Wearing a lot of hats is one of the major
down-sides perks of running a small business. And if you’re jumping into self-promotion and online advertising, “graphic designer” may end up being one of those hats. (Pro tip: professional designers are often very willing to work with your budget. Seek them out, if you’re able.) But if you’re going it alone into the world of making your own creative, you’ll need a program that will allow you to lay out web banners, create blog badges, and edit photos of your products or for your website.
Adobe Creative Suite contains access to an array of professional-level graphics programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign which will allow you the most freedom to play and create. Creative Suite runs about $60 per month (with a 30-day free trial!), so it’s not for everyone.
But if you already have access or want to get started with these programs anyway, Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign will be your best bets. Just keep in mind that since they are professional level programs, they have a professional level learning curve, too. Let’s explore these options and then go into some free and cheaper software where the learning curve isn’t quite as steep.
For work where typography is key, Illustrator is ideal. The graphics are vector-based (meaning not made of pixels), so you’ll get the smoothest output on your type and illustration elements while still being able to include photos or other pixel-based graphics. You’ll be able to include any of your favorite fonts, favorite stock or custom illustrations, and be able to arrange them as you please.
Photoshop has similar layout capabilities to Illustrator with added robust graphical manipulation effects that you might already know about. You’ll be able to create type and include photos or other graphics, but make sure you’re setting your image size to be 300 dpi (dots per inch) or those pixels will start to look pretty janky in this kind of graphics program.
InDesign isn’t a graphics program like Illustrator or Photoshop, but rather a layout tool that allows you tons of control over documents where text and paragraphics are key, like on your programs. A great combination would be to create your graphics in Photoshop or Illustrator and then import them into InDesign to lay out your type. It will make creating well laid-out paragraphs a cinch.
But what if you’re not Adobe software-savvy?
Most beginners aren’t ready to tackle these hefty programs just yet, let’s see what other free/cheaper/easier options there are to try.
Editor by Pixlr
This online application (no software download) does a pretty fair job at re-creating the feel of Photoshop.
It’s not perfect, but it can totally handle layers, some filters, and the usual crop-and-chop that you need.
This photoshop alternative is described as “amazingly simple,” and it actually is!
These guys are a game-changer for those who don’t want to use Photoshop. If you go for one… go for this one!
This online application diverges from a Photoshop lookalike into a pretty user-friendly, filter-oriented pre-set environment.
If you’re looking to make something snazzier with a few basic editing tools and font overlays at your disposal, this is your guy.
Lots of filters, image overlays, and Chrome extension integration make this tool stand-out.
Plus, it’s another online application, so it’s for all platforms.
GIMP: GNU Image Manipulation Program is a mainstay in the open-source graphics market and runs on most platforms.
You’ll get access to layers, masks, brushes, and pretty robust plugins. This is more for a more experienced user who wants more advanced options and tools.
Seashore is an OS X application that brings you some basic image editing tools with a streamlined interface.
You won’t get a lot of the filters that you’ll see in other tools, but it will be easy to use and, of course, works on your Mac!
Ribbet is built on the same code as the crowd-pleasing Picnik, which got bought by Google and then went offline. Ribbet is another user-friendly online app with cloud storage, editing history, and a Chrome extension. It lends itself more to adding bling and copy to a photo than heavy-duty editing work.
Paint.Net is a PC-only program with features like unlimited undo, open source plugins, and originates from ye olde MS Paint, if you’re looking for something familiar.
How are YOU handling your marketing creative? Getting font-happy or hiring a pro?
Comments on 7 totally free Photoshop alternatives for adventures in photo editing
One you should add to the list is photoscape. It is open source and not the prettiest but is really great. Pages (collages) is an awesome part of the program PLUS you can make animated gifs very easily.
Gif-making is a total perk. Thanks!
I was going to comment and recommend Photoscape as well. It’s what I use for almost everything I do. That, and a combo of Word.
I used GIMP to design the covers for my indie books. It was the first time I’d used anything more advanced than MS Paint (which probably shows lol). But the point is, GIMP had all the tools I needed, and was fairly user-friendly for a total n00b. It’s popular enough that Google had results for just about any question I had.
Yeah, that one has a huge following. Which means lots of open source options, too. 🙂
Hey Catherine, nice list! You missed zhopped.com for the ones who need a lil extra help.
This is awesome. I work in research where there is no money (NONE) for hiring a graphic designer to put together promotional/educational materials or to buy decent software. Design is way way out of the realm of my professional training, yet it’s a big part of what I do simply because there is no one else to do it. Thank you for doing this thinking for me!!
Does anyone know where I can take a crash course in desktop publishing? Laying out materials in a way that both looks good and facilitates learning is WAY HARDER than it looks. Having decent software will help me a lot, but I think I need some help in page design/layout (and my budget for said training is a song and a smile).
Also inkscape, which is open source (for those of you who like that sort of thing) and what we’re using to do all of the design work for our wedding.
Not quite the same but also useful: Scribus is an open source alternative to Quark – not really for individual image manipulation, but great for laying out pages if that’s your thing (exports print quality pdfs too).
In your list the most i like is pixlr one and GIMp in respect of desktop version, Recenlty there is new version in pixlr named as http://www.toolpic.com you should mention that, it is similar to pixlr but has animation option with shortcut effect, with frames, Hope you like it.
Catherine! You should try Canva also. It may be new, but it has lots of good features. -Prim
CANVA IS AWESOME!
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