If you’re a new blogger who is just starting out you’ve no doubt come across posts declaring how cheap and easy it is to start your own blog.
For the most part, this is true, but then… graphics.
Even the most boring, technical, and academic blogs or websites need some type of graphic because the brain just loves pretty pictures.
I know when I see a website with naught but a wall of text I can almost feel my brain trying to claw its way through my skull in order to escape and go find something more interesting to do.
It doesn’t matter how thought provoking the text might be if it’s not broken up with a few attractive images it can be hard to keep on scrolling through it.
Back when I started in the wonderful world of blogging there wasn’t much around as far as graphics were concerned, but times have changed and gotten much more exciting.
Now the average blogger, even those with zero graphics skills, can populate their blog with glorious pics that will make them look like a professional designer.
I’ve seen quite a few gigs on Fiverr doing very well using the services I am about to reveal below, so the possibilities are endless.
Even if you’re regularly checking the back of the couch for change to pay for your web hosting you can still do some pretty decent imagery. Once you finally do get some cash to splash, things can get even more interesting.
We’ll start with Canva because it’s just fantastic. It starts off free but you can still do some pretty impressive stuff really quickly, especially if you have your own images you can upload (hint: make good use of your camera phone for cheaper than chips graphics).
Even when you start to pay for graphics on Canva and you’ll only be paying a dollar for each custom image you use. Their one-time use license is fairly limiting but if you only use the images on your blog then that’s fine for getting something that is still shareable on the social media sites.
You get a whole bunch of text options, graphical flares, borders, and icons for free on Canva and the Interface is so easy to work out you will literally be an expert in about 10 minutes or less.
There’s a ton of templates to choose from. All of your favorite social media sites are accounted for so there’s no fluffing about trying to figure out the right size for your design.
Everything is drag and drop and they have a rather generous 1,000,000 images to choose from.
The one thing I love most about Canva is the ability to browse the gallery. “Inspiration for design” they call it and truer words were never spoken.
When you’re stuck for an idea just browse the gallery, find something you like, and then use it as a basis for your design without outright copying it.
Canva also works on iPads so you can get your design skills on while you’re sitting on the bus or train, or while sitting in front of the TV as I like to do.
It’s a little clunkier than using a mouse but you can always create a draft and then tweak it to perfection when you get back to your computer.
I started with Canva for all my graphics and still use it almost every day even though I do most of my graphics on the PC. When I’m finished my design Canva makes the perfect tool to ensure my picture is perfectly optimized for the web.
I simply choose the right sized template, upload my flattened image, and then make sure it fits. Then I download it from Canva for the perfect sized, perfectly optimized image for the web.
And you can make your designs public so other Canva users can enjoy your creation and maybe even derive some inspiration from it.
The other free tool that is starting to grow on me is Spark by Adobe. It’s another tool that makes it super easy to create fantastic looking graphics to spruce up even the most text-heavy blog post in just a few minutes.
Somehow Adobe has managed to make Spark even simpler than Canva but at a cost to how much flexibility you have in the final design. However, for some bloggers that is a good thing.
They also only provide a few palettes and textures to play around with so you will start to feel limited fairly quickly. Any photos you use as backgrounds are going to have to be ones you have rights to – so make use of that camera phone folks.
If you enjoy posting quotes on Twitter then Spark is an excellent choice. At the start of every design, click the big yellow circle, choose’post’ as the type of project, choose your size, and then type in your quote.
Once you have your design up and running it’s time to play. Spark gives you a whole heap of options to get just the right look and feel for your graphic. You can resize the text, move it around, place borders and backgrounds on the text. You have heaps of design choices available at your fingertips, and it’s as easy as spinning a dial, literally.
There are filters for the background image, and you can rotate it and resize it. So many choices, so little time. The only thing I don’t like about it is that once you have your text entered into your design you can’t add any more – at least I couldn’t find the option anywhere.
One final word about Adobe Spark, it’s just plain fun because it’s so simple. The downside, of course, is that you may spend a little too much time fiddling with the design. You will have to put up with Adobe Spark branding on your final image if you aren’t a paying subscriber.
And you can do videos as well but I haven’t used that part of Spark yet so can’t report on it. The image below literally took me just 5 minutes.
Other Online Editing Tools
The above two are my favorites and do everything I need as far as my graphic design skills go but there are a ton of options for you to choose from when it comes to editing photos you own.
The key is to keep on experimenting until you find something you like that meshes with your workflow. Here are a couple of other online graphic tools to get you started.
Fotor is a fully featured photo editing app as well as a design center where you can make the perfect Pinterest graphic or Twitter header to help promote your next post – plus templates for every other media under the sun.
There are hundreds of templates you can use for inspiration and a preview option which shows you how it will look inside your actual post (which I thought was a nice touch).
To me, Fotor looks impressive but I don’t personally use it. With paid subscriptions to Adobe for Photoshop and other stock photo sites I just don’t see the need for me to sign up for yet another graphics editing option. I only mention it here because it’s a great starting point for the new blogger with limited funds.
Pixlr is more of a photo editing app rather than a complete design studio but it’s quite powerful considering it’s an online editor.
If you’ve used Photoshop before you will immediately recognize the similarities in the interface. While not as powerful as Photoshop it will work on modest PCs and Chromebooks as it’s completely web based.
Given that it’s free to start with the basic services Pixlr is an excellent option to touch up your photos or design something from scratch if you have the design flair many of us bloggers are lacking.
I used Pixlr back in the day but succumbed to the new Adobe subscription service (which makes Photoshop incredibly affordable) but it looks like it has improved in leaps and bounds since it first started, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
Free and Fully Featured Downloadable Graphics Software
The main problem I have with online design tools is that after a while my images can start to look a little samey.
There’s only so far you can take your design with these tools so if you want to create something a little different to what everybody else is doing you are going to need a more powerful tool.
The good news is that you don’t need Photoshop or Illustrator. Instead, you can use what is known as open source software.
My two favorite free graphic editors of all time are Inkscape and the GIMP. With these two tools and a decent stock image service, you can quickly get whatever design idea is in your head onto your computer. The only caveat is that if you don’t have any experience you are going to have a little bit of a learning curve.
It’s not too bad though, as you can expect to get up and running with something like Inkscape in 3 or 4 hours.
Inkscape is a freely downloadable vector image editor much like adobe Illustrator but it’s completely free. And in the case of Inkscape free does not mean less powerful.
Vector images are simply images that are drawn with lines and shades rather than individual pixels. This makes them unique in that they can be resized to immense proportions without losing any quality – making vectors the perfect solution for logos and illustrations.
Being such a powerful editor means that there is going to be a learning curve in order for you to get to grips with it, but there are heaps of tutorials that can take you from beginner to advanced quite quickly.
Just take a look at the sorts of text effects you can do with Inkscape. These are from Nick Saporito, one of my favorite Inkscape gurus.
I highly recommend following through a few tutorials after going through the basics. You’ll be an expert in no time. It’s also a lot of fun.
There are also heaps of tutorials on YouTube for you to learn the basics of Inkscape super fast.
I am by no means a graphics expert so my main use for Inkscape is to tweak already created vector images I acquire from my subscription stock photo services. If you want to create something truly unique and original then Inkscape is definitely the way to go for those on a budget and a little time for learning.
Check out my post on creating images for Pinterest using Inkscape. You’ll see just how easy it is.
GIMP is the open source answer to Photoshop and I’ve gotta say it’s pretty great as a photo editing solution.
You can do a lot with bitmaps in Inkscape but if you want to make the most of your photos you need to edit them in a photo editor like Photoshop or GIMP.
Like Inkscape, the GIMP is super popular among the budget bloggers’ crowd. I admit to being a Photoshop user for a few years now because it’s what I know, but GIMP is improving to such a degree that I have just recently downloaded it in order to revisit it as a possible replacement.
The monthly subscription service to Adobe doesn’t exactly break the bank but if there’s no reason to spend it then it should stay in my pocket (and help pay for my coffee!).
GIMP also has heaps of tutorials online for you to get up to speed fast and easy and it just so happens Nick Saporito can also take you through it and help you create some fantastic effects that will have your fellow bloggers envious of your graphical prowess.
And check out this effect you can do in a few minutes.
As you can see you don’t need to re-mortgage the family home to get some nice graphics on your blog – all you need is a little time.
It’s free to get started but if you really want to take it to the next level then a little money can still go a long way.
Before I go I’d like to leave you with a few sites where you can get some decent graphics. These are the ones I use every day:
- MorgueFile.com A range of photos on various subjects, quality varies
- FreePik.com – free with attribution but very cheap yearly subscription.
- All-Free-Download.com – free with attribution.
- Unsplash.com – beautiful high resolution photos you can use without attribution.
- Canva Design School – Awesome guide to font pairing.