Art, design, game, and web development are all fields where good tools can make a big difference, and I thought some might find it interesting to know what I use to get work done.
Pencil / pen & drawing pad
This one’s pretty obvious, but I think it’s handy to have a pad of paper and a favorite pencil or pen nearby so you’re ready whenever you need to jot something down, make a quick sketch, or do some math. I like to use a nice, big Strathmore sketchpad and a Pilot G2 gel ink pen, but pencil comes in handy sometimes too.
Recently I’ve also been sketching things digitally too, but this isn’t always as fast or convenient as paper. More about that below.
Digital camera & scanner
It’s funny – these tools have become less important to me over the years, but it’s still nice to have them when I need them. I like having a camera with an optical zoom and which has a reasonable megapixel output, for when I need to take reference photos or snap pictures for making textures. You should always pick up the model that suits your needs best.
Having a scanner to get your analog doodles or documents onto the computer is great. I use an Epson Perfection V300 Photo, and it gets the job done. The Epson scanning software is always a little weird, but it’s got plenty of options, so I can’t give it too hard of a time.
Having a powerful computer is important to me, as a gamer and as an artist. A good CPU and GPU combo with lots of RAM and a fast SSD can help me crush a ton of work in Photoshop and Illustrator, or zip through renders with Blender. Your mileage and needs may vary greatly – these days it’s arguable that many people who work with computers every day probably don’t even need a traditional desktop or laptop – but for my work, a competent computer rig is a must. Currently, I’m running a custom-built PC on Windows 10.
As mentioned above, I’ve been doing digital drawing lately, and for that I’ve been using a Microsoft Surface Book. These had some issues when they first came out (the first one I had died after a month or so), but the replacement I received has been working great, and the updates Microsoft has made since launch has improved system stability to the point where I feel confident recommending it.
It’s also important to consider your peripheral devices. Having a mouse you’re comfortable with is important, and I like having a mouse pad too. I use a plain old Microsoft Wheel Mouse Optical and an Allsop Metal Art mouse pad. I’m not sure if they make those mouse pads anymore, but I find mine very comfortable.
Here is a list of my most often used software to date. It’s changed a lot since I wrote the first version of this page many years ago!
- Adobe CC – Pretty much a requirement for getting any design work done. For a monthly fee, you gain access to all of Adobe’s software (or a subset of it, depending on the plan you choose), along with their suite of fonts and some light cloud hosting options. If you ever bought Adobe’s software in the past, and upgraded it occasionally, the money works out pretty favorably. And having access to all of Adobe’s software gives you incredible power to create stuff. I love this service.
- Blender – I was driven by needs for my work, in both product rendering and game development, to learn Blender – and I’m really glad that I did. Blender’s interface is a little confusing at first, but once you learn that basics, you’re set. This is incredible software, flexible enough to use for all sorts of 3D modeling projects for games or design. It’s amazing that something this great is free.
- GameMaker – Though I’ve spent some time with Unity now, for work, I always come back to GameMaker. YoYo Games has transformed this software into something I never imagined it could be: a tool you can use for very effortless game development for a number of platforms. It’s just fun to be able to make games quickly and easily, and GameMaker makes that possible.
- Spine – Spine is a skeletal animation tool that works similarly to Flash, but without all the hassle of using Flash. This is something of a companion to GameMaker for me, but this software can be use independently of it. The use-cases for Spine are probably a bit of a niche, but I’ve been enjoying using this software for a while now, so I felt like it deserved a mention here.
- Microsoft Office 365 – I began using Office 365 a few years ago, and I think it’s a great value. For a pretty low monthly fee, you can get all the major Office applications, 1TB of OneDrive storage, and some Skype minutes. I like Google Docs and all too, but i’s hard to beat Word or Excel when you need to write or make a spreadsheet – and getting 1TB of cloud storage that syncs with any Windows 10 device (and has apps on virtually every OS) makes this almost a no-brainer. Having a more advanced email program like Outlook is also something that I’d have a hard time doing without.
- Dropbox – For work purposes, I also have a Dropbox account, and even though I prefer OneDrive, I think Dropbox is a great alternative, if the Office apps aren’t important to you.
- UltraEdit – When I need to work on websites, I like to use UltraEdit for that. It’s got a built-in FTP browser which lets you load and save right to the web, and it formats your code in nice ways for all the major coding languages.
- SmartFTP – A pretty robust FTP program, for shuttling files to and from my websites. Who doesn’t need one of those?
- Terragen – When I need a landscape background render or a skybox for game development, I like to use Terragen. It’s a bit difficult to learn, but it’s incredibly good at what it does.
- AWicons Pro – A handy little piece of software that lets you build and save icon files. Less and less necessary these days, but I still find myself needing it occasionally.
That’s all for now – I will try to keep this list as up to date as possible, and will post changes as my toolset evolves. If you have any questions, feel free to ask on my contact form, or in the comments below!
Last updated 5/13/2016