Ten Free Online Tools Every Designer Should Know


When I pitched the idea for this article to my editor, I thought it would be an easy assignment. Was I wrong! There are so many cool, useful, and free online tools that it was tough to pare the list down to only 10. I first narrowed the list to those tools with the greatest utility and broadest appeal. When that still left me with a long list, I threw darts. The results are below.

1. Lorem Ipsum Generator InDesign, InCopy, and QuarkXPress have built-in filler-text generators, but they only do paragraph type (without some work on your part). Moreover, few other design tools generate placeholder text. That's why I use the Lorem Ipsum Generator. Available free and in 32 languages, the Lorem Ipsum Generator will produce placeholder text of any length you want simply by specifying the number of paragraphs, words, bytes, or lists.

2. Color Inspiration and Community Before Adobe's Kuler there was -- and still is -- Colour Lovers. Colour Lovers is similar to Kuler in that you can create, share, and discuss color palettes. Both let you create color palettes from scratch or from an uploaded image, and then tag, share, and discuss your palettes and others’, but Colour Lovers boasts even more impressive features. The second biggest advantage of Colour Lovers is the inclusion of patterns: Not only can you create and share colors and palettes, but also patterns of colors, many of which were inspired by palettes shared in the community. Enhanced search capabilities make it easier to find colors, palettes, and patterns by hue, Web Hex color value, date, keyword, and popularity.

Colour Lovers' biggest advantage over Kuler is the ability to download palettes not only in the Creative Suite-specific Adobe Swatch Exchange ASE format, but also as a Photoshop, Illustrator, or GIMP document, and HTML file listing the colors in Web Hex values, or even a Zip archive. Kuler offers only the ASE format. Although Kuler boasts a better color mixing interface, the extra features of Colour Lovers nudges it ahead of Kuler in my (swatch) book.

3. Invoicing and Billing FreshBooks is free invoicing and invoice tracking service. You can send invoices via e-mail or have FreshBooks print and snail mail them. The basic account is free and allows you to manage three clients concurrently, but e-mails you send through the system are branded with an ad for FreshBook itself. To get rid of the ad, increase the number of clients you can manage, or number of individuals in your organization who can access the account, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid account. Prices range from as little as $14 per month for 25 clients and one staff member account on up to the “Time Machine” plan of 5,000 clients and 20 staff members for a still very reasonable $149 per month.

4. Online Meeting, Collaboration, and Document Sharing and Proofing If I had written this article last year I would have had to pay for competent online tools for online collaboration, white boarding, document proofing, and approval. This year a single free service addresses all of those needs, and it does so very well. Acrobat.com, released concurrently with Acrobat 9, includes a quartet of very powerful tools. In Buzzword, you can create and invite others to view or contribute to word processor documents. I’ve come to love Buzzword because of the ease with which it facilitates collaboration with clients and partners. In particular, it’s useful for creating to-do or Q and A lists that multiple parties can change at any time. You can even export Buzzword documents to the desktop in a variety of standard word processor formats (and PDF, of course). ConnectNow (see below) is Acrobat.com’s online meeting and screen sharing service. Invite clients, colleagues, or remote employees to meet live and share files, screens, and a whiteboard while conversing via integrated text chat, audio via computer microphone or telephone, and even Web cam video, all for free.

Do you want an easy way to share proofs and large files with clients without worrying about e-mail attachment limits or walking clients through the process of using your FTP server? Every free Acrobat.com membership includes 5GB of file storage (see below). You can access your own files again from any Web browser, but more importantly, you can also instantly share any uploaded document with others. Although there are file-sharing services out there with larger capacities and more advanced versioning, it’s the clean and intuitive user interface, as well as the tight integration with the other Acrobat.com services that puts the free My Files and Share services top of my list.

A bonus fifth feature of Acrobat.com is the free conversion of various file types to PDF. If you don’t have Acrobat on hand, upload your file to the site and download a PDF.

5. Project Management Liquid Planner is a hosted project-management application that includes project scheduling and analysis; task management; resource scheduling; milestones; drag-and-drop ordering of priorities and tasks; integrated e-mail and other communication tools; personalized dashboards; and more. Like many such services there are paid plans, but the free plan might do you with a respectable 2GB of file storage, up to three team members, and an unlimited number of projects and tasks.

6. Understanding Your Pay Rate How do you know if you’re being paid what you’re worth? What is the average pay rate for someone in your position, at similarly sized organizations, in your city or region? Would it benefit you to move? Find the answers to these and other burning questions with the ultra useful Design Salary Calculator. Choose your position, type and size of organization, client base, and location(s) to generate a report based on the information AIGA, Aquent, and Communication Arts magazine collect annually from 50 thousand of our creative peers.

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