33 Free Design Tools and Resources to Turn Anyone Into a Graphic Designer
I've wanted to be a writer pretty much since I learned how to read. Now here I am, living out my dream in a digital world - but one that is also requiring the social media marketer to wear many hats, including that of graphic designer.
I've always wanted to be a writer, but never really had much talent for art. Until social media was born, the two never really seemed linked to me. My parents used to joke that they always knew which picture was mine in grade school because it was the only one that was just one color.
So yeah, that's where I'm coming from. I'm no Picasso, but I've been able to adapt to the graphic demands of the social media marketer thanks to a number of free design tools. Below, I share how anyone can emulate my process to become a graphic designer when duty calls.
Choose your canvas
If you were a professional graphic designer, you'd be paying about a bazillion dollars for Photoshop after spending about 800 hours trying to figure out how to use it. Thankfully, there are free, idiot-proof platforms for people like me who never wants to hear the word "layer" again. When I'm designing an image for social media, I most often use Canva. I've found it to be among the most user-friendly, plus it saves me time with the following features:
- A fairly comprehensive free and low-cost icon and image gallery I can incorporate into my graphic
- Backgrounds and templates to set the tone and theme for the piece
- Ready-made social media dimensions so I don't have to look up the specs every time I need something for a different channel.
- Ability to upload my own graphics and images, like a logo or photos. Canva saves every image you upload, so you can use it in future designs without having to re-upload
In addition to Canva, the following free design tools are also user-friendly and jam-packed with cool features.
Designing an infographic? The following free design tools are specially built for infographics:
Figure out which colors go together
With a combination of experience, studying and innate talent, graphic designers often know which colors will work best together just by looking at them. On the other end of the spectrum are people like me, with the emotional version of color blindness. That's why there are free design tools like Paletton and Adobe Color CC, which serve as digital color wheels. Simply type in the hex code of the color you want to match, and the tools will spit out full color palettes.
If you don't have a hex code and are instead trying to match colors on an image or website, there are free design tools to help you do that as well. Upload your image into CSS Drive or enter your URL into Color Combos for full color palettes to match.
Find your font
I'm not going to lie. Fonts are a total mystery to me. A fascinating, beautiful enigma that I know basically nothing about. Here's a breakdown of the free design tools I've found to help me out.
- Via a browser extension, Fount identifies the font used on any webpage
- MyFonts' WhatTheFont identifies the font used on any image
- Google Web Fonts provides free fonts to download
- Identifont will help you find similar or complimentary fonts
There are plenty of other free design tools to help you find and identify fonts. This awesome flow chart from findafont.com covers most of them.
Get others to do the work for you
There are a ton of graphic designers and photographers who are giving away their work for free! All they typically ask is to be credited on the final product. Here are a few of my favorite sources.
- The Noun Project has tons of free icons I often upload into my Canva creations
- Blurgrounds offers versatile background images to set the tone for any design
- Flickr's Creative Commons licensed photographs are crowdsourced and therefore don't have the cheesiness of your standard stock photo site (plus they're free).
- Like Flickr, Pikalow is also a crowdsourced tool. They have a much more elegant feel than your standard stock photo site.
- Placeit lets you upload your own photos into stock scenes.
Here are a couple lists with more royalty-free stock photo sources than you'll ever need: 70+ Sources of Royalty Free Stock Photos for Your Themes, Website and Blog 27 Superb Sites With Royalty Free Stock Images For Commercial Use
Photo quotes are always a viable option
You've got to love the photo quotes. Not only are they a great way to set an emotional tone while conveying important information, they're also insanely easy to make. I'm talking under a minute.
The following free design tools allow you to make photo quotes by choosing a background and simply typing in your text on top of it. Some of them also allow you to upload your own image or photo as the background:
Resize your image for different social media channels
Now that you've designed a gorgeous graphic, make sure it gets maximum exposure by sizing it for different social media channels. Use the Social Image Resizer Tool from the Internet Marketing Ninjas to automatically resize your image to fit the specs of the major social channels. Or, consult Sprout Social's Always Up-to-Date Guide to Social Media Image Sizes.
Or don't design anything at all
Buffer and Hootsuite's browser extensions allow you to post any image on the web to your social media channels just by clicking on it. So, if you want to liven your feed with images, you don't necessarily need to create your own - just curate articles that already have great graphics to share with your audience.
Looking for even more great tools? Buffer's round-up contains several of the tools you've just read about, and more! Which tools do you use to make graphics for social media? Tell us in the comments below!
Follow Kiera Stein on Twitter