Not a designer? Here Are A Few Essential Design Tools for Small Businesses
Kyle Eliason Aug 3 2018
Recently, I wrote about why every marketer should care about design and that we should all know design principles. However, even if you agree, you may be worried that you lack the graphic design chops or the technical skill to use something like Adobe Photoshop.
Don’t let that deter you. There are plenty of tools out there for novice designers to create gorgeous marketing assets. Whether you’re a marketing manager, social media strategist, or small-business owner, these tools can help you create graphics like a pro.
When it comes to producing your marketing material, the hands-down best tool out there is Canva. Canva is the gold standard for allowing the novice designer to create beautiful marketing material with its clean user interface and bounty of features.
Canva has a drag and drop interface that is insanely easy to pick up. Within five minutes, you can have a well-composed, ready-to-go graphic.
It may seem like I’m getting paid to write a glowing review by Canva, but I’m not. I just know how useful it is for a small business owner because my wife is one. She told me “I feel like a professional designer without actually being one.” In about an hour, she was able to create this flyer from scratch:
While many similar tools offer comparable capabilities to create graphics, Canva has templates for almost every need you have. Additionally, they have hundreds of layouts available for each type of need. (Most are free, but beware—some of these require the extravagant cost of $1USD.)
For a free tool, the features are pretty amazing. Some of the tools include:
- Photo straightening tool
- Adding text to photos
- Speech bubbles on images
- Image effects
- Library of icons, photos, illustrations
- A robust set of tutorials and resources to learn about design
With Canva, the main tool is free, but there are some paid options. As I’ve mentioned above, many photos or template layouts come at the cost of $1. You can also get Canva for Work at $13/month that gives you access to their free illustrations, photos and templates. It also allows you access to a few more features that aren’t necessary, but if you’re planning to use this as a core tool for your small business, it’s well worth it.
So, maybe everyone’s telling you that even if you’re just a novice, you need to get Photoshop if you want to be taken seriously. Don’t listen to them. Photoshop is great and it’s easily the tool-of-choice for professional editors, but it’s definitely not a requirement.
GIMP is an open-source downloadable application that can do 99% of the simple things that you’d want to do anyway. (Unless you’re desperately needing color & luminance range masking, to which I’d reply “why are you bothering to read this article if you know what that is? Please help me write this next time.”)
For an app that supports multiple platforms (GNU/Linux, Windows, Mac OS), GIMP has a very robust set of features including:
- Customizable interface
- Photo enhancement
- Digital retouching
- Hardware support
- Diverse file formats (TIFF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, PSD, BMP, etc.)
- The ability to read and edit Photoshop files
I love when people get together and provide something of value and give it away. That’s what the creators of GIMP did and as a result, GIMP is 100% open source without restriction. You’re free to change the source code to allow custom plug-ins and distribute any changes you want. There are tons of GIMP add-ons and goodies around the web if you know where to look.
Did you read the part about it being open source? It’s free for everyone, including corporate use.
I am a big fan of infographics as long as they’re well-crafted, interesting, and useful – pretty much the standard for content of any type. You can make quality infographics with either of the two previous tools, but if you plan on making them regularly or just want a head start on one, try out Easel.ly.
Easel.ly is a dedicated infographics tool that is ridiculously easy to use and produces pretty amazing visuals.
Easel.ly uses a drag-and-drop system to allow you add objects, media, backgrounds, text, and charts. It also has a large collection of templates and images from which to choose.
Easel.ly does have a free version, but this is one of the few where I recommend the Pro version which is only $4/month. It gives you access to:
- 300+ infographic templates
- 1M+ illustrations and images to choose from
- High-quality exports in PDF, JPG, and PNG for printing
Sure, maybe you have the tools you need and some of the learning resources to create some top-notch graphics, but what about color? Perhaps you’re trying to reinvent your brand identify or simply want colors on your infographic that don’t clash.
There are a handful of tools on the internet that allow you to work with swatches and color patterns, but my favorite is the Adobe Color Wheel. Not only is it smart, but it’s been around forever with little change to how it works.
The Adobe Color Wheel allows you to pick a starting color and recommend color schemes based on different harmonies.
These harmonies are mathematically calculated to provide different color schemes that generally provoke different reactions. For a fun article on explaining color harmony, read Color Harmony: Why Hulk Wears Purple Pants by Rikard.
Another really cool features of the Adobe Color Wheel is the ability to import images and create color schemes derived from them.
It allows you multiple options of what colors to extract with the following presets: Colorful, Bright, Muted, Deep, Dark, or a custom scheme based on where you place the extraction markers.
There is no cost for using the Adobe Color Wheel even though I feel they could have charged for the image import feature. You will need a subscription to Adobe to save the color scheme. PRO TIP: Just write the color scheme down somewhere and save your money.
Pixlr is a cloud-based app that rivals GIMP for image editing. It’s free (with some cost for add-ons) and it’s also available as a mobile app.
Logo Garden is an online tool that helps you create simple logos. It’s not too robust, but it does offer hundreds of logos to choose from and a handful of fonts and colors.
Piktochart is an infographic tool that rivals Easel.ly. Although it doesn’t quite do as much as something like Canva, it does more than Easel.ly when it comes to the number of templates, icons, and animation features it offers. It does, however, come at more of a cost—the lite version comes in at $12.50/month and the pro version at $24.17/month.
Snappa is an online graphics tool that allows you to create social media ads, blog graphics, or pretty much anything else you need for digital marketing. It’s a fairly worthy competitor with Canva and limits free users to the number of projects as opposed to functionality. The pro version is pretty cheap and worth a look.
Coolors is a well-designed option for creating color schemes much like the Adobe Color Wheel. It’s a little different than Adobe’s tool by the fact that is doesn’t focus on harmonies and color theory as much as iit does the ability to custom pick specific colors that you like. With that said, it’s really easy to use and offers a lot when you’re wanting to just pick colors with your eye. It’s also fun to play with.
Pablo is a favorite of our marketing director for obvious reasons. It allows you to create simple pieces of micro-content quickly. You pick a quote or point of emphasis from a blog post, choose an image, choose a font and brightness, and voilà—you’re done. It takes roughly the same amount of time to create a graphic as it did for me to write this.
The Bottom Line
With so much competing content available, there’s no reason not to produce well-designed marketing graphics. I fully believe that a good designer is invaluable but the quality of tools available today are certainly closing the gap in necessity. The key is just finding out what works for you and that you’re communicating the right things.
Senior Client Partner
Kyle is an Account Manager at Portent, Inc. He brings over 8 years of experience managing digital media projects. He is passionate about innovative marketing strategies – the more creative, the better. When he’s not account managing, he’s either on a soccer field, on ice skates, or screenwriting. On a blue moon, you might catch him on all three. Read More