If you’re just starting your first blog or even if you’re revamping an established one, you may not have the budget or wish to spend the money for professional graphic design software. The gold industry standard is Adobe, with products like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, however, these programs can be expensive.
Fortunately, the company developed Adobe Creative Cloud, a monthly paid subscription alternative to shelling out thousands of dollars to own the software… but, monthly subscription costs can still add up, particularly if you want access to more than one program…
I personally use (and love) Adobe Photoshop Elements – which has a lower price point but still all the bells and whistles I need for this blog and the podcasts, summits, and books I produce!
Many believe paid pro tools are the only way to go if you want to produce quality graphics. However, there are several open source options that are quite good. Keep these considerations in mind when deciding whether to go with free vs. paid graphic design tools.
Open Source Software
Free graphic design tools may be the way to go if you’re just starting out. You just download them from your chosen site and install. These types of software cost nothing and offer the basic functionality of the paid versions. The latest programs have come a long way since early offerings; however, they still have some drawbacks.
One of the primary issues you may encounter is a lack of compatibility between freeware and their pro counterparts. For example, you may not be able to send a version of your latest project to a friend who uses Adobe products to gain her feedback. Also, transferring the images between applications for advanced editing is likely not a possibility. In addition, free tools aren’t usually as comprehensive as the paid ones and may be limited when it comes to advanced design. These may not be issues at all for you as a beginner just looking to create simple graphics.
Paid Graphic Design Programs
If you are excited by graphic design and feel you may wish to learn advanced techniques in the future, paid design tools may be worth the investment. There are tons of tutorials online to help you learn almost everything you’d want to know about programs like Photoshop and Illustrator. With the most advanced capabilities, there’s no limit to how far you can go in your pursuit of design mastery.
Programs by the same company are compatible with each other, making it seamless to take a project from one application and use it in another. You can also send your work to other designers if you wish to hire someone to add finishing touches or complete a larger work. Beyond the price, one disadvantage may be the intimidation factor involved in learning complex professional software. This can be overcome once you begin experimenting, taking classes or following online tutorials.
As I mentioned before, if price is a concern, I highly recommend Adobe Photoshop Elements which is a one-time purchase under $100 (when I snagged it, it was only $59.99!) or you may be interested in Adobe Creative Cloud‘s membership option (but those monthly memberships do add up).
Recommended Free Tools
New software is being developed in the open source realm every day, so there are many from which to choose. Let’s look at some of the most trusted programs out there to get you started. These options can be used with Windows or Mac.
Gimp is a good choice if you’re looking for a good Photoshop alternative. You can use this tool’s basic features to manipulate raster images and artwork to create quality graphics (I used this one before discovering the affordability of Photoshop Elements).
Inkscape is a tool that is vector-based, meaning images can be resized and modified without losing visual integrity, similar to Illustrator. A couple specific features missing from this alternative are the ability to create gradient mesh and the use of advanced filters. You can likely do without these as a beginner.
The online tool Canva is also a popular option (I also use and love Canva – I am a pro subscriber!), but it does have drawbacks such as the inability to create your own shapes, select colors from an existing image, or edit/merge images together – the great news is that they are always launching new features like the ability to not only resize your work for various social media platforms, but even to post directly to social media.
There is no one right answer as to which option is best for your graphic design use. If you want to grow as a designer, paying a monthly subscription fee for Adobe Creative Cloud may be the wise decision. On the other hand, free graphic design tools like Canva or the less pricy Photoshop Elements, may be your best bet if you just want to be able to produce basic images for your blog. Either way, you can enjoy the fun of creation and customizing your online space.
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