Thursday, September 08, 2016

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, September 08, 2016 15 comments
I was fortunate to land a job early in my career that required me to learn graphic design. Between the professional seminars, how-to books, a very kind colleague who taught me all his best tricks, and a grad school class, I got to a level of basic competence. The more newsletters and magazine spreads and brochures I designed, the more my skills improved.

All that to say, even words people can learn some of the basics of design. You don't need an art degree to attempt to create marketing graphics (though seminars and how-to books are a good idea, so you understand composition, balance and the like).

These days, you don't even need the pricey software I learned on (Quark, Photoshop, Illustrator). There are a number of freeware solutions that will enable you to create very attractive designs. They aren't as powerful as the pricey design products, but they also aren't nearly as complicated to learn (I'm looking at you, Photoshop).

Photo editing


GIMP is a great, basic photo editor, available free, that allows you to not only resize images, but also tweak the colors and use layer masks--one of Photoshop's most powerful tools. Check out GIMP's tutorials page for instructions on using some of these more advanced options. Because it is open-source software, there are lots of cool plug-ins you can get from third parties to make the software even more powerful. Check out the 20 best free GIMP plug ins to start.

Layout


Canva is my new favorite toy. This powerful web-based design platform has lots of free design elements, premade designs, and great, easy-to-use tools to make quick marketing graphics.

Once you login--you can do so easily by linking with a Facebook or Google account--pick the type of element you want--a blog graphic, social media post (Twitter-friendly designs are under this heading), card, poster, etc. This will create a live working area in the correct size for your needs.

From there, you can select one of their premade designs, or you can assemble something freestyle. The amazing thing is that EVERYTHING is editable. It's kind of crazy. You can upload your own photos, pull them into the live area and resize them, flip them, turn them on a jaunty angle. The backgrounds come with textures and colors, but these are editable too. You can change the colors, even the opacity.

You can layer in shapes and text. And wow do they offer a lot of very cool pre-make text elements that are, once again, editable (made larger and smaller, different color, different typeface). Pick the shape that will work well with your message, then simply change the pre-made text to your words, and edit any other attribute as needed. Let me give you a couple examples, from my fairly quick and easy noodling efforts:


This is a standard Twitter-post size. I used one of Canva's free photos, expanding it until it was the right width--the program automatically cropped it to fit in the live area. I dropped in "heading" text element on the left, then changed the typeface to "Emily's Candy" (is that not a great font name?) and played with the color mixer until I had a nice crimson that reflected the raspberries. The black text is the standard "subheading" type, 



This design uses an uploaded image I got from the free image site, morguefile.com. The text graphic is a pre-made that I edited by adding my own text and changing the color of the border to echo the apple. The #1linewed (one line Wednesday, a weekly Twitter party for writers) theme this week was "school," so I had fun doing themed thank you graphics.



This is perhaps the most complex design I've attempted so far. I got the 3D book covers using the free 3D cover designer available from Adazing (warning--you will get a lot of e-mail ads from them in exchange for the free design). Each of these I uploaded. Because they have some white around them to accommodate the drop shadow, I stuck with a white background. The text elements are, top to bottom, subheading, body text, and heading. Only the heading text did I significantly edit, changing to a brush-syle typeface and tweaking the color. I now know how to fine-tune my color choices more, so I will likely do some revisions to this ad for my book series.

It's easy to do permutations of a design by making a copy on an additional page, change an element or two and see which you like better. When you're ready to post the image elsewhere, use the share button, or download. If you have permutations and want to download only one, click "options" in the download menu, and pick just the page you want. 

Anyway, That's a little taste of some of the fun things you can do to jazz up your blog posts, Twitter posts, or Facebook posts. Follow me on Twitter @LaurelGarver to see what new experiments I dream up.

Have I convinced you to try out some of these tools? Do you enjoy design or find it intimidating?

15 comments:

  1. Okay, I need to learn to do all this, but I am SO not a graphics person. What's a good one to start with for someone very hesitant about her own abilities?

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    1. Look at _The Non-Designers Design Book_ to get your feet wet--it covers the most important aspects you need to know about using type and images together. Then totally play around with Canva. It is so easy to use compared to Photoshop. What's especially cool for beginners is all the pre-mades it offers that you can customize--things a professional designer created, and you can tell. One can learn a lot by examining those designs, frankly.

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  2. You never know what skills are going to pay off, do you? I had to build a website (no one else was stupid enough to say yes) for a program I was involved in. But now I use all that I learned every day. I love being able to tweak the html when it doesn't work and to update my own website without getting into too much trouble. I love Canva. What a discovery that was!

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    1. Really knowing HTML would be a huge help--definitely a skill set I wish I had. I've only learned enough from my hubby to do some very basic tweaks to this blog. He customized the template I picked. But one of these day it would be cool to make a more mobile-friendly design.

      Canva has become my new addiction. I could noodle around on there for hours. I'm realizing that when I left the design-heavy editing job for one that was editing and production, I lost something that gave me a lot of professional joy.

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  3. My daughter bought photoshop and she can do it - but I don't find it intuitive at all! These sound like great and fun programs to try. Thanks!!!

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    1. I've taken numerous day-long Photoshop classes and still have to go running to youtube a lot to remind me how to do things I thought I'd mastered. That lack of intuitiveness is definitely an issue. Canva is far easier to use, though I believe it doesn't yet have some of the advanced features I've used designing my own book covers--especially the text effects like drop shadows, embossing and the like.

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  4. The Adazing 3D covers are great. I tried to do this effect myself with Photoshop, skewing the image then pasting it over another book cover. Major fail. The email ads would be worth it!

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    1. I read instructions on how to make 3D covers in Photoshop and thought it sounded like a huge time suck, so I went hunting and thought Adazing gave good results--and variety too. I have a "spare" e-mail account where I get nothing but advertising (like when stores want your addy, it's the one I give), so their daily book marketing promos haven't bogged me down.

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  5. I learned how to do basic cover design using Paint in Word. It's so easy (well kind of for a newbie), but the more I used it the more proficient I became. I graduated to Gimp, but all the little gadgets and playthings threw me off the learning curve. So I gave up on that.

    However, I do think as writers we should learn the basics of how a cover or design element is put together so we know how the process works.

    Thanks for another great post, Laurel.

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    1. Even if you work with a designer for your covers, it helps to know some basics so you can communicate well. The Non-Designers Design Book is a helpful resource there.

      Canva can be used to create e-book covers. I'd attended a webinar on the topic. I think the files it generates are too low-resolution for print, however.

      I've used Canva just for incidental graphics, especially Twitter ads and cute thank-you graphics. I expect I'll be using it more for blog graphics now that I'm getting the hang of it.

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  6. I've played around with Canva some... I'll have to play harder now. :)

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    1. It's lots of fun, and pretty easy to create cool graphics for your blog and elsewhere.

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  7. I've played around with Canva some... I'll have to play harder now. :)

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  8. My hubby uses Photoshop and I use Jasc Paintshop Pro. I wonder how that compares to these? I like my program though--I know how to do everything I want to.

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    1. If you have a comfort level with a software, that's key. I use Photoshop too, but it honestly has too many bells and whistles for my most pressing needs--quickie web-quality graphics to jazz up blog and Twitter posts.

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