Design insights & tutorials.

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!

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!


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 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!

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


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!

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!!
Discover More by Adam Wagner


We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • simonh4

    Another one to add in text editors is Notepad++ ;-)

  • jamesmadson

    I have a mac at home, but we operate on PC's at work. Both posts have been super helpful. Thanks!

  • timhammond

    Nice post there. I might check a few of these out. I'm in desperate need of a decent clipboard manger, so Ditto might be a good solution.

  • jeff_finley

    Nice finds Adam, I second the use of OneNote, it's amazing.

  • George Coghill

    Lots of awesome stuff here Adam, great post!

  • amatatomba

    OneNote is a great program, all around. I use it for quite a few things already, but I really should make more use of it.

  • Luis Lopez

    Excellent article, i didn't know about most of the tools you gave to us, so right now I'm installing some to try them out.

  • Askhari

    Thx a lot for this post!
    With the strongly Mac-oriented designer-world I often feel like there's a lack of good ressources for PC-using-designers. There are some really handy programms in the list up there.

    I've been using OneNote for quite a while right now and I must say, it is fantastic. I have a cintiq 21ux in the office allowing me to use the programm like it's intended to be used – simply scribbling and drawing on screen and beeing able to search in my own handwriting won't stop amazing me every time!

  • Michael Thomas

    I am not even going to read this blog as I am a Mac user. PCs should not be used for graphic design. The amount of ex-PC people we have here who say they will never go back is amazing. I myself used to use a PC but while at uni I purchased a nice macbook pro and it is amazing!!!

  • Pierpaolo Zales Alessio

    Evenote is a nice alternative to Onenote and is Free

    A grat tool is AltenativeTo
    to search alternatives to programs and services…

  • Tim

    I love OneNote and Zune, thanks for the list.

    I'm a PC

  • Stephanie Hudson

    fabulous list! i had a couple of these already, downloaded almost all the rest!

    oh and learned something new about one i already use! (didn't know middle click closed windows with Taskbar Shuffle!)

  • Adam_Wagner

    Whoop, AlternativeTo is nice. Thanks for the link.

  • jglovier

    Awesome!! Thanks for this one Adam!!

  • PeopleLikeYouShitMe

    Michael, notice how this is an article about PC users and tools that may benefit them and not about “what is your preferred computer type?”. If you've made that decision and are happy with it, be happy with it and live your life while letting others live theirs. Pushing your preference and insulting those of others is immature.

    I've used both Mac and PC, professionally and personally. I use PC now because I want to. If you're good at what you do, there's no difference to using either. So unless you've used any of this software or have feedback about the article's content, do everyone a favour and come to the realisation that no one gives a crap about your preference!

  • HawgWild

    Here is a great Thumbnails Viewer as opposed to Thumbview. It isn't free, but the first 30 days are and then it is pretty cheap to buy it if you like it. You can view vectors also… .AI, .EPS files as well as .PSD files.

  • Chris Stauffer

    I didn't check through the comments, but I have 64-bit Vista and Thumbview did not work for me. I tried both the regular and lite versions, “run as administrator”, etc … no luck.

  • Adam_Wagner

    Ah, sorry to hear Chris. I've been running 64 Bit at home for awhile. There are those progs that aren't yet compatible (especially freebies).

    That said, I think previewing Adobe files in Explorer is really really important. Does anyone else know of software other than Thumbview that can accomplish this?

  • Simona

    Michael, please just take a minute and move away from the MAC/PC debate. Both platforms are tools and by you saying that PC shouldn't be used for graphic design just shows me that you do not understand the fundamentals of it…

    You cannot buy creativity with money :)

  • Simona

    I found one that will show AI files as thumbs:

  • Sam

    Thanks for sharing these tools, I had been looking for some more graphic design software for the office PC.

  • unmaya

    PC Productivity Tools list. “Thumbview” seems useful for browsing PSD files.

  • Dan

    Excellent job..
    dizi izle

  • John

    Great post!
    dizi izle

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  • registrycleaner

    I love OneNote and Zune, thanks for the list.

  • remove antivirus 8 virus

    All of them are helpful1