Useful Tools: Online graphic design sites

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Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on do-it-yourself online graphic design tools.

It isn’t usually possible or necessary for community organisations to hire graphic designers for everything they produce. Although important documents are best handled by a professional, smaller-scale projects like social media banners, some posters, blog posts, presentations and newsletters can be produced by untrained people using some of the great new tools now available online. Most of these are free for the basic package. Here we’ll take a look at some of the most popular tools.


Canva is an online graphic-design tool that uses templates and a drag-and-drop interface to allow people with no graphic design training to produce professional-looking graphics. It’s free if you use your own images or any of Canva’s free images, fonts and other design elements, or you can purchase upgraded elements for US$1 each and pay for your design when you download it. Designs can be downloaded as PNG, JPG or PDF files.

Templates include banners and posts for a variety of social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest), infographics, posters, brochures, letterhead, book covers and many more. The templates are particularly useful for social media as they already fit the various social networks’ specified dimensions, so you won’t have to spend time resizing them.

Canva is integrated with stock photos, photo filters, icons and shapes, and fonts. It is one of a growing number of fully integrated online design tools, and is one of the most popular due to its user-friendly interface. It also recently launched an app so you can design on the go.

Adobe Spark

Adobe Spark is the latest edition to the Adobe Creative Cloud stable, and is a free online tool that aims to compete with Canva. It’s broken into three sections: Spark Post, Spark Page (formerly Adobe Slate) and Spark Video. Spark Post creates social media graphics; Spark Page produces photo essays for the web; and Spark Video produces animated videos using graphics and photos.

A major difference between Adobe Spark and Canva is where the final files are stored. Canva lets the user download a high-quality copy of their design, which they can then use however they want. In contrast, Adobe Spark designs are all stored on Adobe’s servers—they can be shared on websites or social media, but the viewer is always redirected to an Adobe site.

Adobe Spark is also designed for use on iPhones and iPads (it’s not yet available for Android devices). Spark Post, Spark Page and Spark Video each have their own apps.

Adobe Photoshop Sketch

Adobe Photoshop Sketch is an iOS app that lets you create drawings directly onto your phone or tablet and then export them to Photoshop or Illustrator. Designed for artists, it gives more freedom than tools like Canva or Spark. It also supports styluses and other drawing hardware.


The Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is free, open-source, high-end image editing software. It is a free alternative to expensive image editing software like Adobe Photoshop and can be used for photo retouching, image authoring and image composition. However, its complexity is on par with Photoshop and similar software, so it probably isn’t the best choice for someone with no graphic design experience, or who isn’t prepared to put in the time to learn some of the nuances.


Prezi is online presentation software that integrates motion, animation and graphics, and is part of a growing number of visual storytelling tools. Rather than designing a presentation around a series of slides, like Microsoft PowerPoint, Prezi uses a limitless zoomable canvas to allow the user to develop flowcharts and other graphics and show the relationships between various kinds of data. It has been praised for overhauling the concept of the presentation and as a cure for ‘death by PowerPoint’, but some viewers may find the motion-heavy style nauseating. It’s available as a 14-day free trial, after which the user must sign up to a plan.

These tools can make it much easier to meet the day-to-day design requirements of your organisation, but remember, for rebranding or any significant projects it’s always best to hire a professional.

Published by lmmerrington

L.M. Merrington is a freelance writer, editor, academic and communications professional. Her journalism and academic writing has appeared in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Bulletin, East Asia Forum, Inside Story and South Asia Masala, among others. Her first novel, Greythorne, will be published by Momentum Books, Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital imprint, in 2015. She is currently completing an academic monograph, India and China in the Asia-Pacific, 1890–2030, and working on her next novel.

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