It’s hard to know when first starting out designing cut files which tools, softwares and equipment is really needed. I have found this list below to be the top tools, equipment and software used by SVG designers.
**Affiliate Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links where I receive a commission if any of you purchase using the link. I just want to be completely honest in this. I will say, for any products I am an affiliate through its because I currently use them and believe in them as an SVG designer. For this purpose I become an affiliate. You may taken comfort in knowing I will NEVER recommend a product I don't use, haven't tried and don't personally believe in.**
The main two things you need to start designing is a computer and also a graphic design software that has the ability to work with vectors. You really don’t need anything else. In fact, this is what I started out using in the beginning. This is also what I recommend to my beginner students. The graphics tablet, the iPad and everything else came later for me after I was comfortable designing and using AI and decided to advance the quality of my designs.
Many of you have asked what exactly is needed and would like to know what equipment I use which is also in this list. I tried to include the cost for each so you know what to start budgeting for which is always a bonus!
So here we go. In order of most important to least important:
1) A computer that will handle graphic design programs.
Kind of a given but I felt the need to elaborate on this one. I find that many people try to use their older computers to run the graphic design software and problems sometimes arise. Either there’s not enough space on the computer, not a large enough processor, or not enough RAM to run these larger programs. I probably just geeked out a bit and many of you are probably scratching your heads right now but stay with me.
In short, some find their computer isn’t able to handle the large, energy sucking graphic design software BECAUSE their computer is too old or too basic of a model that doesn’t have the speed or space to keep up with the demands of the software.
You mainly need to make sure your computer has three things: a 64 bit processor, at least 4 GB of RAM and at the very minimum 2 GB of space on your computer to run the program. Here’s a full detailed list of system requirements to run Adobe Illustrator, the software I use. Take these requirements to Best Buy or a computer store, tell them what program you are using (many of them will already be familiar with Adobe Illustrator and the requirements needed if this is the software you choose) and they will help you find one that will work.
Mac versus PC
They say Mac computers perform better when dealing with graphics or videos. Although this was back in the day when I was a Computer Information Technology major (I ended up switching to Marketing - a little bit too much geek talk for me. Completely over my head!) and when Mac was gaining momentum. Even as a CIT major at the time, I wanted to go into web design. This was before web design degrees when Internet-related degrees were still uncommon and this would require graphic design. Adobe Photoshop was born on a Mac which also set it apart from PCs in the early days. This is why I personally chose Mac and bought my first Mac Book Pro in 2007 so I could start learning how to design websites. Since then I have never felt the need to change. I actually just said goodbye to that old Mac Book Pro just a couple years ago, crazy it lasted this long!
Nowadays PCs come with a lot of the bells and whistles that the Macs do. For this reason, really either computer will work with the programs mentioned below as long as it meets the above criteria. I do however use this iMac for my office with a wireless keyboard and trackpad which I bought soon after I started designing cut files and I absolutely love this setup. I really dislike clutter on my desk - even though its almost always present! Less cables is always a plus in my book. The major plus however is the trackpad mouse. This is a game changer in Adobe Illustrator! I can zoom in and out just like you do on a iPhone or iPad with a pinching motion. I can do this at the same time I use the keyboard shortcuts on the left, and quickly switch to my graphics tablet which is conveniently positioned right in between the two. This setup I have found to help speed up the process. You know me! I value time so whatever I can do to spend less time designing, the better! If you plan on going the Mac route, then I recommend investing in the trackpad mouse and giving this a try as opposed to the mouse that comes with the computer.
2) A vector design software
If you’ve been following me, you know I’m a fan of Adobe Illustrator. This is what I use every day to design my own cut files. A few things I like about AI is the usability. They have built in features like custom shortcuts, a huge font library, syncing and saving files to the cloud and loads of online support. It leads the industry in vector design and specifically is made to design logos, which are conveniently the same format as cut files. It made sense to me to go with AI over other softwares, and because I had already used Photoshop I was somewhat familiar with the software. It's $20.99/month, or you can save a little by purchasing the annual plan via the link at the beginning of this paragraph.
Corel Draw I haven’t spoken much about but its definitely a contender as well. It doesn’t quite have the functionality as Adobe Illustrator and is used more for drawing, but it can still create SVGs. I have never personally used it but wanted to throw this one out there because I know its another option. Corel Draw has a one time cost of $499 or an annual cost of $198 if you sign up for the subscription.
Inkscape is the free, more basic software that I discussed in last week's post on why I use Adobe Illustrator versus Cricut Design Space or Silhouette Studio. It has limitations compared to AI and takes longer to design in, but is free so it can’t be overlooked.
3) A graphics tablet
This was the next investment I made once I learned how to design cut files and was comfortable in Adobe Illustrator. I also recommend the same to you before investing in a tablet. The one I use is the Wacom Intuos Draw. Its' a good beginner tablet. I don’t use it for anything fancy like other graphic designers do who are far more experienced than me, so if you’re in the same boat, this might be a good option. Its $97 and will fluctuate around this price depending on if you purchase the most recent model. The one linked above is the one I have and I love it. Pretty simple to use and setup the keys to shortcuts of your liking.
**Update: I failed to mention that the graphics tablet is to be used WITH Adobe Illustrator or other design program which especially helps with the hand-drawn designs or sometimes when adjusting designs its simply easier to draw the design out.**
4) An iPad Pro, Procreate and Apple Pencil
This last trio I’m including as one point because its comes as a package deal. Procreate cannot operate without the Apple Pencil ($99) and without these two, there’s no need to invest in the iPad Pro. Procreate ($9.99) is an app on the iPad Pro that is used solely for drawing or hand-lettering and is extremely easy to learn and use. I use this for any hand-drawn designs that need to be really detailed or when I am unable to sit at my computer and draw. I then send the exported JPG to Adobe Illustrator, convert it into a vector format.
I don’t recommend this loophole method unless you are selling hand-lettering styles, are an artist that has a talent to draw, or if you travel a lot and have your heart set on having something mobile to design on. It is definitely a fun program that can come in handy when adding hand-drawn styles to your designs.
So there you have it. The four tools or equipment I have found and use myself to design completely custom cut files. I hope you have enjoyed this short and sweet blog post this week and that I was able to help you know what tools are needed to get started designing cut files.
Have a great week! Cheers!