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?