A Guide to Free Design Tools

Updated July/2017

This article get’s some traffic, especially from my clients, so I have updated it.


The majority of my clients request a site designed in a content management system (CMS) like WordPress so that they have the ability to update or add their own content, and the ability to have a blog/news section they can update.  Once they start doing their own updates, they usually ask for software suggestions for some basic graphics work, photo editing, and other general tasks.  This article was written for my clients, but others might benefit from it as well.

Photo and General Image Editing

Preview (Mac) – Preview is a built in image editor in the Mac OS.  While it’s a simple looking program, it can actually perform a lot of basic functions and seems to constantly get new functionality with OS updates.  You can do basic cropping and re-sizing, file conversions (even to PDF) and a whole lot more.

Photos (Mac) – Photos was released by Apple as a replacement for iPhoto and Aperature. It basically has all the features that Preview has, but can also be used to manage a photo library, something that the other software options in this list don’t really do.

Paint.net (PC) – Paint.net is very intuitive to use, but still a very powerful image editor. There is a large community support forum available.  I personally use it for most quick image editing tasks rather than Photoshop.  I have mainly been a Mac user over the years, but when I work on PC I love this application.

Pixlr (Online/Chrome Extension/Phone App) – Pixlr offers a suite of web based editing tools. Pixlr Express for basic edits, and the more powerful Pixlr Editor for more advanced tasks like working with layers. They also offer a Chrome extension, and a mobile version. Since I initially wrote this article, there is a phone app as well.  So it’s a tool you can use across multiple platforms.  There are a lot of similar online apps out there now, but I still consider it one of the better ones.

Canva (Online) – A pretty powerful online editor.  It’s strength in my opinion is it’s template system for people that are novices to graphics applications.  It allows users to fairly easily create graphics for use on web sites or Social media.  I like to recommend it to my clients for use on their Blogs and Social Media.

GIMP (Mac/PC/Linux) – While the previous options are suited to beginners, GIMP is more along the lines of a full Photoshop replacement.  It can do what Photoshop does, and more in some cases.   The learning curve is much steeper with GIMP, but their web site has plenty of tutorials and documentation.  There are also a ton of YouTube tutorial videos available.

Vector Editing/Creation

The software listed so far is generally used for bitmap image editing and creation.  The following tools are for vector art creation and editing.  There aren’t a lot of free Vector programs out there, especially ones that work across platforms.

Inkscape (Mac/Windows/Linux) – Inkscape is an open-source vector graphics editor similar to Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Freehand, or Xara X. What sets Inkscape apart is its use of Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), an open XML-based W3C standard, as the native format.  Inkscape is a very powerful piece of software for free.

VECTR – I don’t have a ton of experience with this one yet, but I like to offer online tools as well as software because of their obvious convenience for clients.  It seems to have most of the basics you would want in a vector art program.

Other Tools

Batch Resizing/Batch File naming

Preview (Mac) – Preview is a great tool for batch re-sizing images.  If you use Yosemite or above, there is a built-in batch file re-namer.

Resizeimage.net (Online) – Fast Stone is a powerful batch image re-sizer and batch file-namer in one.  This one is not a bulk/batch resizer, but I have it on the list because it can do a whole bunch of other functions while resizing the image,

Bulk Resize (Online) – There are a ton of buld resizeing options online.  They all work in a pretty similar way.  This on has a drag and drop interface, so I added it to the list.

Image Optimization

TinyPNG – An online image optimizer.  Any image on your site should really be run through a tool like this before uploaded.

What is a CMS?

CMS stands for “Content Management System,” and describes a method of managing content, workflow, and collaboration online. CMS’s have revolutionized the way people think about and control content on websites.

WordPress

WordPress has been around since 2003 and is the most popular blogging software on the market. Over the last few years, WordPress has also become the content management software of choice for non-blogging websites.  I.C. Designs uses WordPress as a base for almost all sites now.  The initial costs to setup a site using WordPress are slightly higher than a traditional HTML site, but the client generally saves money on updates costs and gets the benefits of the added functionality.

Some Benefits of WordPress:

1. Ease of Use

WordPress is very easy to use and has an intuitive interface.  This allows us to teach most clients how to do basic site updates including adding new pages, blog posts, and images.  If a client does not wish to do their own updates, it will still greatly reduce the general updates costs over a typical site not using a CMS.

2. Manage Your Website from Any Computer

WordPress is browser-based. You can login from any Internet connected computer and manage your site.

3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The code behind WordPress is very clean and simple, making it easy for search engines to read and index a site’s content. In addition, each page, post, and image can have its own meta tag keywords, description, and title, and be optimized for specific keywords, allowing for very precise search engine optimization.  You can also use tags to further enhance your search engine optimization efforts.  Wordpress’s built in SEO capabilities, combined with other SEO techniques implemented by I.C. Designs lead to favourable search engine results.

4. The Design of Your Website is Customizable and Expandable

WordPress acts as the engine for your website. The look and feel of the site can be customized so your brand can shine through on your site and provide a unique experience to your visitors.  A site can also be given a “facelift” to keep give it a new look at any point, at a fraction of the costs typically required for a re-design.   Additional pages and features such as E-commerce capability can also be added to the site at any point.  A site can start small, and grow.

5. A Blog is Built-in and Ready to Go

Since WordPress was originally created as a blogging platform, blogging capabilities are built-in and are easy to integrate, if desired. Setting up RSS / email subscriptions to your blog, commenting capabilities, and automatically adding the most recent blog posts to other pages of the site (your home page, for example) are also very simple to set-up, and help to extend your company’s reach and make your site more dynamic and interactive.  “Blogs” can also be implemented in various ways such as “News” or “Specials” sections that are easy for the client to update.

6. Your Site Can Grow as Your Business Grows

WordPress sites are very scalable. You can have hundreds of thousands of pages or blog posts on your site and the performance of the site will not be compromised in the least.

7. Have Multiple Users

As an administrator of a WordPress site, you can set-up multiple users for the website and assign access levels and capabilities to each user.

 

 

Articles

A Guide to Free Design Tools

Updated July/2017 This article get’s some traffic, especially from my clients, so I have updated it. The majority of my clients request a site designed in a content management system (CMS) like WordPress so that they have the ability to update or add their own content, and the ability to have a blog/news section they can update. […]

What is a CMS?

CMS stands for “Content Management System,” and describes a method of managing content, workflow, and collaboration online. CMS’s have revolutionized the way people think about and control content on websites. WordPress WordPress has been around since 2003 and is the most popular blogging software on the market. Over the last few years, WordPress has also […]

Preparing for a Web or Print Design Project

Web Site Design and Print Design Cost Guide The following is a guide for clients or potential clients of I.C. Designs to explain costs, and how we can work together to make projects run smoothly. Estimates & Costs for Web & Print Design Projects An estimate for a job can only be based on the […]

Preparing for a Web or Print Design Project

Web Site Design and Print Design Cost Guide The following is a guide for clients or potential clients of I.C. Designs to explain costs, and how we can work together to make projects run smoothly. Estimates & Costs for Web & Print Design Projects An estimate for a job can only be based on the […]

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I.C. Designs I.C. Designs is located in Orangeville Ontario and has offered  web design and print design services to small to medium sized businesses since 2000. We design and develop websites that are not only creative and attractive, but also (and most importantly) functional and user-friendly.  We specialize in WordPress CMS to give clients a scalable, mobile responsive, cost effective site […]