A simple guide to understand design apps

If you’re looking at hiring a new creative in your team, it is important to know what tools are available in the market and their capabilities. A versatile graphic designer is an extremely valuable asset for any agency, and a big part of that means possessing a wide array of skills and knowledge of many different graphics programs. Knowing right off the bat which app to use to accomplish a given task is especially important for time-efficiency and producing the highest quality work.

That said, it’s extremely hard to be proficient in everything, so this guide will help you understand what skills you need from your future hires. 

Bonus: I list my favorite tools on each app.



What it’s best used for:  manipulating photographs and realistic elements. When used for social media posts and/or stories, photoshop can be used to crop, retouch, and color correct your photos before posting.

This includes fundamental photo editing: 

  • Saturation of colors
  • Contrast
  • Sharpness
  • Filters

As well as more complex photo editing techniques:

  • Removing unwanted elements
  • Adding elements that weren’t already present
  • Cutting out elements 
  • Combining different images 

My favorite tool: Clone stamp tool

This tool is used for duplicating objects or removing a defect in an image. I’ve taken a photo of two people, and using the clone stamp tool I have erased the man in the photo by taking other parts of the image and painting them over the man to match the background. 


What it’s best used for: Illustration, typography (the art of arranging letters and text to make it legible and visually appealing), and the integration of different elements. Illustrator is the go-to program for creating any graphic for social media such as a banner, logo, or combining elements of one’s brand to their photos. 

My favorite tool: Pathfinder 

This tool is best used for combining and dividing elements.  As an example,I wanted to enclose an illustration inside a circle with a 3D appearance. To do this I created a pale green rectangle to fill the entire workspace, then I placed a circle on top of it.Using the pathfinder tool with both items selected, I subtracted the foreground object from the one behind it. This left me with a rectangle with a hole in it, which I was able to make the forefront of the illustration you see below. 

After Effects

What it’s best used for:  Animation, motion graphics, and visual effects for TV, film, video, and web. Those GIFs and short animations you see on your instagram or twitter are most commonly made with after effects. 

This includes fundamental video editing: 

  • Adjusting angles
  • Merging video clips together
  • Adding text over video

My favorite tool/element: Pre-compose

Pre-compose is used for categorizing elements in a sequence. Let’s say you are animating a person. There will be a layer for the figure’s eyes, hair, body, arms, legs, head, and anything else you want to be able to move independently. Having many layers to animate can be overwhelming; what the pre-compose tool can do is take many layers within the same image and act like a folder to hold them together. 



What it’s best used for: Layout for editorial and publication work. 

This includes:

  • Company documents
  • Magazine layout
  • Newsletter layout
  • Books

My favorite tool/element: Paragraph styles.

This tool establishes rules for different sections of text. For example, If I am writing an article about comfort food and I want to have multiple titles, subtitles, and body paragraphs, I need to make sure that the text for each element is the same format. Paragraph Styles allows you to create rules for-let’s say- body text to make it uniformly 12pt, Arial font with regular text weight. When you highlight a section and click the “body text” paragraph style,the correct settings are instantly applied.



What it’s best used for: Photography enhancement. Many social media influencers use this tool to create presets that will make their media page have the same aesthetic in each post.

This includes:

  • Filters
  • Editing
  • Saturation 
  • Contrast
  • Sharpness

My favorite tool/element: Presets

As mentioned above, presets are used to apply changes you made to one photo to other photos. Say you have a bunch of photos from a single photoshoot that you want to have the same look and same “vibe.” Presets are used to accomplish this. Below you can see a photo before and after editing with lightroom. Although it is a slight difference, the editing makes the clouds more distinct. 

Have questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out! 



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