Here are some of the best graphics design app and websites on the internet that you may not know about.
Pixlr: It’s a well-known fact that if you need to crop an ex-boyfriend out of the family Christmas picture, your best option is Adobe Photoshop. The software used to be hundreds of dollars, but with Adobe’s Creative Cloud monthly subscription, you can get Photoshop bundled with Lightroom for about 10 bucks a month. But even though Adobe tools are now in the realm of affordable, free is better.
Pixlr is my favorite online image editor, with a Flash-based uploader that allows you to edit from any computer without software. It is incredibly amazing, easy to use, fast, convenient and awesome. Does that make it clear how I feel?
From the Pixlr homepage, you can choose from three Pixlr online products. Pixlr’s Express version is perfect for easy, immediate editing. It also has a fun Instagram-type filter and morphing tool, Pixlr-o-matic, which you can get online and on smart devices.
This section will focus on Pixlr Editor, which has many of the same features as Photoshop. All the tools you don’t know how to use in Photoshop, you won’t be able to figure out here either. It’s that good.
I’d be pretty much a poser if I tried to give you master tricks to become an expert in Pixlr. Truth is, I only use a teeny-tiny fraction of its capabilities. But the things I use it for meet my needs and make my life easier.
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Change Canvas Size
I often need to change the shape of a graphic to use it in a generator or other graphics. If you change the size of the canvas in it, you can make the graphic any size you want.
From the Image Menu, choose the Canvas size option, and a dialog box pops up.
1. Type the width and height you need into the boxes.
2. Choose where you want the image to appear on the graphic. I generally center it inside the canvas, which means the extra space will be around my main graphic.
Select Areas of an Image
One of the things that used to confound a non-designer like me is the mystery of the selection tools. A selected area will have dancing white lines around it. If some things are selected and some aren’t, using tools like the eraser will only work in the selected areas. This can be very annoying. I’ve come to love the CTRL + D shortcut that deselects everything. You can also hold down the shift key and choose several sections at once rather than one at a time.
Here are four options for selecting areas.
1. Crop Tool (top left): When you use this tool, you’re selecting a portion of the graphic to keep. The rest will be discarded.
2. Move Tool (top right): Once an area is selected, use this tool to move the area somewhere else.
3. Marquee Tool (bottom left): The Marquee Tool is pretty straightforward. Click and drag over an area to select a square area.
4. Lasso Tool (bottom right): This tool makes me feel like a drunken artist. Click here and hold to draw a (never precise) line around your area. It’ll complete itself if you don’t go back to the beginning. I’ve never figured out how to make the Lasso select what I want. Guess that’s why I was never a cowgirl.
Four Things to Know About Pixlr
1. It lets you edit images with Photoshop-type tools via apps and online.
2. As with Photoshop, some of the advanced editing tools that Pixlr offers may have higher learning curves.
3. The Wand tool is your secret weapon for removing backgrounds. Use the Wand tool to select the background of an object to delete. Then save the graphic as a PNG file to maintain the transparency.
4. It has quicker graphic editing options with its other tools and apps: Pixlr-O-Matic and Pixlr Express.
Canva: I had a tough time picking out an “easier than Photoshop” graphic tool to share because it is a close call between veteran tool PicMonkey and upstart Canva. Canva wins out because it seems to be keenly in tune with the types of graphics that we need to make in a flash, such as Facebook timeline photos, business cards, and quick newsletter graphics.
Creating a Graphic The first thing I love about Canva is right on the home page: the ability to pick quick templates for common graphics needs with just a click. It’s constantly updating the templates, so if a social media site comes out with a new requirement for graphics, Canva gets you going.
Once you choose a template, your options are unlimited. Scroll through hundreds of pre-formatted layouts, or start fresh. Everything is adjustable, and the variety of fonts and filter overlays give you a professional look instantly.
Canva lets you upload your own graphics or choose from both free and paid stock images. For example, I searched for nerds; and within a couple of minutes, I customized its layout to make this mock magazine page. When you see hatch marks over a graphic, you have to cough up a buck to use it. Its stock images come from many of the royalty-free sites that I use such as 123RF, and you’ll pay much less on Canva than you will from the original sites, although you won’t own the original image like you would if you purchased directly from a royalty-free site.
Four Things to Know About Canva
1. It is an easy way to create professional-looking graphics for websites, newsletters, social media graphics and more.
2. It is free to use. The service makes money selling high-quality backgrounds and images for your graphics for a buck each. The images it sells are generally cheaper than you’ll pay to buy the graphics yourself directly from the original source.
3. You’ll be amazed at the templates and graphics they offer, as well as how fast they offer it. If a new social media trend takes hold, check Canva for the perfect-sized templates to set up your profile. They seem to know what graphics you need before you do.
4. Right now Canva seems to get new users by word of mouth— we nerds whisper our astonishment at its awesomeness when we’re talking graphics. The service rapidly moved from beta testing into the full-service mode, and in 2015 launched Canva for Work as a service for businesses.
123RF: Way back in the day, when small-business folks like me needed a nice image for our blogs, marketing or other stuff, we were forced to either, umm, borrow an image we found on the web (which was often low-resolution, thus bad for printing) or pony up hundreds for royalty-free stock photography from high-end sites such as Getty Images.
The strangely named 123RF is my favorite site. Most of my nerd pics come from here. Pricing starts at a couple of bucks per image. When I needed to create a larger library of nerd images, I paid $89 a month for a while to download up to five images a day. The same graphics show up on other sites for three to five times the price.
Finding the Right Image
Microstock sites such as 123RF are huge, with a billion photos, vectors, video clips and audio. There are so many sites that it may feel like it would be easier to go outside and take the picture yourself than to find the perfect image.
You can start with a general search, then when you see the types of files that are out there, narrow down your results with its fine-tuning tools (123RF Search Options). When you click on an image or file you like, you’ll see purchasing options as well as keyword tags, a link to the artist’s portfolio, more pictures of the same model as well as a collection of similar stock photos. These are all great ways to get the right file.
When I’m gathering a bunch of images, I create a light box to collect them. On 123RF, you can add images from a search just by clicking a little heart on each image. If you’re working with a team, you can send the light box to them. I’ve used light boxes to pick out images for a website during a redesign. I just send the light box with my choices to my designer who purchases the ones that work best for our vision.
You can also broaden your search to include more royalty-free sites and compare prices. My favorite way to do this is through Google Image Search. First I include the word “stock” in some form or fashion in the search, such as “stock image nerd.”
In Chrome browsers, you can simply drag an image from a search into the search bar, and in other browsers, you’ll find a link to Search by Image when you click on an image in the gallery.
When you get the results from your image search, you’ll find similar images. In this case, this nerd is available on at least two different microstock sites, so you can compare prices.
Four Things to Know About 123RF
1. Microstock sites such as 123RF offer royalty-free files such as images, audio, and video at budget-friendly prices.
2. 123RF pricing per image ranges from a buck to dozens of dollars. If you need lots of images, a monthly subscription might be less expensive than individual credits.
3. Study the fine print for the licenses. Most of the time, a standard license will work.
4. You can’t use the images in your logo, in a way that degrades the models or to resell as your own. In other words, be cool with the images, dude.
Dafont: When it comes to the look and feel of a document, changing the font can change the personality. Dafont is my very favorite place on the web to find fonts with pizzazz to add a little something extra to a look.
Finding a Font
The key to finding your perfect font on Dafont is to put sample text into the custom preview box and then search by theme (cartoon, curly, calligraphy, handwritten). Most are free for personal use, and many are just plain free.
Dafont Preview Pane
1. The fonts are broken down into themes. Choose any theme, and you’ll get a preview box.
2. Type in your sample text into the Preview field and click submit. You can now see a preview of all fonts with your text.
3. When you expand more options to the right of the Submit button, you can eliminate the fonts that are free only for personal use. You should also always read the “Read Me” file in the font download folder to see what rights a font designer gives you.
4. Click the download button and save the font ZIP file to your computer. When you double click on a font, your computer should guide you through the installation process.
Three Things to Know About Dafont
1. It is a massive database of free and bargain fonts that you can download onto your computer and use in documents and graphics.
2. It helps you visualize your creative ideas with custom previews and themes.
3. Most of the fonts are free for personal use, but you’ll have to use filters to find ones you can use commercially. Read the fine print on fonts you use for work — the guidelines for use vary greatly.