Graphic designers need to consider a number of crucial design elements when creating work – layout, colour, dimensions, typography – you name it, a designer will have to incorporate it into their designs. Although Photoshop can handle most of a designer’s needs, there are many parts of a design which you’ll need other software for.
Art Director’s Toolkit from Code Line tries to fulfill all of a designer’s needs. It has tools for layout, colour, dimensions, typography – a total of 11 tools.
In this review, we’ll discover if it’s a designer’s perfect companion, of whether they’ve made several good tools rather than one great one.
Art Directors Toolkit can be bought from the Mac App Store or the Code Line store for $19.99. If you’d rather try before you buy, a 15-launch trial is also available. 15 launches turns out to be quite generous, if you, like me, turn your computer off once a week at best.
If you download the app via the traditional DMG method, you can install it simply by dragging the icon into your Applications folder, a method we all know and love. Alternatively, buying via the App Store is even easier – purchase it, and it’ll jump right into your dock.
As an app focused towards designers, you would expect this app to have a beautiful interface full of aesthetic goodness. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth. The interface looks dated and uninspired, with icons that aren’t all that sharp. It also looks a little cluttered – it would be nice to see a little more negative space.
Usability-wise, it’s quite straightforward – Each icon in the toolbar represents a different tool. It’s quite easy to figure out what each icon represents, possible exceptions being the launcher and the “Number” utility.
This tool allows you to handle dimensions and units effectively. You can convert fractions to decimals, and vice versa. You can also convert between certain units (in this case, inches, cm, mm, points, picas and pixels), and get the dimensions for a large list of paper sizes (unfortunately the pixel dimensions are not at 300dpi, which is the printing standard). Whilst not a revolutionary tool, this can come in quite handy, and in a very quick Google search, I couldn’t find anything better.
Designers deal with RGB colours all the time, and this utility is essentially a colour picker. It has some swatches to choose from, although the selection is limited. To be perfectly honest, it’s nothing you can’t do in Photoshop, and at least Photoshop has a visual colour picker to fine tune your colour. Perhaps the only redeeming feature was the eyedropper, although it took me a while to find that, as the icon (a magnifying glass) was not the metaphor I was expecting whatsoever.
One colour picking feature which Photoshop does not have is the ability to blend colours. This tool allows you to choose two colours from either a list of Pantone colours, an RGB colour or a CMYK colour, and then blend them to find a colour in-between. It doesn’t necessarily have to be 50% of both, you can change the percentage to find the perfect mix. This is a very useful tool, and the only worthy alternative I could find was part of ColorSchemer Studio, but that app will set you back $49.99.
With this utility, you can search 6 colour libraries, including 4 Pantone libraries, to find a colour swatch that works for you. You can then find the RGB, HSB, CMYK, Lab and Hex values for that certain colour. Access to Pantone libraries is certainly beneficial, and I couldn’t find them in other similar tools. Not a bad feature if you use Pantone libraries, but if you don’t, it probably won’t do much for you.
This one is more for the web developers than the designers. It allows you to browse various glyphs, and find ASCII, Hex, Unicode, HTML and Glyph values for them, as well as the keyboard shortcut to type them. You can also view the glyphs in any font you wish, which means you can see how extensive a certain font is. It seems to handle fonts quite well, and doesn’t crack under the pressure of some of the heavier fonts.
This utility lets you preview text in any of the fonts you own. Like the previous tool, it’ll handle fonts quite well, although can go awry with a bulky font at 300pt. Nevertheless, it works fine under normal circumstances, and you can flick through different fonts very quickly with the arrow keys. It certainly seems faster than Apple’s own FontBook. My only issue is that you can’t extend the window, so any large type you’ll have to observe by a bit of scrolling, which is far from ideal.
With this tool, you can find the dimensions of a document is scaled up/down by a certain percentage, or find the percentage change if it is scaled to a certain dimension. Whilst this may be useful, Photoshop does it automatically, so there really is no need for it, in my opinion.
This tool is used to create grids and layouts, and is quite straightforward to use – Set your canvas dimensions, the number of rows and/or columns, and their respective width/gutter width. The grid can then be copied to clipboard and pasted as a vector object in your image editor of choice. There are countless grid generators out there, and personally, this isn’t one of the best, but it does the job.
No prizes for guessing what this tool does – It’s an onscreen ruler! It’ll stay on top of all windows and can be used to calculate dimensions in a number of units. There are a few free alternatives out there, but I personally prefer the look of this one, and since it comes with the app anyway, why not use it?
This is a little panel which you can drag colours you create in the RGB, Blend and Swatch tools into, which are then stored for later use. It’s not dissimilar to Photoshop’s Swatches panel, and it isn’t something I can see myself using an awful lot.
This is another little panel which you can files, folders and applications to for quick access. Unfortunately, it is only accessible in the menu bar and the app itself, meaning you have to have the full app open, and there is also no way to access them via the keyboard. Personally, Alfred does the job just fine, and there doesn’t seem much need for this feature.
Some of the tools here serve very little purpose, some are very useful. I don’t feel there’s any need to have access to tools I don’t use, and it would make better sense for them to sell each tool as individual menu bar apps for a couple of dollars each. That way, we could pick which apps we wanted, rather than having 11 tools bundled together with no choice but to buy them all.
That said, in general, the app is quite useful, and with a redesign and a little tweaking, could be something great. Does it, in its current state, justify a price tag of $19.99? For me, no, due to the fact that I didn’t have any use for many of the tools. Ultimately, however, it’s your decision, and if the tools could benefit you, go for it!