When you are starting out in graphic design one of the biggest outlays is buying the equipment you need. Here is list of suggestions, plus some alternative free software which you might be able to use.
Paper, pens and pencils
Sounds obvious, but one of the most important things to get your ideas down quickly is a pen/pencil and paper. I generally use a layout pad (I prefer A3) as it is semi transparent. This means if you create a design and like bits of it, you can easily see through it to trace over it and refine it.
Hardware (computer and stuff)
Mac or PC
I don’t want to start a Mac and PC war 🙂 , either will do as long as long as they have a decent amount of power and memory. I personally use a 27″ Imac.
Scanner or Camera/Phone
I use an all in one cheap printer/scanner/copier which is useful for scanning in rough sketches, but you can make do with a digital camera or phone camera to do the same thing if you want.
Depending if you are going to do design for print or web work you may need a decent colour printer. I use mine (Canon A3+ Inkjet) less and less these days, as most stuff is done via email and pdfs, but every now and then someone wants some packaging mocked up and it gets some use again.
A camera is always useful for collecting reference images, taking product shots etc.
Graphics Software (Commercial – Paid)
Adobe Creative Suite
Adobe pretty much as it wrapped up for all the basic design software you will need in Adobe Creative Suite. For print Adobe Indesign, Illustrator and Photoshop are my main packages ( I also use Quark Xpress, but most designers don’t nowadays). For web you might want Dreamweaver and Flash as well as Photoshop, or you could go really basic and use something like notepad to hand-code alongside Photoshop.
Adobe has recently introduced buying it’s software through monthly subscriptions as an alternative to just buying in one go. This makes it a bit more affordable to spread payments out. Students can get good discounts too.
Adobe also has free tutorials at Adobe TV
Other Web Software
There are also other coding packages such as Coda (which I don’t have personal experience of) and Expresso (I have used CSS Edit which is part of Expresso now, which is a great little APP for editing CSS).
Optional 3D software
You might also want to add 3D software if you are going to be doing packaging work, point of sale, or exhibition design. You could tryout the big names such as Autodesk 3ds Max or Cinema 4D but they tend to have steep learning cirves, I personally use a relatively cheap Mac only 3D package called Cheetah 3D. There are also some free 3D packages which I will mention in the next section.
Graphics Software (Open Source/Free)
If you intend doing Graphics professionally I would highly recommend investing in Adobe Creative Suite, but if you can’t afford it or are just dabbling there is some great open source software out there.
Open Source CMS (Content Management Systems)
If you are putting together websites you might want to take a look at the wide variety of Open Source CMS available, such as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. WordPress is now used for a lot of sites on the web as it is so flexible and has loads of great plugins.
You can test out some of the free CMS platforms on this site www.opensourcecms.com
Firebug (for Web Designers)
Firebug is a great free plugin/addon for the Firefox browser which allows you to look and edit the CSS on live websites (it only changes it on your browser – not the actual site).
Inkscape (Vector Software)
Gimp (Image Manipulation)
Gimp is an open source software for manipulating images which you could use as a free alternative to Photoshop. The Gimp site has a series of tutorials and you can find a list of more Gimp tutorials here
Scribus (Page Layout)
You can see a list of some of the other free 3D software packages here
Other Open Source Software
Looking for another piece of open source software? Then this is a great site to try – www.alternativeto.net . Just search for the mainstream commercial software that you want something similar to and it will suggest free alternatives.
Your PC or Mac will have no doubt come with a good selection of fonts, but if you need more there are loads of places to buy typfaces from – see a list here
For free fonts Dafont (check if they can be used commercially or not before you use each font) and Font Squirrel are very good. The downside to some free fonts is you can’t always guarantee quality and they don’t necessarily have a full character set (all punctuation, symbols etc). You can also use Google Fonts
What software do you use for Graphic Design – have any good suggestions? Please feel free to add them to the comments section.