There are so many useful tools out there to help you with your design work, but the costs can quickly add up when you start stocking up on software, hardware, stock photos, graphics, pens, pencils, paper, books, magazines, etc. The list can feel endless. You shouldn’t have to spend a fortune to make your designs stand out, especially when all you really want to do is get on with creating exceptional work.
We asked our expert designers and teachers here at Shillington to share their favourite free resources to help spark your creativity or boost your design business without breaking the bank. Here are their top picks:
Full of free graphics and web resources, Pixeden has a little bit of everything. From graphic design and web design templates, to a whole host of icons and vectors, there’s a lot to choose from. You can sign up for a free account but if you want something a bit extra, they offer relatively cheap premium plans too.
2. Design Instruct
Design Instruct offers lots of free resources, as well as a ton of useful articles. Simply head to their Freebies section to download anything from icons, vectors and fonts, to Photoshop actions, stock images and textures. Their articles are worth a browse as well if you have a spare minute.
3. Pixel Buddha
Browse through Pixel Buddha’s endless catalogue of freebies, including icons, templates, vectors and more. The website has a few high quality fonts as well, which are good for adding a personal touch to a project. From time to time the website hosts limited special offers as well, letting you snap up premium goods for nothing.
As well as being a great source for design inspiration, Dribbble also high quality freebies including icons, fonts, vector illustrations, patterns and textures. They are often featured on numerous websites, but you can be the first to view the very latest additions by searching the ‘freebies’ tag on the Dribbble website. With so many users worldwide, you can be sure of a good selection of items posted each day.
5. Creative Market
Go to their Get Free Goods section for a line-up of the best free goodies on Creative Market from the past week. To mix things up the website offers a variety of graphics, including vectors, Photoshop packs, fonts and textures.
The Freebie Gallery on the Bittbox website includes a vast selection of brushes and textures available for free download and use in Photoshop. Expect scratched backgrounds, paint blotches, wooden textures and loads more.
Web Design Resources
7. Fly Pixel
Similar to Pixeden, Fly Pixel has hundreds of user interface, template and icon resources, available for free. If you have something particular in mind for a specific project, their handy search filters can help you narrow down the resources by colour.
8. Graphic Burger
There are some great mockups on Graphic Burger to experiment with, from business cards to street signs. The background textures are also rather useful. Some of the free resources are limited though, with total access to the full pack through a premium account.
Best for Photoshop downloads, Psddd has a variety of icons, UI kits, backgrounds, and mockups too. Their Photoshop elements include textures and brushes to layer onto your design, as well as a few free extensions and tips.
From fonts and icons to Illustrator and Photoshop freebies, Freebiesbug has got a vast amount of resources for designers. There is a large selection of good quality, unique fonts, as well as mockups and website templates. Whatever you need, you’re likely to find it on this website.
The blog covers popular web design trends, with tutorials and free stuff along the way too. There are articles covering all aspects of web design from branding and UX design, right up to marketing and social media help, while the WebdesignerDepot freebies include UI kits, WordPress themes, mockups, icons and vectors.
12. Font Squirrel
The mother of all font websites, Font Squirrel has hundreds of different typefaces for free use across commercial work. Whatever style you need, from a more corporate font to calligraphic lettering, there are all sorts, which can be searched for by their list of tags.
Whether you’re new to design or not, Fontshop gives a nice digest of design terms relating to fonts in their glossary, to help you get your head round things. It’s also a good place to start if you’re unsure about how to search for the font you want. Here’s the full A-Z of terminology so you can get clued up:
Typewolf was created with the purpose of gathering together the best typography resources, making finding the perfect font as easy as possible. There are tons of lists summing up certain types of fonts, guides and resources about typography, and other recommendations. The website even has a catalogue of where different fonts are used, so you can get a feel of what they look like in print or on the page of a website.
A free account on Typecast gives you access to over 3,650 web fonts, including some of the most celebrated and influential typefaces. It lets you design a working prototype that can be exported ready for production in HTML and CSS. As well as certain decorative design options, Typecast allows you to focus on the finer points, giving precise control over typography.
16. Free Typography
There are a lot of fonts to choose from on Free Typography, whether you’re searching for something simple or a more unique typeface. The website also invites you to submit your own font, which is a good way to build up your portfolio.
Subscribe to the Unsplash mailing list to get 10 free photos every 10 days, straight to your inbox. The high-resolution photographs can be of anything, that’s all part of the surprise. Expect seascapes and landscapes, architecture, travels on public transport, individual journeys, and much more. The website is great if you’re looking for something nicer than a standard stock image, and all images are free to use however you like. Modify and copy away!
18. Tech & All
Search Tech & All for free HD stock photos and design mockups. You’ll find photographs of pretty much anything, for free use across whatever project you’ve got lined up. There are a few other design resources like fonts and templates, although the website is mostly a go-to for photos.
19. Death to the Stock Photo
Cheesy stock photos have had their day and it’s time that new and current photographs stepped in. Death to the Stock Photo delivers a fresh pack of high quality photos into your inbox each month that can be used wherever you choose. The website is another alternative if you’re looking for a more unique image.
Use the filter system on the Magdeleine website to search for the right stock image. Photographs can be filtered by category, including city and architecture, objects, and food. Ideal if you need an image fast.
21. Colour: Hailpixel
Create the perfect colour palette with Colour: Hailpixel’s random colour palette generator. Scroll your mouse to see colours flash up on the screen accompanied by their hex code, inviting you to save them or generate another. Saved colours build up to compose a full palette, ready for design use. Be warned though, it’s easy to find yourself glued to it generating endless colour combinations…
The ultimate inspiration boosting tool, Niice let’s you build moodboards to look back on when you’re running low on ideas. There’s even an app available to download so you can access the moodboards when you’re out and about. Simply a private inspiration space, the website is designed to help you spark that next big idea.
23. Smashing Magazine
This well established online magazine is dedicated to designers and web developers with a number of helpful tips and advice articles, from using Photoshop to creating apps. Smashing Magazine also has a selection of free downloads under their Graphics category so you can build your resources and learn at the same time.
24. Graphic Design Blender
The website posts a number of articles each week aimed at people working within the creative industries. From tips on how to succeed as a freelance designer to the biggest mistakes you should avoid making, Graphic Design Blender is your number one source for a lot of questions you need help answering.
Project Management Resources
Collect inspirational content whilst you’re on the go, saving it for later with Pocket. It connects your web browser and mobile, letting you save things from a variety of different websites and apps too. Create moodboards or easily add things as future references. The app doesn’t even need an internet connection to load up, so that you can look at your content and read saved articles anywhere, even when offline.
If you want to take your work with you on the go, Toolr has a long list of all the websites to head to, most of which have accompanying apps. There are apps to cover the full design spectrum, from offering up stock images straight to your mobile or tablet, to apps that let you organise your thoughts. If you’re stuck for creativity, there’s a roundup of apps that share the work of designers all over the world, and even apps to get your playlist sorted in time for work.
As one of the most comprehensive project management tools, Trello is completely user-friendly. The software lets you stay organised, helping you get stuff done. You can shape the interface to suit by dragging and dropping ideas or tasks into different lists. Handy notifications will keep you reminded of any deadlines too. There’s also an app available for free download, allowing you to sync your tasks across devices.
You can manage your workspace in one place with Evernote. Syncing across all devices, the platform lets you collect images, information, notes and articles for future reference. It’s also a great way to move ideas from inspiration to completion by jotting down various stages of a project. You can even connect to other users, which is a valuable way of sharing ideas and staying in touch if you are collaborating on a project.
It’s easy to let your emails and notifications spiral out of control but MailZak manages everything for you, integrating your email and social accounts in one place. This means you have fewer distractions and more time to focus on what matters – designing. The free account give you comprehensive cover but premium upgrades let you expand your email and social reach.
There are lots of time management tools out there but Toggl is one of the best, it looks great and it’s free. It uses a simple web-based platform, helping you track your time so you know exactly how much to charge clients. Toggl also lets you generate powerful reports and export timesheets so that you better understand where your time is going.
Featured illustration by #shillosyd graduate Priscilla Lynarko.