30 Essential Apps for Designers

Thanks to the portability and user-friendly nature of today’s smart phones and tablets, designers are able to track ideas, sketch and stay organized from anywhere. However, with app stores swamped with thousands of options, it could get overwhelming (and expensive) to try out each one.

From Android to Apple, these 30 apps are essential for designers and creatives of all sorts. Whether you’re a writer looking for fonts, a photographer who edits on the go, a painter in need of a palette, or a web designer needing an HTML cheat sheet, rest assured, they’re on the list.

Do you have some pro-pointers on how to use these apps? Did you think of one we left off the list? Leave a comment and let us know!

Graphic Design Apps

Adobe Photoshop Touch ($4.99 for smartphones, $9.99 for tablets)

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It doesn’t pack the punch of its more expensive cousin CS, but this pared-down mobile version is impressive for the money. Adobe offers phone and tablet versions for both iOS and Android operating systems. With core Photoshop tools, and the ability to sync files to Adobe Creative CloudTM to open your photos up in Photoshop and see your layers, mobile photo editing has never been this advanced.


myPANTONE ($7.99)

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This handy resource offers details of all PANTONE colors, including their CMYK/HEX/RGB codes. It allows you to easily see which colors work in harmony, and share your favorite color palettes with friends. Use this app for home and fashion design. It even has a feature that lets you extract colors from photos and compare them to the PANTONE colors.


Sketches ($1.45 for original Android version, $2.99 for new iOS version)

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Classic sketching gets a digital makeover with a range of brushes and clip art. This app’s great for getting ideas down on the fly. Allowing users to sketch or take notes with their touch screens, the options for doodling are endless.


WhatTheFont (Free)

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We’ve all seen an amazing font in a magazine or online and wondered what it was. WhatTheFont eliminates the guesswork, identifying the fonts in the images you snap. The font identification service, MyFonts, has been helping customers pinpoint mystery fonts for 10 years. You can choose saved photos from your photo library or opt to snap a photo from within the app screen.


Autodesk Sketchbook Pro ($1.99 for smartphones, $4.99 for tablets)

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The intuitive interface of Sketchbook Pro allows you to easily create spectacular artworks from scratch. Smart phone and tablet versions allow you to get artistic on the device of choice. Providing users with more than 100 illustration tools, there’s even do-it-yourself customizable brushes available. Don’t let your digital illustration be stifled again, get this app right away.


Merriam-Webster (Free)

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A spelling mistake in your final design can ruin your credibility, even if you didn’t supply the copy. With a voice search feature, even terrible spellers can find the words they need. Never let a typo slip by you with this dictionary app.

Image Apps

FxCamera (Free)

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This free app turns your smart phone camera into a high-powered photographic device. Enjoy the auto enhance feature and range of over 40 filters. There are six different photo editing effects to intensify certain aspects of your photo. The toycam effect heightens the colors in your photo, the symmetric effect creates mirrored images, and the fisheye effect creates a specific, distinct distortion to your photo.


Snapseed (Free)

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Deemed the best mobile photo app of 2012 by the Technical Image Press Association, Snapseed is a clever photo editor. Its filters and adjustments are powerful enough to turn an ordinary photo into a striking piece. With so many different options for effects, adjustments, and enhancements, your photos will seem like a painting.


PicFrame ($.99)

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There are plenty of apps for putting the finishing touches on photos, but PicFrame has the photo effects and frame shapes to win designers over. Make sure you’ve got a fast connection from an internet provider if you plan to share the finished products with friends. This app provides users with 71 adjustable frames that support up to 9 photos at a time. Users can choose to frame their photos with rounded corners, text labeling, and patterns to create a unique finished piece of art.


BeFunky Photo Editor (Free)

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Its name might be a bit dated, but the special effects and frames included in this app are, for lack of a better word, funky. It also contains a range of user-friendly editing tools. Claiming to have more effects than any other photo editing app, BeFunky will keep you creating and stylizing for hours.


TouchUp Pro ($2.99)

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TouchUp Pro is all about keeping it simple. Its website boasts that this user-friendly app takes a matter of seconds to edit any image. Red eye and blemish removal functions are especially useful. Every editing tool is stackable so that you can retouch your photos exactly how you want to.


Dash of Color Free! For iOS and Android (Free)

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As its name suggests, this free app adds a dash of color to any black and white photo. The simple yet smart interface allows you to easily emphasize the key elements of your images. Whether you want the background in color and the focus of the photo to be in black and white, or if you want to reverse that color scheme, this app allows you to do both.


Photobucket for iOS and Android (Free)

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Many designers have a soft spot for photo-sharing site, Photobucket. Thanks to this app, you can take the things you love about the website, on-the-move. It’s ideal for staying in touch and self-promotion. Easily organize your photos into albums, and share them with family and friends through Photobucket or share them to Facebook, Twitter and email.

Web Design Apps

HTML Cheat Sheet for iOS and Android (99c)

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This user-friendly HTML guide helps you search for the code you need and test your finished HTML inside its interface. It’s written and reviewed by developers to ensure its information is spot on. This app even works offline so you can study it anywhere.


CSS Cheat Sheet for iOS and Android (99c)

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Another gem from Concentric Sky, CSS Cheat Sheet gives programmers a quick refresher course in cascading style sheet properties and values. And like it’s sister app, this app was written and reviewed by professional web developers.


php Cheat Sheet for iOS and Android (99c)

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The PHP Cheat Sheet app complements Concentric Sky’s other programming reference guides. This one focuses on the functions and syntax of the PHP language.


Adobe Edge Inspect (Free)

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Adobe makes it easy to test your websites on mobile devices with this free app. Formerly known as Shadow, Adobe Edge Inspect allows you to pair a range of devices with your computer and use them simultaneously to browse your website, making changes as you go.

Inspirational Apps


Pinterest (Free)

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Pinterest helps you create a virtual pinboard packed with photos and videos that inspire you. The app’s social side allows you to connect with other designers. Bring this fun social media website to your phone with the Pinterest App. You can share do-it-yourself food, clothing, or home décor ideas and let your friends know what your favorite trends are by re-pinning photos.


Fontly (Free)

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Like Instagram for fonts, the Fontly app allows designers to share images of their favorite font-obsession in the real world. Browse through the images of typography when you’re lacking inspiration. Pair this app with the Whatthefont app and your graphic font design skills will never lack inspiration.


Flipboard (Free)

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Create your own virtual magazine with Flipboard. Save anything you find interesting with just a tap so you can refer to it when you’re having a creative dry spell. And if you’re worried about archives in Google reader, you can transfer your feeds into Flipboard.


SimpleMind Mind Mapping (Free/$4.99)

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The digital equivalent of a whiteboard, SimpleMind helps you get your creative juices flowing by creating and old-fashioned mind map. It’s easy to use with a tried and true concept. This brainstorming app lets you categorize and link ideas and concepts together, in a well-organized manner. Better than drawing a brainstorming map with a pen, this app allows you to cut and paste at will while linking and unlinking ideas without ruining your whole mind map.


The Guardian Eyewitness (Free)

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This app delivers a photograph, daily from The Guardian, Britain’s esteemed newspaper. The images are inspiring, and hand selected by the experts at the newspaper. Viewers and aspiring photographers will learn plenty from the accompanying pro tips.


TED for iOS and Android (Free)

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Sometimes the best way to get inspired is to hear from someone inspiring. This app brings thousands of lectures from some of the world’s most interesting people, including designers, and entrepreneurs, to your mobile devices. If you’ve never heard a TEDTalk, it’s basically a short presentation delivered by some of the most interesting minds in the world. Promoting, “ideas worth spreading,” this app will keep you intrigued and inspired.

File Management Apps


Dropbox (Free)

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Dropbox makes it easy to manage and share your files across a range of devices. Apps for Android and iOS devices, Blackberries, and the Kindle Fire integrate with the company’s website. Just add files, photos, and videos to your Favorites and carry them with you on your mobile device. You can even access them from offline if you are in a remote location.


ServersMan (Free)

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ServersMan converts your favorite iOS or Android phone or tablet into a portable, wireless server. It’s ideal for client meetings and telecommuting. You can connect any of your devices to the device you chose to act as the wireless server. Head to the website to set up your account and device and never live without Wi-Fi again.


Evernote (Free)

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Evernote helps you organize your texts, photos, and notes. The app allows you to access them whenever you need them on the device of your choice. The visually appealing interface should be the perfect tool for designers.


Wunderlist (Free)

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More than 3.5 million people around the globe use mobile organizing app, Wunderlist, to keep their lives organized. Designers can create separate to-do lists for each client, and arrange these items in priority order, to stay on track. For “list-people,” this app is great for organizing the thousands of sticky notes you have lying around your desk. Go digital and always have access to any list you create.


Bug Me! ($.99)

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Never miss a deadline with Bug Me! If you can’t let go of the sticky notes, make them digital with this app. Create notes using your finger or the inbuilt keyboard, and set an alarm to ensure you don’t forget about them. A great reminder tool for busy people who always have a million things on their minds.


Air Display ($4.99)

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Turn your mobile devices into extra monitors with Air Display. Not to be confused for a simple remote desktop program, this app uses WiFi to free up space on your main monitor. Now multi-tasking just got easier with Air Display.


ACTPrinter ($1.99)

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Go paperless with ACTPrinter, an app which allows you to “print” meeting details and mock-ups to your mobile devices. It’s not just green, it’s also a more secure way of doing business. For all your boarding passes, and e-tickets, ACTPrinter helps you send documents from you desktop or laptop computer, straight to you mobile device so that you can access those important documents on-the-go.

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  1. Hightail is also great application to share big files with coworkers and clients. You might consider adding to this list.

  2. Hi Frank!

    Thanks for the post “30 Essential Apps for Designers”. I found it very helpful and expect other will find it useful too.


  3. Really very essential and useful Apps for Designers. Personally i am a professional designer so your post is very much helpful for me !!

  4. Great list of apps! I’m trying to learn little by little the basics of graphic designs, but I’m having problems when it comes to choosing the right combination of colors.

  5. Incredible list of apps for web designer !! Such apps help us organize, brainstorm and work more efficiently, they can also be a lot of fun. Just looking at a variety of interfaces and usability options can be inspiring in itself.

  6. I like so much this one: Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

  7. Awesome article. I have a friend who swears by myPANTONE. Also impressed by the reasonable price tags on all of these apps… you’d think they would be a bit more pricey, especially the photoshop for tablets! And I love PicFrame… use it all the time. Incredibly easy and continues to improve. I also like using PicFX (not listed here), it has some awesome light kits and filters you can layer together. Thanks for all the info Emily, will definitely be trying out some of these in the future!!

  8. I recommend TeuxDeux. It has a beautiful interface and it’s extremely effective.

  9. Hello, I check your new stuff lioke every week. Your story-telling style
    is awesome, keep it up!

  10. What’s up, yup this paragraph is genuinely good and I have learned lot of
    things from it about blogging. thanks.

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