A common trait for anyone working in IT services is the desire to tinker with technology and to figure out how to do things ourselves which often leads us to code our own tools and design and build our own web sites (for better or worse) and so chances are you will at some point be creating graphics of some kind to use on your site or even to promote your site or business.
Of course everyone knows about Photoshop which is probably the leading graphic design software around and has been for many years, but it doesn’t come cheap and for the occasional graphic it is bordering on overkill. Fortunately there are some decent free alternatives these days both in the form of downloadable apps and web based tools. Here are a few of my favorites..
First of all let’s bring out the GIMP (to steal a line from Pulp Fiction, as I’m sure many have done before) – this is a full featured, open source, free and really quite powerful image editing software which can do pretty much anything you want. However it does have something of a reputation for being hard to learn with a rather confusing interface at first sight although that has improved in recent years. Gimp runs happily on Linux as well as Windows, Mac and more. In case you’re wondering, “GIMP” actually means GNU Image Manipulation Program.
Inkscape is a great vector graphics editor which is also free and also cross-platform and uses SVG. Using Inkscape you can quickly draw shapes and sketch out your creations and so it is perfect for creating logos or web site graphics as well as all sorts of other graphical whatsits. The interface is relatively easy to figure out so you can be up and going pretty soon after installing on your PC.
Infographics are all the rage online these days and if you can create a cool looking graphic, social network glory awaits as it us sure to be shared millions of times just by virtue of its very existence. Ok the reality may not be quite so rosy but still they are quite popular and so well worth creating now and then to mix things up a little. Unfortunately creating infographics can depend on some level of artistic ability which many of us are lacking to say the least, but fortunately the task has been made a little more easy with the arrival of easel.ly. This is a cool web based service which is free and allows you to create pretty neat infographics using loads of existing templates combined with lots of drag & drop functionality so anyone can get to grips with it and churn out fancy looking infographics in no time at all.
If you want to create the next Avatar movie, Disney cartoon or 3D computer game then Blender is your tool. It is perhaps a little over-powered for whipping up a quick graphic for your website but if photo-realistic 3D imaging is something you like or need then you will have endless hours (or days/weeks/months) of fun with this. Amazingly, despite being so powerful, this is also a completely free tool which also runs on Windows, Mac and Linux! Be warned though, it is highly addictive.
Another web based graphics tool is PicMonkey which comes in free and premium (or Royale) versions and makes its super simple to quickly edit photos or graphics to enhance or add effects. Perfect for adding some funny text to a cat photo for instant internet stardom or for making the photos on your blog or site look like they were not taken with a ancient camera phone with grubby lens and after a few too many beers. The free version should be enough for the casual user but you can pay for the Royale (with cheese? I don’t know.) if you feel the need.
For many years now this one has been on my favorites list – Cooltext. It couldn’t be much simpler to use – select a logo or font, fiddle with some style params and out comes a logo or button ready to put on your site. It has a huge selection of fonts to choose from and it is easy to mix and manipulate them for the final image so you get something that fits your site. There’s not much more that can be said about it other than it is free and does the job.
The above tools should provide all the graphical magic you need for adding some pzazz to your sites, making cool logos, creating banners for your advertising campaigns or any other graphical requirements you may have.