In the days when blogging first became popular, it was common for bloggers to simply choose an image they liked and plop it into their post, sometimes with a catchy caption. However, in today’s crowded and competitive market, a simple photo won’t do. Not only does customizing your blog graphics help you stand out, it also creates brand awareness and increases social sharing. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a designer to customize your stock photos. You just should know a few basics to get started. Follow these tips on how to personalize free stock images to create graphics that get noticed.
Create Your Brand
Yes, bloggers need a brand. Branding isn’t just for commercial or retail sites. No matter what the purpose of your blog may be, you likely want to set a certain tone or convey a certain type of message. That is the purpose of branding. You can use blog elements such as color, font and image style to achieve the impact you desire. The key to increasing recognition is consistency. It’s important to use the same font, colors and style in everything you post. That means your blog images should always contain these elements.
For instance, using the same filter on your photos will create a recognizable look. You may also achieve a distinct style just by adding a transparent color overlay on top of your images. Use images that coordinate well with your blog’s color scheme. Add text in your blog’s font or font combination to further personalize each image, and always use your distinct colors in this text. You can also add a small watermark with your blog’s logo to boost your branding.
Edit Your Images
If you already use Photoshop and Illustrator, or have a desire to learn, these are the tools professional designers use. They also will give you the most versatility and features. However, there are platforms such as Canva and PicMonkey that have far less of a learning curve and can produce fine quality graphics. Such platforms allow you lots of time-saving options like pre-sized canvas, formatted templates and filtered overlays. The free versions have fewer selections from which to choose. You may wish to consider the premium options to determine if the cost is worthwhile for your needs.
There are many ways you can edit free stock images to make them unique. One easy way is by cropping the photo. Cropping lets you focus on one portion of the overall picture, which can create a cool effect. Softening, blurring or coloring an image by using a filter is another simple way to add your own unique touch. These programs all have ways of achieving the look you want; just be sure to use that same or similar filter in all your images for consistent branding. The way you incorporate your blog’s font through text also jazzes up your photos in a way that is brand-friendly. Find ways to present your text and consistently use them in every graphic. This can be through bold, chunky layouts or with a more sophisticated feel.
Creating a customized graphic for each blog post might seem a bit overwhelming. It can seem even more of a challenge when you consider that each social network requires its own specific sizing. For example, Instagram images must be square and Pinterest graphics work best when they are tall. A time-saving technique is to create and save templates in each size you need, then simply switch out the image and text when needed. Because optimal size requirements sometimes change for each platform and purpose, a quick Google search is recommended to determine the correct dimensions.
These are just the basics of how to personalize free stock images. You can design your own simple layouts for your blog images without being a designer. Start simply and learn as you go.
Free VS Paid Graphic Design Tools
If you’re just starting your first blog or even if you’re revamping an established one, you may not have the budget or wish to spend the money for professional graphic design software. The gold industry standard is Adobe, with products like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, however, these programs can be expensive. Fortunately, the company developed Adobe Creative Cloud, a monthly paid subscription alternative to shelling out thousands of dollars to own the software. Monthly subscription costs can still add up, particularly if you want access to more than one program. Many believe paid pro tools are the only way to go if you want to produce quality graphics. However, there are several open source options that are quite good. Keep these considerations in mind when deciding whether to go with free vs. paid graphic design tools.
Open Source Software
Free graphic design tools may be the way to go if you’re just starting out. You just download them from your chosen site and install. These types of software cost nothing and offer the basic functionality of the paid versions. The latest programs have come a long way since early offerings; however, they still have some drawbacks. One of the primary issues you may encounter is a lack of compatibility between freeware and their pro counterparts. For example, you may not be able to send a version of your latest project to a friend who uses Adobe products to gain her feedback. Also, transferring the images between applications for advanced editing is likely not a possibility. In addition, free tools aren’t usually as comprehensive as the paid ones and may be limited when it comes to advanced design. These may not be issues at all for you as a beginner just looking to create simple graphics.
Paid Graphic Design Programs
If you are excited by graphic design and feel you may wish to learn advanced techniques in the future, paid design tools may be worth the investment. There are tons of tutorials online to help you learn almost everything you’d want to know about programs like Photoshop and Illustrator. With the most advanced capabilities, there’s no limit to how far you can go in your pursuit of design mastery. Programs by the same company are compatible with each other, making it seamless to take a project from one application and use it in another. You can also send your work to other designers if you wish to hire someone to add finishing touches or complete a larger work. Beyond the price, one disadvantage may be the intimidation factor involved in learning complex professional software. This can be overcome once you begin experimenting, taking classes or following online tutorials.
Recommended Free Tools
New software is being developed in the open source realm every day, so there are many from which to choose. Let’s look at some of the most trusted programs out there to get you started. These options can be used with Windows or Mac.
Gimp is a good choice if you’re looking for a good Photoshop alternative. You can use this tool’s basic features to manipulate raster images and artwork to create quality graphics. Inkscape is a tool that is vector-based, meaning images can be resized and modified without losing visual integrity, similar to Illustrator. A couple specific features missing from this alternative are the ability to create gradient mesh and the use of advanced filters. You can likely do without these as a beginner.
Like Photoshop are sites & apps like Pixlr, Photoscape, SumoPaint and the ever-popular online program PicMonkey. If you’re an Illustrator user then consider trying Vectr, OpenOffice Draw or SVG-edit online instead. The online tool Canva is also a popular option, but it does have drawbacks such as the inability to create your own shapes or resize your work for various social media use.
There is no one right answer as to which option is best for your graphic design use. If you want to grow as a designer, paying a monthly subscription fee for Adobe Creative Cloud may be the wise decision. On the other hand, free graphic design tools may be your best bet if you just want to be able to produce basic images for your blog. Either way, you can enjoy the fun of creation and customizing your online space.
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