My Favorite Desktop Programs

Hello there, I thought I’d share some of my favorite programs and why. This is in no particular order, just wanted to make a quick list. I’m a flexible designer so I’ve worked on a variety of projects and my tools reflect that. This post isn’t sponsored (considering half the tools are free and open-source) or anything just wanted to share some tools I really love.

Here is the list if you want to quickly see what I’m covering.

  1. Affinity Designer – Vector software similar to Illustrator
  2. Affinity Publisher – Publishing & page management software similar to InDesign
  3. Clip Studio Paint – Japanese Comic Software (Supports 3D models, includes 1000’s of free assets, etc)
  4. Krita – free awesome digital paint app
  5. Blender – free 3D/2D modeling/sculpting & animation, video editing and FX tool
  6. Screen to Gif – record gif or videos with this free editor
  7. Github Desktop – The artist-friendly way to save your work
  8. Notion – Kanban boards, tables, lists, Wikis, blog posts, Notes & docs, math equations, websites all in one tool.
  9. Unity – For building games

Runner up tools would be Visual Studio Code, Reaper, FontForge, and well probably some other tools I can’t think of at the moment. I don’t really use these tools enough to add them to this list, but I wanted to give them honorable mentions as a code editor, sound editor, and font editor.

Favorite Design Software

Affinity Designer

A competitor to Adobe Illustrator, for one low price of $50 you can own this lovely software perfect for Vector design work or 2D artwork created from points and paths not based on raster pixels but perfectly calculated curves and lines.

Affinity Designer works on Mac, Windows and Ipad
Affinity Design example of Vector lines on the right and Pixel Live Preview on the left.


Illustrator came out in 1987, and Affinity Designer 2014 (Windows version 2016) and despite the wide gap in years Affinity Design has caught up well and added features Illustrator with its bloated history has not yet received.
The most notable difference is Ease of Use, affinity design makes it easy to get started when working on a design. If you have a few hours you can quickly master Affinity Design.

Some features that Affinity Design has that Illustrator does not is wide file support. Affinity Design also has built-in Persona’s that allow you to easily combine Vector & Vaster images. They also easily allow you to switch a file into any of their software so if you have Affinity Publisher you can easily open up Affinity Design files.

Affinity Design allows unlimited zoom, artboards, undo, and history snapshots. It’s very fast compared to Illustrator but is still missing a few key features such as tracing, mesh tools, blend and knife tools. The filters are lacking as well but for $50 one time vs $250+ per year, it’s worth the price. Many people compare it to CS5 toolset wise which is not bad. My favorite feature would be Power Duplicate which allows me to paste an object at different scales or rotations depending on the last pasted object using Ctrl + C to copy and Ctrl + J to paste with the changes.

Affinity Design alternatives would Inkscape, Illustrator and Gravit… But they just aren’t as good.

Affinity Publisher

Similar to Adobe’s Indesign, Affinity Publisher is available for creating books and print material. It’s easy to use and works well with Affinity Design. I’ve used it to produce three books for print and recommend it as a quick way to work on print production and handle text specifically. It’s still missing a lot of key features but worked well enough for my purposes. Did mention all Affinity software has a spellcheck feature built in?

Here are some books I made with it.

While I could mention Affinity Photo, I still have found Adobe Photoshop to be better overall and haven’t seen a killer feature from Photo that would make me switch but I hope in the future they find a way. I’d like to completely get rid of Adobe at some point.

Clip Studio Paint

It’s built for professionals. If you are looking for a tool that allows you to create comics, books, animations, or anything focused on illustration with a vector attitude this is the software for you. They have an incredible free & paid asset store (Also as an American, the store is super cheap! $20 will last you a good while), amazing brushes, backgrounds and other tools. I recommend this software for artists who are into animation and comics. The downsides is because it is a Japanese product be prepared to work out translating some stuff on the asset store, they have a button to do it for you, but when searching its still good to know to look for 枝 instead of branch as you’ll get better results with the former.
Check it out

Above shows vectors brushes, perspective & ruler tools (they have some amazing tools!), 3D models used to help aid with drawing (I mainly use them for background work) and page management. I think the page management could use a little work but overall it’s great, I use affinity publisher for better page & text management though.

They also allow animation and stuff but the tools are only so-so if you ask me.

Krita

Krita is a great free digital painting & animation tool, it has a lot of special features not found in other art engines. What I use it for most would be it’s filters. It has both Internal and G’MIC filters. And those G’Mic filters! 500+ available filters! It also has the most non-destructive workflow for artists with so many different types of layer options. The reference tool it has is really nice, I wish other companies built something similar. It also has your standard Drawing Assistants, Full Color Management, HDR Painting, Python Scripting, PSD Support, Audio Support for Animation, Customizable onion skinning, and so much more!
I love the how the brush was built to be both a brush and eraser, the Brush Stabilizers are good, as is the Brush Engines, it also has a Wrap-around mode for creating tiles/textures/repeat patterns. πŸ™‚ Great for game art!

How can you not like their cute mascot too?
Use Krita to create fun Animation
Tons of free resources on producing comics for web & print
Check out game art resources with GDQuest

Blender

Blender an all in one tool – 3D modeling, Animation, 2D animation, Video compositing, VFX, Shaders, Sculpting, Python scripting, all in real time. No need to wait for rendering! Not with EEVEE! Super easy to use and work with.

If you have worked with other 3D modeling/animation etc tools, they made made it easier then ever to transition so it’s a great time to try it out now. I use it for a lot of different projects and recommend it if you want to get started with 3D modeling.

So much packed into one free piece of software!
Lots of short 1 min tutorials which you can pick after working with Blender for a month
See, that was easy! πŸ˜‰

Screen to Gif

Easy to use free open source screen recorder! Check it out. I use this all the time when I want to quickly create a video or gif of my work and sent it to my client, my friend or whoever else. It’s very easy to use and I enjoy using it. Being free is also a big plus. You can record and edit very easily and I wish I could more software that was quite as nice.

Even has a handily editor so you can trim, draw, edit, play etc
I just realized I could export video… ><

Github Desktop

Yay! Source control! Once you understand source control you will never go back! Github Desktop makes it easy to get started. It’s great for working in games as you can upload your files, makes some tweaks, upload it to the server – realize you made a mistake and revert back. πŸ‘ … Or you can zip up your file, make a terrible mistake, and unzip that last file you saved because you made a back-up the old fashioned way.

In all seriousness it’s like the ultimate undo button with comments and notes, the ability to use branches so you can experiment with files before committing them to the repository. And it’s simple enough artists can use this with Unity, or Love or whatever framework/engine/library you want to work with. If you find yourself hating Unity Collab with hair pulling wait times, you’ll love this, skip the wait, have a better history and work without fear!

Notion

Notion. For those of you who are like, man I wish I had something like google docs but like better.. Well this is for you! Make your notes public websites, or make your spreadsheet private, make it easy to share or hide it away.
You want checkboxes next to your spreadsheets and an embedded pdf? They got you covered!

I like the whole Customize Everything part and the Embed your current tools and drag & drop and just the stuff everything in one spot philosophy. I also like the endless templates available… Not that I really use them much but I like that idea. You can use it for Kanban boards, tables, lists, Wikis, blog posts, Notes & docs, complicated math equations, websites and your own private recipe book.

It’s free but I ended up liking it so much I have the $5 plan for unlimited space.

Unity

My go-to game engine. Before I used Unity, I used GameMaker for many years. I loved GameMaker and it was built well for 2D games. I created art software in it and other games but it was limited in that it could not handle 3D very well. I started teaching myself Unity once I got to the point I wanted to understand 3D. I struggled. I hated Unity, in the beginning, I was overwhelmed with C# the first year but eventually figured it out and now C# is my favorite programming language!

I prefer Unity over Unreal mainly because it’s easier to program in right away and because it runs on low end machines better. If you are looking for something more high end Unreal would be the way to go, but if you just want to make Switch or Mobile games, Unity is better suited.

Using Emoji Fonts in Affinity Publisher

Play this game I collaborated on here. I go by bytedesigning in other circles.

Why use Glyphs and What are Glyphs?

Won’t it be nice if you were designing a project and decided you wanted to use an icon or symbol instead of typing out a word (to save space or improve understanding, etc) perhaps an icon or emoji for a flower(🌷)?

This is where software that support’s font glyphs really shines. While fonts like these are often rereferred to as decorative fonts or image based fonts they aren’t always. They may just be regular fonts with added characters, symbols, or ligatures. What are ligatures you may ask? Ligatures are combinations of letters that result in a fancy and stylish version when used together, they also reduce the space of two characters into one.

These two letters are combined to form a ligature and new glyph

The most common ligature you likely use everyday is the ampersand (&) this symbol is the Latin conjunctive word et (e + t) which basically translates to “and”.

How Do I Get Glyphs?

I already wrote a brief post earlier about different font file types. This is important because I’ll be focusing on the OTF file type, a font type that allows the use of emoji’s because of the powerful glyphs support. TTF and PSF has very limited support for extra characters like glyphs and while currently Photoshop and other Adobe software support SVG type fonts they have numerous downsides such as scaling and resolution support issues – to use a “safe” font that does not suffer these problems I stick to OTF. Due to TrueType being most compatible most fonts are still being created in ttf and the largest in the world – Code2000 (20 years old now and now abandoned) is still a great starting point for emoji fonts particularly for kaomoji later referenced in this post. Code2000 even includes unusual glyphs for Klingon and Cirth and others. In total the code2000+ fonts have around 90,000 glyphs all created as far as I know by James Kass.

Affinity software, Adobe software and most other software that supports glyphs works well with OTF and such is a safe bet. So if you are looking for good glyph fonts look for OTF & TT fonts for the best range of characters.

Where can I get an emoji font?

While currently emoji fonts are limited in the sense there are not many fully supported fonts released for free almost every operating system (OS) at this point uses a custom one. To see every OS system emoji font you can check here and compare them at Emojipedia.

If you want to download an emoji font I suggest Google’s emoji font Noto (Noto Emoji) or OpenMoji (Despite those both being TTF). Most other emoji fonts don’t seem to have a lot of support right now…

You may find copying this symbol into a text box doesn’t work though and ask yourself why not? It works on Firefox or Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome etc. There are two reasons it won’t properly work.

You see that squareπŸ”²? That is the cat symbol when copied. It does not render properly.

Why Fonts Won’t Render

Here is the cat emoji working correctly in Noto Emoji

There are two basic reasons a font will not render.

  1. You did not install the font or you did not select the font when typing.
  2. The font does not have a glyph for that symbol.
  3. Extremely rare but I have a third reason, corruption to the font. I’ve been able to fix this by re-exporting or changing the font to OTF using software such as FontForge. This was the case for a font where select characters would not show such as !#@ etc. I may later create a tutorial on troubleshooting fonts.

How to Set up Glyphs in Affinity Publisher

First step is selecting the correct font, after selecting your text tool of choice change the font.

Notice has MS Reference has noticeable renderer errors? That’s because of how they set up their font formatting.
To be able to view all the glyph options in a font go to View > Studio > Glyph Browser
Glyph Browser

From here you can search for emoji’s try typing in “cat”, you should see a range of cat emoji’s popping up. Unfortunately, it does not support emoji search so pasting 🐈 into the search bar will not result in it finding the cat emoji. You will notice recent emoji’s are collected at the bottom of the glyph, if you use a particular font often that will also show there.

Anyway, that is the basics, good luck on future projects!

Extra Tips & Questions

Can I use windows & Mac Emoji’s?

With windows you can hold the windows key + (.) period key to open the emoji window, just click an emoji to paste, it looks weird but converts over correctly if you click on the text area, it should convert over if supported. It can get a little finicky, but I was able to convert window symbols into the noto font this way.

There is something similar you can do with mac that is along the same lines…

Does this work with Japanese kaomoji?

Yes, *οΌŠβœΏβ€ kaomoji β€βœΏοΌŠ* works fine with this, also long as the font supports all the same characters.

Κ• β€’α΄₯β€’Κ” Bear Kaomoji

Does this allow for cool color combo’s?

No, this font is treated like normal text and that all you can do is change the text color like normal. You can always convert the text into a shape and recolor it if you prefer.

You can still do quite a lot by just being able to recolor.

Why not use dingbat fonts?

You can, this just gives you another option. Dingbat fonts like Entypo are really limited though.

What fonts do you recommend again?

Noteable mentions

  • Segoe UI font (Microsoft)
  • Firefox emoji (Very dated)
  • Emoji One… That is a complicated one but you may find an old version floating around. At one point it was FOSS but no more.