I have a few favourite restaurants that I love going to. They are the old reliables. I know what I’m getting, and I know it’s going to be good! But I like to branch out now and then and try something new, and sometimes I discover even better places that become my new go-tos. It’s the same with design tools. You can end up stuck in a rut with a roster of your regulars and forget to see what else has emerged. While your core toolset is probably pretty well established, there is a huge range of special-purpose tools available at low cost or even for free. While not every tool will find its way in to your workday, here are some of our favs that should be checked out.
littleipsum.com (OS X)
While Adobe InDesign does have its handy Fill With Placeholder Text feature built into the Type menu for inserting Greek text, LittleIpsum picks up the slack in all other programs by adding OS X menu-bar placeholder text access wherever else you might need it! It’s nimble, requires little system resources and doesn’t take up much space on the menu bar.
Alternately, websites like lipsum.com (and a variety of themed variants like cupcakeipsum.com, for dessert lovers, and slipsum.com, for Samuel L. Jackson fans) work in a pinch if you don’t want to add clutter to your menu bar.
Free download, donations appreciated
Adobe Color CC
iTunes App Store (iOs App)
Adobe Color is the updated version of Kuler and integrates with your Creative Cloud account. With it, you can quickly build or capture colour palettes and share them across your entire cloud library for easy access on any of your workstations. You can define colour themes manually or by ‘eye-dropping’ photos, refining to your tastes as you develop the palette, then loading said palette into your Creative Cloud applications for immediate use.
Included with a Creative Cloud account (both free and paid membership)
fount.artequalswork.com (Web Browser Bookmarklet)
While you can always dig through a website’s CSS and use various browser-based inspectors and web development plug-ins to review what a page is supposed to be showing you, this clever bookmarklet from Art=Work allows you to see text formatting even more quickly and easily, and importantly, only displays what you are ACTUALLY SEEING in your browser.
guideguide.me (Adobe Photoshop CS5+ Extension)
This quick and handy Photoshop extension adds a new palette specifically for adding, editing and managing guides. Setting up guides to accommodate columnar layouts or grids can be done based on document or selection, with advanced guide notation features for power users to quickly generate very exacting layout configurations. Best of all, you can save your favourite guide layouts as “sets” to quickly recall and apply as needed.
Another great tool from Monotype is SkyFonts, a cloud-connected font manager that allows instant access to your font libraries across workstations from a variety of sources (including fonts.com, Monotype, Linotype and others).
While this is especially ideal if one of the SkyFonts-enabled sites is already your go-to type provider, it still shines for other users because it also connects to the complete Google Fonts library, a vast collection of open-source fonts originally geared for web pages and applications, but with some also usable on commercial print projects.
Art Directors ToolKit
code-line.com/artdirectorstoolkit (OS X Dashboard Widget)
This long-time reliable resource adds a whole collection of mini-tools to your OS X dashboard, from screen rulers and colour swatch books to unit conversions, on-screen colour sampling and reference tables for glyphs. Because it is a widget, these tools are available in any application you’re working consistently.
Free to try (15 uses), $25 USD to purchase
vectormagic.com (Website, Desktop Application)
While the site itself may not be much to look at, this purpose-built alternative to Adobe Illustrator’s Live Trace does one thing and does it amazingly well: it converts bitmap images to vector graphics. Vector Magic’s tracing accuracy is unparalleled amongst the tools we’ve used for this sort of task and the interface is quick and simple to understand. Like any bitmap-to-vector tracing process, fine type traced from low-res images and other highly detailed figures may need to be re-typeset, but for logos and other large shapes Vector Magic is hard to beat. Even with the worst cases it gives you a great head start on rebuilding a vector graphic from a client-provided bitmap.
Available as a stand-alone desktop application for a one-time fee, or as a subscription-based web service paid monthly
While industry veterans relish the opportunity to show off their typographical fluency by accurately naming fonts in the wild, myfonts.com’s WhatTheFont removes the guesswork by analyzing uploaded images of text and identifying most commercial typefaces. If the automated system doesn’t return a good result, an enthusiastic community of typophiles from the WhatTheFont forums steps in to help.
extensis.com/font-management/fontdoctor/ (Mac and PC Desktop Application)
Corrupt fonts and other font-related technical problems
are a frustration you don’t need in your day-to-day workflow.
Extensis’ FontDoctor provides easy-to-use tools to repair common problems with font files, quarantine corrupted fonts, and generally keep your fonts happy and healthy. Although it’s one of those tools that only gets fired up a few times a year—provided you take care of your libraries—it can be a total life-saver when deadlines are tight.
$70, or free with purchase of Suitcase Fusion
Identifont has a different approach to the same problem, providing a series of questions about a mystery typeface, akin to a game of Guess Who?, starting with the basics—“Do the characters have serifs?”—and getting more complex from there. If you have a decent sampling of upper- and lower-case characters, it does a respectable job of narrowing things down.
Are you using a tool that should be on this list? Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.