5 online design tools for beginners and business owners

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Last time we took a look at what the difference between cost, price and value was to a business. As promised, here is a list of some of the design tools we use on a day to day basis that makes our lives a lot easier.

A few years ago (actually, more like 15 years ago), Adobe were really the only company making design tools that could do everything you would want to do from a design perspective, and designers were paid big money for knowing the nuances of design that most people did not.

In today’s world however, we have hundreds of tools designed to make your life easier as a business owner.

Why you ask?

Technology has come to a point where something that would have required hours of dedication to learn a craft to achieve a result can be done in minutes with premade templates. Now, if it was that easy, we wouldn’t have designers anymore and we would be out of a job. But these design tools don’t just make it easy for non-designers, but also for designers ourselves.

Keep in mind, most of these tools are free with limited functionality, but do require a signup for use and often cost more if you are a business. Also to note, we are not affiliated with any of the companies that make these design tools, we just really like them!

Google Fonts and choosing the right font

google-fonts design tools banner

So there are a few font libraries out there now, but the best of them all is Google Fonts. Nearly 1000 fonts to choose from, you’re sure to find something for any design project you might have. 

Choosing the right font for a piece of work can make a world of difference to how it’s received. 

For example, sans-serif fonts are often easier to read on a screen than serif fonts, so unless you’re using it stylistically, you should always look to use sans-serif fonts for communicating on a screen.

The opposite applies for print media, where often serif fonts are used for large bodies of text and other fonts are often chosen for style. This isn’t always true of course, the look of a font can give an idea to readers what tone a piece of writing is set in. Bold means angry, italics means quotes, underline the important bits, there’s lots of things to consider when choosing a font.

The best thing about Google fonts is that you can add a group of fonts to a website using a simple script and also download them to your desktop to use them across any application you want. This is great for designers and non-designers alike. 

If you want to create a brand image choosing a font that aligns with your values is quite important. One of my favourite fonts is Montserrat.

Alternatively, if you don’t find anything to use from Google Fonts or just want to see something different, you can look at a website called DaFont, a website that’s been around for as long as I can remember. 

Of course, when downloading fonts, or anything else for that matter, always check the licensing to see what you are and are not allowed to use it for. 

In most cases the fonts on DaFont can be used for non-commercial purposes, but if you are planning to use it as part of a piece of marketing material or on your product itself, you will need to purchase a license from the artist.

Also take into account, that fonts from DaFont and other font websites must be installed on your computer to use them, and if you want them to appear on your website you will need to upload the file and call to it. Not all fonts are displayable on the internet, so using a tool like Google Fonts helps mitigate any problems with fonts displaying for your users.

The easy way to create great visuals

design tools canva

The next of our design tools is Canva, a tool for designing all kinds of visuals for anything. Canva takes away the pain of designing things from scratch. With templates for social media, presentations and print, there’s not much you can’t do with it when it comes to layouts. In fact, the banners for this blog as well as the featured image were made using Canva!

Canva has Google fonts integrated, as well as an image library. The free edition has hundreds of templates to choose from, and the paid version ($9.99) opens up thousands more as well as a premium photo library. If you want to stick to the free version, there are some great websites for images which we’ll go into later. If you’re just getting started out with a business it can often be difficult to know exactly what you need to design and put together.

The easiest way to describe it is that most businesses from a design perspective think about a logo and colours. But there’s more to it than that. Consistent fonts, consistency in picking images that match your message, and an idea of the colours that match your brand.

Although Canva can’t pick these things for you, it does allow you to make brand guidelines within the system under brand kits. This will allow you to add fonts, logos and colours that you would commonly use for your Brand, so that you can apply these to your projects each time without having to refer to a branding document and do it manually like you would in software such as Photoshop or Illustrator.

This creates a pretty good deal for both non-designers and designers alike. A designer could spend their time setting up a Canva account for businesses which have all the elements they need. A branding pack becomes more interactive and designers can focus on creating a framework for businesses to use to create their own assets.

Find stock photos and other assets for free

Some would say this shouldn’t be classed under “design tools” however finding good quality images to use in your ad banners, or as part of your designs in Canva takes some work. Just downloading images from a Google search in most countries could come with fines for copyright infringement, so using libraries specifically made for images like the ones below will keep you on the right side of the law, which in business is very important.

The site I use most often is Pexels, a library of free stock photos and videos which has user submitted photos. Now, if you work in a niche industry and want to find photos of your niche, sometimes it’s better to take the photos yourself. Smartphone cameras are at a quality now where if you have good technique you can achieve great results, so a dedicated camera is not a requirement but an option. However if you are looking for creative stock images or editorial images to use for news posts, this is a great place to start.

If Pexels doesn’t have what you are looking for you can look at alternatives like Pixabay and Unsplash which also have very high quality submissions. I have tried other smaller libraries, but find that these three sites provide the majority of high quality images I’m looking for, and a lot of the submissions are actually from the same users adding across all three of these sites. If you can’t find anything after this it is always worth looking at paid options for stock photos and videos.

Whether free or paid, stock photos will always be of a high quality – however as more and more people get used to using internet repositories of free stock, you’ll find that a lot of websites will be using the great images you find for free. With paid stock you are less likely to run into other people using the exact same images as you (although not impossible, it’s less likely). For paid options, any of the big four would be good choices to go for (iStock, Getty, Adobe Stock and Shutterstock).

Design tools for making amazing websites

Elementor Banner design tools

So this one is actually a bit of a double-barrel. There are now dozens of build your own website easily sites around. From Wix to Squarespace to GoDaddy and other hosting company’s own builders…the options are endless. Even when it comes to e-commerce stores there are options like BigCommerce and Shopify which make the experience of running an online store easier.

However – all of these platforms lack one thing: versatility. If you are creating a website to show off a portfolio, or to sell products online, these platforms are quite rigid in what they allow you to do. In some cases this is good, because you want certain pages to look a certain way to convert your visitors into customers.

The idea that you can build a website easily yourself is actually a bit of a misnomer. YES, if you stick to their platform, their templates and their guides – you can make a pretty nice looking website that will convert visitors – however if you want to do something unique or different it often comes out looking a mess unless you have a good background in design.

This is where WordPress and Elementor come in. WordPress.org is the open source CMS / Blogging software of choice for over 30% of all websites. The versatility of the platform, addition of plugins, massive communities which support it make it an excellent choice for running your website. Even spinning up a new website has been simplified by the many hosting companies now offering WordPress specific hosting, so you don’t need to worry about all of the technical bits of hosting a website but just need to run your WordPress site.

As a web designer, I’ve created sites for all sorts of purposes – from simple portfolios to charities looking to collect donations and e-commerce platforms with over 1000 products. WordPress can do it all and more. I’ll discuss this more in another post – but grab a copy of WordPress and you have a good base to start with on your website.

The learning curve is a bit higher than the other website design tools but you will be on a platform that works, and is quite easily expandable as your business or venture grows.

Elementor is a page builder plugin for WordPress. You can build pages without knowing any code! So if you have chosen a theme and don’t like the layout of a certain page, you can change this using Elementor. The free version comes packed with lots of templates to get you started, and popular themes like Astra and OceanWP can give you a good starting point so you don’t have to design everything from scratch. If you do however want to design things from scratch, Elementor Pro allows much more advanced editing of WordPress and it’s actually what I use to design sites!

With this method, you can likely build a website to a very high standard, and then hire a developer or wordpress expert to add onto your creation and improve where necessary. Elementor has launched a new platform for finding experts should you need one to refine anything you create.

Advanced Photo Editing in your browser

pixlr design tools

So, you’ve played with Canva and got some good designs out of it, but you want to do something a bit more advanced or apply filters and colour correction to your photos before you add them to your banners? Luckily Pixlr is here to help! Pixlr X (Express) and Pixlr E (Expert) allow for more advanced photo editing either in browser or on a mobile device.

What’s great about these tools is you can create high quality edited images like you would in photoshop, but for free, and in the browser. If you do not have a computer capable of running photoshop this tool can help with some of the image processing tasks that you may have.

However the learning curve for this can be just as high as – if not the same as Photoshop. Now, I’ve been using Adobe software since I was 12 years old, and I don’t think i’ll be moving to this any time soon as my workflow requires more complex editing.

Of course, unless you know what you are doing, using a tool like this could actually hinder your creation process, so if you are unsure it’s best to stick with tools like Canva and hire a designer for more complex tasks.

So in conclusion, all of these tools will be great to help you get started with designing assets for your business, however there really is no replacement for hiring an expert as you will reach a point that you will have gaps in knowledge or come across technical tasks which require an expert’s input. In cases like these – we’re here to help, as are thousands of other designers!

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