10 PC Productivity Tools for Graphic Designers

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If you’re a PC user, reading George Coghill’s fantastic “10 Great Time Saving Mac Utilities for the Graphic Artist” may have caused a twinge of jealousy.

Many of these programs have been part of my workflow for a year or more. Several others are great suggestions from fellow Go Medians.

Okay then, let’s start off with one of my all-time favorites!

1. Thumbview • Free!

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Last summer I shared some tips for getting the most out of for Adobe Bridge and it’s handy ability to show live previews of all types of Adobe file. However, it’s no secret that Bridge uses a ton of RAM, and it may not even be part of your workflow.

Enter Thumbview – a small app that brings thumbnail previews back to PSDs in Windows Explorer (sorry Illustrator fans, I’m still looking for an .Ai equivalent).

Thumbview is especially handy in the Photoshop’s Open/Save dialog.

2. FolderMenu • Free!

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When Microsoft released Windows Vista one of my favorite improvements was Explorer’s customizable “Favorite Places” panel; Suddenly clicking 5 or 10 times from the open/save dialog became a thing of the past. Well, the AutoHotKey powered script (more on AHK later) FolderMenu is a supercharged “Favorite Places”.

FolderMenu creates customized a list of frequent folders that appears at the tip of the mouse with a quick middle click. And yes, the menu works in pesky open/save dialogs, which will save precious minutes of the workday.

FolderMenu can display shortcuts to your most frequent files, programs, and registry keys.

Power user tip: Ctrl+clicking a folder in FolderMenu will display a list of child folders, bypassing explorer all together! Using this tip, you can navigate right to the final file without ever opening a window.

3. PrtScr • Free!

PrtScr is a remarkably free screen capture & annotation tool that stands up to it’s commercial competitors quite well. PrtScr has easy but powerful caption & save options, annotation, multiple-monitor support, and image scaling.

4. Ditto • Free!

ditto
Ditto is lightweight free software that gives you quick access to recently copied text and images.

With Ditto you’ll be able to copy multiple fields from the source window by repeatedly hitting ctrl+c to load up Ditto’s history. Then in the target window, you can quickly activate copied items & paste them into separate fields.

Honestly, Ditto is easier to use than explain. If your fingers spend a lot of time hovering over Ctrl+C, then give Ditto a try.

5. Autohotkey • Free!

Autohotkey is is the six-cylinder engine powering a few of the productivity tools I’m discussing today. It’s a scripting language for Windows that gives less technical folks like me the power to write time-saving scripts.

Spend a few minutes reading the AutoHotKey quickstart guide, and you’ll be well on your way to writing a script. For example, a script can handle text expansion, or open multiple programs and close all other programs with a key combination.

6. Notepad2 • Free!

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Notepad2 is a no-frills, fast, and free text editor with syntax highlighting. It’s also the editor of choice for Dave Romsey, Go Media’s code-zone crusader.

7. Onenote • $99

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Onenote may be the most forward-thinking software Microsoft has released in years. It’s an organic re-creation of a spiral notebook, but with all the power & usability expected from modern computing.

In less words, Onenote is a second brain: a repository of snippets, tips, links, images, outlines, to-do lists, research, screen-grabs, code – you name it. Give the trial version a test run.

8. Multimon Taskbar • Free!

Setting up dual (or heck, triple!) monitors is a great way to boost computing productivity, especially as a designer. Nonetheless, the more pixels there are to manage, the more crowded the taskbar becomes.

MultiMon helps pixel overload by spreading the taskbar across multiple monitors. The nicest feature is that the second monitor’s taskbar shows only the active windows that appear on that monitor!.

9. Taskbar Shuffle • Free!

taskbar shuffler
In a similar vein, Taskbar shuffle addresses many common complaints waged against the Windows Taskbar. Taskbar shuffle let’s you drag ‘n drop taskbar buttons (of course), but it can also close a program or window with a middle click, like a Firefox tab.
Image courtesy of PC World.

10. CCleaner • Free!

CCLEANER
Gina Tripani of Lifehacker wrote that CCleaner “Decrapifies your PC”, allowing it to run faster & smoother. Over time, a PC collects a fair amount of junk files & registry keys that can lead to sluggish performance. CCleaner is no-nonsense, spyware free, and does its job very well.

Bonus: Zune Theme for XP • Free!

Occasionally I become bored using a PC, even if it is tweaked out & running smoothly. If you’re tired of the playground blue or dull olive XP themes, try out the official Zune Theme from Microsoft.

About the Author, Adam Wagner

I'm a marketer, designer, armchair singer/songwriter, wannabe theoretical physicist/philosopher and recent college grad trying to pack as much living as possible into each day. Working at Go Media makes this pretty easy. Catch me on Twitter!!

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