If you are bootstrapping your online business then you are probably doing most of the design work yourself too, so lets look at the best graphic design tools available.
We are looking at the tools that offer professional results but still a user-friendly experience so you don’t need to go to college to learn how to use the darned thing.
Here is an inside look at the design tools and software I use to bootstrap all of my own websites and online properties with high-quality visuals.
Graphics tools for social media content, graphics editors, logo and branding tools, image compression and a few tools for when you do want to outsource your design work for the most professional results possible.
General Graphic Design Tools
Adobe Photoshop – The creme de la creme of photo editing and manipulation. While there used to be a time where Photoshop was an expensive one-off investment which often put beginners off, these days they have adopted a SaaS business model (Software as a Service) and allow you to pay a nominal monthly subscription instead.
If you find you need access to quality graphics and design tools on a regular basis then look no further than Adobe Photoshop and other products in their creative suite of tools like Illustrator and InDesign.
Photoshop might be a bit advanced for some marketers and does involve spending some time learning the basics before you will be able to properly use it, however, there is no better all-round tool for graphic design.
These days you can also get an Express version of Photoshop for your Apple iPhone or Android device so you can create graphics on your commute.
Gimp – The best free Photoshop alternative for those not looking to invest in expensive design software who want to make simple or advanced edits.
If you are seriously bootstrapping and simply cannot justify a monthly Adobe subscription then the next best option is Gimp and the bonus? It’s completely free and allows you to do pretty much everything that you would typically use Photoshop for minus a few of the fancy features and the attractive interface.
You can easily teach yourself how to use Gimp using a combination of online tutorial and YouTube videos.
Social Media Design Tools
Appearance is important on social media and creating engaging graphics is a great way to grab your audiences attention and gain trust. An example is Instagram where good form and profile design is one of the key considerations when people decide whether to follow you or not.
Here are a couple of tools that greatly help in producing social graphics.
Canva – The fastest tool to create professional graphics for your blog posts and social content. Canva is very simple to use and offers a wide range of different templates that are predesigned ready for you to edit.
Example templates include Instagram posts, YouTube Thumbnails, infographics, eBook Covers, Gift Certificates and much more.
Take a look at the examples in the screenshot below.
Canva also offers a great app for iOS and Android Smartphone users who want to create social media image and graphics on the go to share with their followers.
YouZign – Another great option for creating attractive graphics for your blog posts and social media accounts like Pinterest is YouZign. It’s not free but for the price offers a fantastic suite of graphics tools and royalty free source files you can use.
Pablo – Another great tool for creating social media images from the people at Buffer appropriately named Pablo.
Pablo also features some cool Instagram like filters you can apply to your images but doesn’t have the wide range of templates offered by Canva.
Read our guide on how to create featured images for WordPress with Canva.
Unique Graphic Design Tools
Here are some interesting and unique graphic design tools that I have been using to create more immersive and engaging visual content.
Flickgraph Create your own Cinemagraphs to use on your website, social media or Facebook ads to command attention. If you are asking yourself ‘What is a Cinemagraph anyway?’ then where have you been? A cinemagraph is a fantastic moving image effect that you create from a video filmed with a fixed perspective.
By placing a still as a top layer and then erasing certain areas you can allow aspects of the video to show through creating a fantastic juxtaposition between motion and the eery stillness of another element.
Oh, and they also massively increase conversion rates when used in ad campaigns over still images.
Plotagraph – An incredible tool that allows you to create cinemagraphs from still photos.
As I explained above Cinemagraphs require you have video footage, however, another tool called Plotagraph allows you to create keyframes and tweens within a still image to create a sense of motion.
The effect is a little different to a cinemagraph but the results can be fantastic and you can achieve results that are far more abstract than you can with video footage.
It sure is nice having beautiful images on your website but the size of those images both in pixel dimensions and in terms of kilobytes will make a big difference to the performance of your website.
TinyPNG – Losslessly reduce your image sizes before uploading to your website for a faster loading web page. There is nothing wrong with adding multiple images to blog posts and web pages but there is if it leads to a slow loading website.
If you are not resizing and compressing them losslessly your website will be loading far slower than it potentially could be and this can result in lost traffic as people don’t have the patience to wait around for it to finish loading.
In 2018 you don’t stand a chance of converting visitors unless your website loads quickly!
Consider the % of your visitors that are coming from mobile devices that may be using their network data to connect.
We put together a comprehensive guide on how to make sure your images are properly resized for the web.
Pexels – The best website online for royalty free stock photos and textures you can use in your websites, videos, and other content. If you are trying to create images and graphics for your blogs and social media campaigns and need more background and photography then this is one of the best spots.
Read our full guide on the Best Royalty Free Image Websites.
Choose the Right Color Schemes
Color schemes are an important facet of good design and rather than guessing which colours work well together why not use technology to do the hard work!
Paletton.com – The best tool for working out a color scheme for your website or finding colors that will compliment your brands primary color and theme.
The beauty of Palletton is that it takes the guesswork out of color scheme design.
If you have a specific color in mind already, simply tell the tool which color you like and it will then calculate the most harmonious complimentary colors to use.
Adobe InDesign – The ultimate desktop publishing software from Adobe, this tool allows you to create a plethora of different items including posters, flyers, brochures, newspapers, magazines, books and more.
Once known as “PageMaker” InDesign has come a long way and is an essential tool for any graphic designer. If you are a marketer you might find this useful if you want to produce your own print marketing materials however it is also good for some online formats too.
InDesign is great for eBook design and creating beautiful PDF documents, ideal for use in your digital marketing strategy. Think of content upgrades and freebies you can giveaway on your website in exchange for an email address. This is the perfect tool.
MyeCoverMaker – A tool for creating eBook & Book cover designs and then allows you to also convert them into 3D eCovers for use in your marketing kit.
This is one of the best tools if you are creating your own eBook or physical book and want to put your hand to designing your own covers. T
MyeCoverMaker features 100 different starter templates, text effects, HD graphics and helps you keep costs down as professional book covers can be expensive if you need them regularly for different books you are publishing.
Graphic Design / Logo & Branding Services
If you aren’t artistic and would rather outsource the graphic design and branding aspects of your business then here are the best options for finding the most talented designers online.
99Designs – The best place to get affordable logo design and be blown away with 10 or more high-quality professional logos to choose from.
When you launch a project on 99Designs you get multiple submissions from various designers, increasing the chances of finding something you like. This is ideal if you are not easily pleased!
99Designs was originally mostly focussed on branding however they now also offer many other design services including packaging design, book covers, brand guides and now t-shirt designs too.
While 99Designs is a premium service the results speak for themselves if you just take a look at some of the examples they have created in the past I am sure you will agree.
TailorBrands – A very affordable automated tool for creating a simple but attractive brand for your new website app or any kind of business.
TailorBrands is one of the newer “automated” logo design services I have tried but I was impressed with the results.
They have a free version you can try which will at least allow you to test the tool out and see the results for yourself before buying. You can choose from including iconography and if you want a minimal or abstract style.
The system then asks you to choose from font styles you like to help it better understand the best logo for your tastes.
LogoJoy – One of the best and most affordable logo and branding design tools I have ever used.
You tell the website your brand name, slogan and select from other options and the artificial intelligence-driven LogoJoy then creates you a series of examples to choose from.
Once you select the logo you like most you can then see it superimposed on 3D marketing materials to get a sense of how it will look in the real world, which is a very nice touch.
Highly recommended if you need a new logo quickly and you want professional results and beautiful typography.
This article could be far longer but keep in mind I am only listing tools and services I actually personally use on a regular basis to help with online marketing and websites.
All of the tools mentioned in this article work both on Windows and Mac computers or offer a cloud-based solution that works no matter what operating system you use.
If you found this guide useful then you might also like our Guide to the best apps for creating graphics on your smartphone.
Let me know in the comments what your favorite graphic design tools are.