As a digital marketer, you wear many different hats. Sometimes, you’re the advertiser, sometimes you’re the content creator, and sometimes, you’re the graphic designer. Graphics can serve as a form of content (infographics), visual support to existing content (such as a blog post), or as promotional material (an advertisement).
Now, this doesn’t mean that all digital marketers need to memorize color theory and pursue a degree in graphic design. That said, being able to create graphics when is a valuable skillset that allows you to work efficiently. Being able to outsource this task is important, however it also puts marketers at the disposal of their designer’s schedule, thus decreasing speed and efficiency when you need graphics fast. Even if you have a great graphic designer on payroll, it can be helpful to understand the basics of graphic design so you can provide better instructions and get a better final product.
This post isn’t intended to teach you graphic design, nor is it focused on complex tools built for skilled designers. If you are a Photoshop whiz, great. If not, you can still get value from all of these tools. These tools and resources will help you expand your offerings and, ultimately, improve your marketing.
My goal isn’t to compile an “ultimate list” with hundreds of different options. I use every single one of these resources on a regular basis.
Using stock photos is one of these easiest ways to add vivid imagery to your content without spending hours slaving away in Photoshop. Stock photos can be used “as-is” or modified to meet your needs.
There are plenty of stock photo sites out there, but they are not all created equally. Some offer free photos, while others charge per image. Let’s start with the free ones:
Unsplash has an impressive selection of free stock photos. I like Unsplash because it provides a lot of free photos that don’t have a “stock image” vibe to them. If you are struggling to find the graphics you need on this site, play around with different search terms. You can also explore pre-made albums for finding similar images.
This is often my last resort, but it can be helpful if you are trying to get “real” pictures from professional and amateur photographers. You can use the creative commons search to find free images on Google Image Search and Flickr.
Paid Stock Photo Options
Sometimes, free stock photos just don’t cut it, especially if you have very specific needs. As a rule of thumb, I don’t like to spend more than $1 per stock image AND I don’t want my image credits to expire. While you can’t always find this type of pricing on the site, you can take advantage of promotions and stock up on credits. My go-to sites are DepositPhotos, Adobe Stock, and ShutterStock.
Be careful of sites that offer unlimited stock photos for a single price. While the deal may seem appealing at first, you will often find that the selection is lacking.
Using graphic mockups serves two main purposes:
- It can save you a lot of time.
- It can make you look like a professional designer with little to no work.
Graphic mockups can be used for flyers, websites, social media images, product mockups, etc.
There are a ton of free and paid sites out there but I generally stick with two.
Note: you will need a copy of Photoshop to edit these files.
Pixeden has an impressive selection of free graphic mockups, including backgrounds, flyers, iPhone/App mockups, and more. They also have a premium monthly plan that I will use from time to time.
When you need a very specific graphic mockup (such as an event brochure or social media graphics), browsing through free mockups can be time consuming. Save yourself sometime and splurge on a paid mockup. Graphicriver combines a great selection of graphics with reasonable pricing. If you find yourself using mockups like this on a regular basis, you may consider Envato Elements, a monthly service that offers unlimited downloads from a selection of great graphics, fonts, templates and more.
Well-designed icons can provide great visual support for a website or other design materials.
I’ll keep this one simple. The only site I use is:
Icon Finder has thousands of icons. Think of a word, any word, and IconFinder probably has a good icon for it. The free package will usually be sufficient, but if you need premium icons, the starter package is a fair deal at $9/month.
Font choice is a huge part of creating stunning visual content. In fact, I think font choice can be what truly separates a professional design from an amateur design. That said, choosing fonts is no simple task. There are 1000’s to choose from and each font has it’s own unique appeal. Here are some great tools:
If you want to know which font is being used in another graphic, WhatTheFont can identify it. Simply upload an image with clear text and WhatTheFont will get to work. Of course, they will try to sell you that font but you can often find a comparable font for free with a quick Google Search.
DaFont offers an impressive selection of free fonts. The best part is that they allow you to enter custom text and preview it across many different fonts.
Do you have one font that looks great but can’t find a complementary font? TypeGenius shows you great complementary fonts that work well with your initial font choice.
Before you create any graphic, you need an idea or inspiration. If you already have one, that’s great. If you don’t, you can explore creative ideas from other designers for inspiration (inspiration, not mimicry).
Since I am generally creating marketing graphics, I can often get inspiration from competitors or any company that utilizes quality graphics. I may browse the websites and social media channels of leaders in a particular niche to see what is working well.
If I am looking for pure graphic inspiration, I will check out portfolio sites.
Behance is a collection of designs from different graphic designers. You will find some amazing work on this site: from corporate marketing materials to basic graphics. Not only is this site inspiring, but it’s also entertaining. As an added bonus, there are also free graphic downloads available on the site.
If you are looking for great examples of web design, Awwwards is the place to go. This site finds the best examples of web design and ranks them on a variety of factors. I’ll admit that some of these designs are overkill for basic marketing projects, but they can be a great way to improve your eye for web design.
If you are in the process of designing a graphic and looking to expand your color palette, Adobe Color is the place to go. Simply enter one of the prominent colors in your design and Adobe Color will provide some complementary colors and shades that you can work with.
Now, that you have all of these resources at your disposal, you will need to actually create your graphics. I’ll admit that I use Photoshop and Illustrator exclusively, but the following resources are great for those who don’t have access to the Adobe Creative Suite.
Canva offers a variety of unique graphic templates specifically for marketing. There are templates for Facebook Ads, social media graphics, banner ads, and much more. The site uses an easy drag and drop editor so you don’t need any design skills to make stunning images. Some graphics are free, while others are $1 (a small price to pay to save hours of time and look like a professional designer).
If you need something slightly more complex than what Canva offers, you can explore Fiverr. The trick here is finding the right gigs. Look for gigs with a lot of positive feedback and browse the portfolio of the gig provider. There are some real gems on this site. I’ve found great logo providers, infographic designers, and more on Fiverr.
What do you use?
I tried to keep this post as short and resourceful as possible. These are all of the tools I use on a recurring basis. There are plenty of other tools I use from time to time, and I’m sure I missed some of your favorites. Feel free to mention your favorite graphic design tools in the comments!