team members, you can use it to plan ahead, set priorities and deadlines, and maintain transparency on projects from start to finish.
You can leave comments to keep all conversations and feedback about a task in one place, and get direct answers from teammates about where things are at.
Featuring simple checklists, kanban boards, project timelines, and a clean dashboard where you can get a clear overview of all your projects, Flow will help you keep teams on task and projects on time.
10. Responsive website tool: Webflow
Webflow helps you design, build, and launch responsive websites, visually. Webflow writes semantic, production-ready code for you while you design, so you don’t need to rely on a developer to bring your design to life.
You just drag cleanly coded, fully-responsive HTML elements on to the canvas, drop them where you want them, and style them using familiar visual tools. This gives you instant, visual feedback, so you can work that much faster, knowing that what you’re creating is possible for the web.
With this tool, you can send your clients and teammates fully functional, live websites, rather than static mockups—now that’s professional.
Get Started with These Design Tools
Having the right design tools in your arsenal can save you a ton of time, help you solve design problems more easily and even make your work better.
Learning new tools can take time, but ultimately it’ll be worth it when you’re able to present work to your clients that’s more professional, more creative and more polished.
Get set up with these tools and you’ll notice a huge difference in your everyday work life.
You can start improving your design today FORFREE with Zight (formerly CloudApp)
Sophie is growth and content strategist at AND CO from Fiverr, the freelancing software designed to help independent workers manage their businesses from proposal to payment. She writes for several publications about remote work, growing your business, and professional purpose.