Digital tools revolutionized the field of graphic design. Today's designers grimace at the idea of being reliant on old-school tools like registration pins, X-acto knives, and film cameras. Thanks to fun and effective mobile apps, though, designers are being untethered from their computers as well. These apps help you spend less time hunched over a keyboard, mouse, or drawing tablet and more time seeking inspiration in the real world.
A note of apology to those without iPhones or iPads: Apple products are still the industry standard in the design world, and these apps reflect that. Apps listed are iOS-only unless where noted.
Imengine Vector Camera
There are several camera-to-vector apps that turn images into exportable vector files, but most of them have iffy results.
This one is a good bet because it's easy to use, has consistent results, includes on-trend style filters and the price is right. No mobile app is a replacement for serious chops in Illustrator, but this one is legitimately fun for composing quick vignettes and avatars, or generating a starter .svg file to work with later on.
The app is free, though certain filters and features require a US$1.99 upgrade.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for iPhone
Leave the overused filters and rudimentary adjustment tools for the amateurs. Using a bona fide Adobe product means access to the professional-level tools and adjustments to which you've become accustomed.
There are multiple mobile versions of Photoshop, some of them more powerful than Lightroom. But in our opinion, the features of Lightroom are about as technical as we'd like to get on our phones. Lightroom gives you everything you need to optimize on-the-go photography for social media posts and blog updates, without taking up too much of our iOS devices' precious space. When it comes to working with layers, high-resolution corrections, and heavy-duty image manipulation, we'd rather be at our desks.
Mobile versions of Lightroom require a $9.99 monthly subscription, unless you already have an overarching Creative Cloud membership. The $9.99 plan includes Lightroom for desktop, mobile, and web, plus the current version of Photoshop CC. Adobe offers many other subscription tiers, and makes Android software as well.
The utility of Noteshelf – the $8.99 note taking app for the iPad – extends far beyond the graphic design world. But if you're a designer who works collaboratively, or attends out-of-office meetings frequently, your physical files are likely full of one-off concept sketches, truncated handwritten notes, and miscellaneous wireframes.
This app will fix all that. It's like a sketchbook from the future. You can store audio recordings and photos, sketch out ideas, brainstorm a few doodles, organize each session, and annotate and share documents all from one app. Use of a stylus is recommended, but Noteshelf is compatible with popular third party styli that you may already own.
You're stuck somewhere – maybe on your commute, waiting at the doctor's office or doing some light work at a café. You're brainstorming a project, but it's not the time or place to get down to brass tacks. Browsing fonts is a great option for staying productive in times like these.
If you have a project at hand with no obvious font choice in mind, the recourse is often checking out as many fonts as you can until a select few start to stand out. Fontbook lets you accomplish this from anywhere, putting over 600,000 searchable typeface samples at your fingertips for only $2.99.