Freebies for the New (School) Year!

All the back-to-school talk I see online has me nostalgic for that sense of anticipation of a new school year, from the smell of new school supplies to the fresh feeling of new school clothes. That was a long time ago—longer for some of us than others—but that doesn’t mean we can’t have new supplies to look forward to. Best part? The supplies I serve up here won’t break the budget, since they’re 100% free!

Remember learning colors in kindergarten and how they magically mixed together to make new colors? Bring back the wonder of mixing color to your daily life with the Colorist plug-in for Illustrator. Colorist includes a randomizer that assigns colors to elements within a range you define, a tweaker function that lets you adjust the RGB values of items—by fill, stroke, text, if desired, and create custom palettes. The plug-in is smart enough to not assign a fill or stroke color to an item that doesn’t currently have a value assigned.

Science class was always a favorite of mine, creating projects about bugs, sea creatures, volcanoes, and the myriad varieties of leaves in my tiny corner of the world. Now I don’t even need to go outside to view leaf patterns. The Leaves-Brushes set for Illustrator lets me do it from the comfort of my own office chair. The set includes two scatter, one calligraphic, and three art brushes to create a tiny forest of leaves, branches, and blades of grass.

Hands up, everyone who loved business class! Okay, that so wasn’t me, but as a designer I have to convey a lot of business-y topics and am always looking for easier ways to do that. Claquos is a cool script for creating pie charts right inside of InDesign. Just enter values to depict, assign colors in RGB or CMYK (with swatches automatically created), choose an edge and other effects, and whether to include a legend. No business class prerequisite required!

Remember daydreaming in class and passing the time doodling? Or maybe you spent countless hours in social studies scratching your crush’s name into your Trapper Keeper. Well, don’t let a responsible adult lifestyle keep you from those pursuits!

Brusheezy’s set of Handmade Doodle brushes for Photoshop contain some iconic scribblings of youth: aliens, pencils, ice cream cones, hypodermic needles. Wait, scratch that last one. Um. Hey, look! A retro cassette tape! Cool.

To re-create letters like those you’d scribble waiting for math class to end, check out the Hand Scribble Sketch Times font. Obviously taking its cues from the Times typeface, this OpenType font will be so much easier than all that filling in you did by hand. This one’s only available for personal use, which is okay because you didn’t want anyone else—especially your crush—seeing this anyway, did you? If you’re looking for a hand-sketch font that does allow for commercial use, check out Mr. B. Sadly, there is no heart character in either typeface, so you’ll have to use the more modern, “I <3 YOU” to tell your crush how you feel.

When you’re ready to bring back the happy place that was art class, check out these free gems.

Create broad or thin marker strokes, without the headache-inducing fumes, with this 12-tool set of Photoshop brushes from Eilert Janßen. These brushes are part of his paid Real Markers set, which you can preview on his Behance page.

If paint is more your thing, check out the Splashes of Paint Photoshop brush set from Deviant Art user MouritsaDA-Stock. There are 30 brushes included, so go ahead and make a mess—without threat of detention!

Remember decorating a vase for Mother’s Day using wet, colored tissue paper? My hands were still blue when I went home from school. Lucky for us, Russell Brown has a way for us to decorate our photos with the same look, and keep our hands clean while doing it. His Adobe Paper Texture Pro extension for Photoshop lets you add and blend varying paper textures with your images. Use the randomizer option and play with the blend modes to bring a unique look to your photos.

Maybe shop class was more your thing, making industrial crafts like wooden birdhouses and metal bookshelves. As a girl, I was gently persuaded that shop class wasn’t for me, so I can only imagine the smell of the heavy-duty machinery and materials.

Brusheezy offers their 5-pack of metal textures for the low, low price of free. Corrugated steel, rusty shipping container siding, and metallic planks are ready for you to craft into something awesome.

If you’re looking for something more concrete, how about, well, concrete? This pack of patterns include 12 seamless tiles of the hard stuff in 4 sizes each.

Maybe something a little softer and more pliable is what your designs need. This set of six corkboard patterns will come in handy for layering with images of the greatest table lamp you never finished making for your mom in shop.

Sometimes the important lessons we learned at school didn’t come from a book, but rather the skills learned to just get through and graduate.

Like being told to show your work in math class, as adults we are often called to explain the magic behind the scenes. If you need to show your work in InDesign—meaning the measurements of objects—check out Colin Flashman’s Draw Arrows Around Objects script. Choose your unit of measurement and arrowhead style. Basic, but gets the job done.

Always sit next to the smart kid. If you don’t get smart by osmosis, you can always copy her answers. Transfer this talent to InDesign when you want to copy items from one document to the other. Instead of importing swatches, styles, and master pages through individual panels, use Luis Corullón’s Import What You Want script. Launch it, choose which attributes to import, and hit Confirm. Just make sure the teacher doesn’t see you taking someone else’s work.

In the end, though, you find your own style and your way of working. The Change Colors extension for Chrome lets you set the browser’s colors to what works best for you. Working late, need better contrast, or just hate the design choices the creator made? Not only can you change the color, but you can substitute fonts and apply to a single page or across an entire domain.

When it came to playground sports, it was all about picking the best team (or hoping that you actually got picked for a team).

And like picking the best players, we are tasked with picking the best colors and color combos. To add to the built-in color picker, why not use a color reference tool like Colors on the Web’s Color Wizard? Enter a Hex color value or pick a color from the dropdown menu (click the grey square). Clicking Calculate gives you color combo options, such as that color’s complementary colors and hue/saturation variations.

While other kids were getting smacked around playing dodgeball, I was hiding in the library. There is always something new to learn and adding resources to your library is always a good idea.

Check out these free books, whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned professional. Learn Logo Design is a 25-page guide on what makes a good logo. From color to typography, Blue Soda Promo’s booklet discusses what goes into crafting a great logo. And if you have the design part down, but the business end of being a freelancer slows you down, check out The Freelancer’s Bible by Route 1 Print in the U.K. The PDF covers marketing, taxes, and client relationships.


If books aren’t your thing, maybe online learning is for you. Tasty Tuts’ 45-video “Beginners Guide to Graphic Design” series lets you digest the info at your own pace. The course covers the basics of graphic design and design theory, the graphics industry, how to become a freelancer, equipment you’ll need, as well as portfolio and interview advice. Download the PDF with notes for each episode and direct links to each video.

I know “math” tends to be a dirty word around designers, but I actually enjoyed most of it, especially geometry. I liked the combination of shapes, their predictable patterns, and the formulas that brought them to life.

The main goal of high school was, of course, to get out of there. Your parents hoped for college, while you might have had something more like a backpacking trip across Europe in mind.

Whether college was in the plan or not, who didn’t love a good hoodie with your favorite university on it? To get that same collegiate lettering—hey, we’re designers, we’ll just make our own designs, right?—download one of these scholarly beauties. Fargo Faro NF from Nick’s Fonts brings the collegiate font into this century with a bit of almost sci-fi flair. JerseyLetters definitely has an old-school lean to it, but the filled inline makes it pop and still feel fresh. Both fonts are available free for commercial use.

After making this list, I’m really glad to have moved way beyond school. I can make my own supply list, find some cool freebies in the process, and make and learn what I want to. That being said, having recess twice a day is something I wouldn’t mind bringing back. Enjoy the school year!

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Posted on: August 23, 2017

Erica Gamet

Erica Gamet has been involved in the graphics industry for an unbelievable 30 years! She is a speaker, writer, and trainer, focusing on Adobe InDesign and Illustrator, Apple Keynote and iBooks Author, and other print- and production-related topics. She is a regular presence at CreativePro Week’s PePcon and InDesign Conferences, and has spoken at ebookcraft in Canada and Making Design in Norway. You can find Erica’s online tutorials at CreativeLive and through her YouTube channel. When she isn’t at her computer, she can be found exploring her new homebase of Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest.

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