Discussion: Making Graphics on a Budget

Posted 8 March, 2013 by Amanda / 44 Comments


Truth: You don’t need Photoshop or Illustrator to make graphics.

Okay, so having those programs would be nice, but there are plenty of free alternatives. (The free programs will never quite compare to the expensive ones, but they’ll get the job done.) Standard disclaimer: in order to use ANY graphic software, you have to be willing to play and try new things. You will get frustrated. You will shake your fist at the computer. Downloading graphic software will not (unfortunately) turn you into a graphic making expert. Having a willingness to learn and get better will make the process easier, though.

1. Inkscape

This is an Illustrator alternative. It seems to have a really steep learning curve, though. I played around with it A LOT before figuring much of anything out. At the moment, I mainly use it to make shapes for my graphics. (I stick to mostly circles, as you’ve seen.) I am quite sure, however, that I am under-using this program. I’d guess that there are many more features I have yet to discover.

2 quick tips for making Inkscape easier to use.

Download Inkscape.


This is a Photoshop alternative. I’ve used both, and while Photoshop is definitely superior, GIMP is free and you can’t beat that. There are also plenty of GIMP tutorials online, so you can google just about anything. Messing with the layers and text is a bit more clunky than Photoshop (or even Pixlr), but it’s possible. I’ve used GIMP to add text to all my circle graphics, since I find that Inkscape is… not very user friendly when it comes to adding text.

One HUGE advantage to GIMP that you won’t get with Inkscape or Pixlr is the ability to pull color from ANYWHERE and use it in your graphics. It allows you to select color (I could pick colors from my blog header, for example) and then use it in your graphics. I actually did something similar with my cover photo on Facebook–all the colors came from the greens used in my blog design. I used the color select tool to pick up the greens I wanted and BOOM. Matching colors. (Pixlr has this feature BUT it only works within Pixlr. You can’t go to different tabs or pull up any picture to grab the colors.)

And take advantage of the layers in GIMP. Once I figured out how to do this (always save your work in the native GIMP format; it preserves your layers), it made creating graphics so much easier.

Download GIMP.

3. Pixlr

This is also a Photoshop alternative. (In some ways, it is better than GIMP.) And it’s on the web, so there’s nothing for you to download. I haven’t had the best luck with Pixlr, only because it’s been a bit buggy for me and won’t let me copy/paste things. But! If it works for you, this is a great option, and it goes anywhere you have Internet access. (This is what the instructor of my web design course used, so I’ve seen it in action.)

Go to Pixlr.

4. Font Squirrel

Fonts are AWESOME. The more fonts you have to play with, the more creative you can get with your graphics. (Dingbats are helpful as well if you want symbols.) Be careful about font licenses. If you’re using making graphics for your own personal use, you have a few more options. Many fonts, however, require you to purchase a commercial license if you use it for business purposes. I play the safe route and always make sure I have free for commercial use fonts. There are many more font websites out there, by the way, this is just my personal favorite. Feel free to share your favorite font website in the comments section!

Use it.

5. Other Resources

HTML colors — I have no idea how important it is to stick to web safe colors, but it gives me a good starting point for choosing colors.
Hex codes to RGB values — If you find the hex code of a color you like, this tool will make it easier to figure out the RGB values. You can use GIMP for this as well.
What your color choices mean — I use this infographic to choose my colors, depending on what kind of feeling I want to inspire with my graphics.

A quick note .png versus .jpg: .png gives you transparent backgrounds and better picture quality, but they are bigger files and require more time to load. .jpg is smaller and faster to load, but doesn’t allow you to have transparent backgrounds and the image quality is not as nice. So keep that in mind. (I always try to stick with .png, unless the file is too big for the size requirements.)

What are YOUR graphic making secrets?


Filed under: Discussion,


44 Responses to “Discussion: Making Graphics on a Budget”

  1. THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT! Starred this bad boy so I can futz around with all those lovely sites and such once my deadline’s achieved (five school days, baybee!). Thanks for the awesome!

  2. This was definitely the next frontier for me when it came to the blog. I mean, I have to have a cute little graphic when it comes to my wine/book club, amiright? Thanks so much for putting together these really great resources!

    • Exactly! And I know people who do graphics, so I started off asking them to do it for me. But eventually, I got tired of asking (and being a pain) and decided to learn for myself. And I’m glad I did. Because now whenever someone comments on my blog design, I can be all, “Yeah. I did that.” :)

  3. This is the one thing I felt comfortable with when I started blogging. I know it’s a source of stress for so many bloggers, kind of like the idea of learning code would be for me. I actually start to sweat when I think about code. My husband lives for it. I have nightmares about it. Graphics programs are not an easy thing to learn and can be endlessly frustrating, but I’m never not impressed by what I’ve seen bloggers come up with!! Amazing. I couldn’t do the same things without all the years I’ve spent learning the programs:)

    • I think that anything unknown is scary. I used to think CSS was scary, but the more I use it, the better I get at it. Likewise, if I had done my blog redesign a month ago, I never would have been able to turn my old header into what it is now. I’m pretty driven when it comes to learning new programs and I like to fiddle, so it is, perhaps, “easier” for me to do. It’s all, “Bitch, you will be MINE!”

      And you know I am in awe of your graphic skillz. AWE. *sneaks off to stare at your blog*

  4. YOU ARE MY HERO! People are always asking me for help with making graphics but since I use Paint Shop Pro and most people aren’t willing to pay for their programs, I fail at helping them. Now I can just send them to your post :D
    Besides PSP, I like to use Photofiltre, which is free but just for Windows. It’s basically somewhere between Paint and Photoshop (doesn’t work with layers, but it’s pretty good!).
    Thanks for making explaining things so much easier haha.

    • Awesome! Glad I could help! :D

      There are usually plenty of free resources and programs available to make do without paid programs. I learned this when I was using Linux as an operating system. (So many people have developed programs that are similar to Windows’ programs, but that work with Linux.) It just takes a bit more of searching and playing, I think.

  5. I managed to score a free copy of Photoshop Elements with the purchase of my new Canon point-and-shoot (random, I know! Lol) so when I do need to make a graphic, I’ve been using that.

    As for fonts, I’ve mostly used dafont.com, but I’ll have to look at Font Squirrel!

  6. Thanks so much for sharing! This is something that is on my list of things to learn to do this year. :) It’s new, so therefore scary to me. As all things are before you learn them. I’m slowly working on stuff, but I will definitely be checking out these sites.

  7. Great post, Amanda! I’m lucky that I got to purchase the Adobe Creative Suite for about 70% off when I was a student at one of the schools in the city (it was only a one-weekend class, so I lucked out!). I love the suite and play in it often, but know there are SO MANY THINGS I could be doing in it that I know nothing about. You have some great alternatives! I might check some of these out just to see what they’re about — especially Font Squirrel. I am a HUGE font whore and love finding new ones. :)

  8. For your HEX colour codes http://www.colorpicker.com/ has a colour mixer thingie (like in graphics packages) and is easier for getting subtle colours.

    If you’re willing to pay a little but less than Adobe suite, Corel have some excellent packages that do nearly as much for a fraction of the price. Corel Painter is just amazing for getting non digital looking drawings and I got a cut down copy when I bought Corel Paintshop Photo Pro (for less than £20/$30). I still love Adobe Lightroom but it’s really not an essential piece of kit, just nice to have.

    • Bookmarking the color mixer site now! :)

      I’ll have to look into Corel Painter/Paintshop Photo Pro. The benefit to most paid programs is that they let you have a free trial. I did that with Photoshop, and while I liked it, it wasn’t enough for me to justify the expense. Paintshop seems decently priced though. Thanks for the recommendation!

  9. You are a wonderful human being, you know that, right? Let’s be friends forever. Especially when I’m crying over how I should have learned how to make graphics when I was already paying college too much money to learn things I’ll inevitably forget anyway.


  10. YAY, fonts! Thanks especially for that link. I’ve been using this little font generator, which is easy enough, but I want more options. :) I knew about Gimp, but all the others are new and awesome. Thank you!!

  11. Kristin @ My ParaHangover

    Yay! I actually have Inkscape downloaded. Haven’t opened it b/c it scares the crap out of me but I actually have something that someone says works!!!!! And I use FontSquirrel and Dafonts equally. Dafonts is sometimes easier to find a font in and their licenses are more lenient (at least what I’ve used).

    Thanks for the run down!!!! :D

  12. I love to use Pixlr, when I do not feel like opening Photoshop. Pixlr is so much easier to use, and uses the fonts I have already stored on my computer. Sometimes my Photoshop takes forever to load because my system is old. I also like to use PicMonkey for small graphic projects. This is such great advice. I used to use Gimp, and it is so helpful! Inkscape too, but I never got the grasp of it too much. Only did a business logo on it.