Best Buy
  • Price: Essentials is free; Premium Services are $9.99 (around £6) per month each or $19.99 (around £12) for all three.

  • Company: Grid Iron Software

  • Pros: Free for basic use; keeps savedover files; tracks exported files; finds assets within documents

  • Cons: Can be a bit baffling

  • Our Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10 We rate this 9 out of 10

GridIron’s Flow 2.0 Essentials is the greatest free utility for creative professionals ever – and the paid-for versions, which provide additional functions for a monthly fee – are even better.

Flow 2.0 is a systemwide project management tool that functions as a workflow tracker, project manager, and revision keeper. It tracks every file your project team creates, updates, moves, exports, or places into another document, and can show you the relationships between them. It can also track time spent on projects, provides unique tools for collaboration, and lets you roll back a document to any previously saved version. While the previous version of Flow could track a single user on one workstation, this upgrade tracks all the members of a workgroup, no matter where they are in the world.

Even if you don’t pay for Flow’s Premium Services (Versions, Time Manager, and Overflow) the features in the free Flow Essentials are unique and valuable. For example, suppose you have used a graphic (or font or colour) in a document, but don’t remember which one. Flow lets you find every document that uses a particular asset – whether it’s a placed graphic, text, spot colour, or font.

In addition, Flow keeps track of every file you export from a document – PDFs, JPEGs, TIFFs, presentations, movies, audio files, and so on. Astonishingly, Flow can then show you the original files that were used to export that PDF, and the files that were placed inside those files – including movies, sounds, animations, etc. It even tracks selections of Photoshop images that are copied and pasted into other Photoshop images.

Flow works with every common creative app, including Adobe’s Creative Suite, QuarkXPress, Microsoft Office, video and sound editing applications from Adobe and Apple, 3D apps, text files, and any other file you choose to associate with a project. Helpfully, Flow can show you a large preview of almost any file, even if you don’t have the originating application, whether you’re a Mac or Windows user.

If you purchased Flow 1.0, it will run indefinitely, but is not compatible with 2.0. If you upgrade, you’ll need to start over with the new pricing system.

Flow’s developers did well by releasing the first version with features they believed designers would use, and then expanding the feature set and updating the pricing structure in version 2.0 to fit the user’s needs. For those who work in teams, the time tracking and live collaboration features are easy to use and invaluable. Because of its ability to recover older versions of documents, track all exported files, and find assets inside documents, every creative person would benefit by using Flow 2.0.