New Tools and Inspiration for Your Design Projects

The holidays brought with them lots of excitement and a few new art supplies. Here’s a wrap-up of what’s inspiring me now.

(This post may contain affiliate links.)

I recently wrote a blog on the 23 tools that I use to run my Creative business. That post is a wealth for anyone who wants to know which tools can help them grow their business.

This post is a little different because it contains my latest tools and inspiration for the graphic arts. And if you’re a graphic designer, you might want to look into some of these fun things, too!

These are 6 things that I’m going to be using to theme my designs this coming year. (I tried to keep this list to just 5, but I had to share all of my new artistic inspo.)

Here’s what I’m excited about for 2019:

  1. My Pantone Color Bridge

  2. The Gelli Plate

  3. Affinity Designer

  4. Wacom Tablet

  5. Skillshare Courses

  6. Inspiring Design Websites

1. Pantone Colour Bridge

If you love colors like I do, you’re always looking for that exact right color for your projects. And often what you choose because you think it looks right, looks totally different on another screen (i.e., when your client gets the file), or when printed.

This is really frustrating for both designers and clients, and being able to accurately match colors sometimes feels like a secret science. But it’s something that you have to master in order to create the look your want, especially when working with a printer.

Until this time, I’ve been working mostly in web design, so I’ve been relying on the plethora of online color pickers (mainly Coolors or Adobe’s tools) and Illustrator’s inbuilt color libraries.

Last month I finally invested in the
Pantone Color Bridge and I’m so happy that I did! The Color Bridge comes with two books, the Coated (shiny) and Uncoated (matte) swatch books that correlate Pantone spot colors with CMYK (normal process colors), and even give you the web values.

Note that there are different Pantone books for different disciplines, i.e., for product designs vs. fashion and textiles, so you’ll have to find what works for your discipline. If you’re a web and graphic designer, you’ll need the color bridge, not just the formula guide.The
Pantone Formula Guide

comes out more frequently and give basic print codes for new colors, but they’re not enough if you’re working digitally AND in print.

Now I have more confidence that what I choose will look great both on screen AND in print. Simply put: If you’re a graphic designer, you need a Pantone color guide. I got mine on Amazon for a discount, and now the 2019 version also is available.

2. Gelli Plate Printing Press

Another thing I’m really excited about is my new Gelli Plate print press. I’m really into the block print and linocut looks these days, and I bought the Gelli printer to be able to make my own relief prints at home. Relief prints are where you roll out ink and press down with a paper or something to absorb it.

While you can roll ink on any surface, this Gelli Plate is a semi-spongy surface that holds paint really well, and gives just a little when you press down. So, for example, you can put a leaf down, paint over it, press with paper, and you’ll be able to take both the positive (print of veins) and negative (empty white space) images for your prints.


  Someone likes rainbow colors. Can you tell?

Someone likes rainbow colors. Can you tell?



It’s really fun to mix layers of colors and use found objects to get interesting results. My son took it over my gelli plate before I even got my hands on it, so if you have children, this is also a great intro to art for them. We used colorful acrylics that we had lying around, but I hear that you can also use oil paints and clean up with vegetable oil and soap and water.

The images above are made on normal 70 gsm printer paper, but I would like to try with a heavier weight water color paper to add more texture.

3. Affinity Designer

I’ve been working on a few patterns lately, and it gets really tiring to switch between Illustrator for vector art, and Photoshop for more subtle touches. You can do a lot in just Illustrator, but for some work (especially color correction) you’ll have to use both programs.

I find this a little frustrating, which is why I downloaded the 10-day trial of Affinity Designer.

I’m just getting started but so far. I’m loving the ability to switch between vector drawing and raster effects (what Photoshop does) all within the same program! The interface is really intuitive, it’s much faster than either Adobe program on my PC, and it can do everything I want for simple pattern design.

One major win is that Affinity comes with a one-time fee, meaning for less than the monthly price of my Adobe CC subscription, I could have a stand-alone program to do all the work. Of course, Affinity also has a Photo program (comparable to Photoshop), and their Publisher is in Beta. These three programs are meant to work together like Adobe’s Trilogy of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.

I would love it if Affinity replaced my CC subscription, but I don’t know if that’s possible just yet, as Adobe is industry-standard, so some people need .ai or .psd files to make changes on their own. And while Affinity can read Adobe files, it can’t export to them. So, more on its ultimate usefulness later…

4. Wacom Tablet

If you want to do online illustration or surface pattern design, you need to try a graphics tablet, even if it’s a small size, entry level one. You won’t believe the difference between drawing with a pressure-sensitive pen and using a mouse. There’s no comparison.

I have a 3-year-old Wacom Intuos Pro, but it still performs beautifully. I haven’t used it in many, many, months though, because I couldn’t get the tablet to show up on my PC for many, many months. Not being the most tech savvy, it took me for-ever to realize that the “discoverability” problems I was having all along were due to outdated drivers. I installed a driver updater program and huzzah (as Pooh says), it works like a charm!

Though I had spend a lot of time to improve hand-eye coordination and fussing with the Express Keys, it’s hard to justify trading in the Wacom for an iPad just yet. Yes, I would love to learn ProCreate and use Affinity Designer on the iPad, where I can see what I’m doing on the screen, but this sweet little graphics tablet still wants to do its job. Maybe by next year I’ll try to add the iPad to my workflow to save time.

5. Skillshare Courses

If there’s one thing that I like to do in my “spare time”, that’s watch Skillshare courses. I have never been much of a reader and I don’t like watching TV. But I do love… online classes!

When I’m not spending family time or working on my personal projects, I like to spend “time off” learning new skills. Promise this is not a plug for Skillshare (though I am an affiliate). I just really love the ability to watch class after class of creativity and business advice. It makes it seem like there is limitless potential to learn what I want so I can shape my work time around it.

Ideally, shouldn’t your work be what you love to do? I think it’s possible!

6. Pattern + Color Inspiration Designer Websites

Some people have definitely made a career out of their love for color, patterns, and all things pretty.

While I constantly browse Pinterest, Instagram, and designer marketplaces to see what’s trending, lately I’ve been looking more at surface pattern websites for fashion trend forecasts and ideas.

My current favorites include Spoonflower, Pattern Bank, Pattern Observer, and the recently-discovered Pattern Curator.

Pattern Curator and Pattern Observer put out trend reports that you can buy to know what’s hot for the coming seasons. Pattern Curator’s reports go beyond, though, and with a monthly subscription, you can feast your eyes on countless seasonal mood boards to inspire your craft.

If you’re a designer of any sort, or a fashion or lifestyle brand, consider putting this website on your blog roll or purchase one of their ebooks for endless inspiration.

I’ve also gone deeper into the Design Seeds website. (You’ve probably seen their pins on Pinterest.) Well, they also have a mailing list and a section of curated seasonal color palettes. Check it out!

Wrapping It Up

At the beginning of 2019, this is what’s making my life a little more fun and shaping the future of Make.Be’s design style.

What are your favorite tools right now? I’d love to hear what inspiring you to create more! Leave me a comment below 🙂

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