I’m not a graphic designer, but I’ve found some online tools that make it easy to get professional results without expensive software. For important things like book covers—for fiction, especially—I’d suggest hiring a pro, but for quick promo banners, Facebook or blog posts, or tweets, here are some fun options.
All of them offer tutorials. I think they’re worth the few minutes it takes to get you oriented to each site.
I’ve been using PicMonkey for about a year now to create my web, Facebook, and Twitter banners. I also used it to create the book cover for Productivity Tools for Writers and an excerpt booklet for my Kiss & Thrill blog members.
The free version offers access to royalty-free fonts, overlays, and design elements. The paid upgrade gives you access to everything.
+ Allows for a custom or pre-sized canvas
+ Choose from collage layouts
+ Fairly short learning curve
+ You can use your own images
+ Save/export designs in multiple formats and quality levels
– Can’t reopen design to edit once you close your project
– Can’t align a group of objects/no snap-to grid
– Can’t select multiple objects to move or modify
– Navigation is sometimes confusing
– Doesn’t save uploaded images for future use
Best for: Quickly adding text or overlays to an image and working totally freeform. Also good for creating collages with your own images.
Canva is similar to PicMonkey, but has an easier-to-navigate interface, and includes lots of templates and royalty-free images. You can create a free design (like the one at the top of this post, or below), or use premium elements for $1 each. You only pay when you “publish” (save or share) the final design.
Canva comes with a number of templates for banners, ads, book covers, and more.
+ Saves your projects for future editing (great for maintaining a branded look and when you need to tweak an existing design)
+ Includes grids to help you align objects
+ Allows you to export or share to multiple formats and platforms
+ Has custom and pre-szied canvases
+ Provides ready-made layouts and designs
+ You can use your own images
+ Short learning curve
– Occasionally glitchy when trying to add photos to layouts or align objects (I believe this is a beta version)
– Not all of the templates provide access to the same options (images or layouts)
Best for: Nearly every type of graphic design project, especially those you might want to reuse. Banners and ad designs are quick and easy.
QuotesCover is a specialized graphics site for quickly creating meme-worthy quote images. You don’t even have to know the quote you want. Just browse by topic or search by keywords. The text comes out pre-styled, but you can choose from a variety of layouts and fonts, and you can use asterisks to mark words that you want to emphasize.
+ Quick and easy to use
+ Look up a quote or add your own
+ Automated layouts means you don’t have to know anything about typography or design
+ Download project in PNG or JPG formats, or share to Facebook
+ Allows for custom backgrounds
+ Multiple canvas sizes
– Can’t choose layout or font from a list or grid, must click Previous or Next to go through without visual cues
– Can’t edit past projects
– Limited design control
Best for: Quickly creating a professional looking quote-based image or banner.
I’m sure there are many other cool online graphics sites out there. What’s your favorite?
Allan G. Smorra