Below is a comprehensive list of what I currently use, have used, tried, and love for creating everything from simple social media graphics and newsletters to logos and full visual identities for brands.
Let’s start with the tools.
1/5 difficulty level
Very user-friendly, though there are some tricks to making things look the way you want them to. Templates can be a real lifesaver, but many are also overused. My advice: find templates you like and figure out what it is you like about them, then recreate on your own and add your own tweaks.
Canva alternatives: Over, Easil, Adobe Spark. Very similar to Canva, Over and Adobe Spark are designed for social media posts. Easil is more like Canva in that it can create custom dimensions and also has a variety of templates.
3.5/5 difficulty level
$29.99 on the app store
Graphic is a halfway step between Canva and Adobe programs or other advanced design software. It’s set up to look like Adobe Illustrator, but is a user-friendly and quality learning tool, and much less expensive than Illustrator. Works well if you’re working with vectors (shapes/images created with points and can be infinitely sized). Designed for Mac.
adobe illustrator, indesign, photoshop
4.5/5 difficulty level
$20-$50 per month
These are high-end professional design programs. They have a much higher learning curve than anything else out there, but the functionality beats Canva and Graphic by a long shot. Best for intense graphic projects, multi-page documents, and expert photo editing.
2.5/5 difficulty level
$0-$15 per month
Create mockups of products, print materials, and digital designs. Much easier to use than Photoshop mockups I’ve purchased in the past. They have a large library of objects to create your own environment with, including paper sizes, packaging, textures, devices, etc. It’s legit.
VSCO and Lightroom
1/5 difficulty level
$0-$20 per year
These apps are for photo editing + presets. I don’t notice a huge difference in these apps in terms of functionality, but I tend to gravitate towards VSCO. I love their free built-in presets and editor layout.
1/5 difficulty level
$38 per month (or $19 per month – see below!)
If aesthetics matter to you for email newsletters, Flodesk is an awesome option. Their pricing model is way better than most, and their templates are lovely and eye-catching. They make it super easy to design really good-looking emails and keep track of your lists.
Below are a few of my favorite designer resources.
I spend way too much time and money here, but it’s worth it. Every Monday, they offer six free goods (you get more free stuff when you spend money, too!). Anything you could ever want is here – fonts, illustrations, graphics, templates, mockups, icons, logos… Ev-er-y-thing.
you work for them
Similar to Creative Market – you can download designer goods like fonts, graphics, and stock media. Less well-known than Creative Market, so you might find some cool stuff in there, but because they’re similar there’s also crossover. Heavily targeted toward professional designers and marketing teams.
Excellent place for typography education and font resources. I purchased a few of the available resources and I reference them often while I’m working on projects.
Super fun place to make color palettes. Once you start the generator, you press the space bar and watch color combinations appear. Lock colors you want to keep, add additional color slots to your palette, view various shades, and copy the HEX codes for use in your projects.
Favorite places to get stock photos. There’s a lot to sort through, but don’t be afraid to scroll for a while. The popular stock photos that you see everywhere are always at the top of a search. Doing some digging or searching by color will help you find interesting and unique stock photos. Pexels is also excellent for scenes — I’ve noticed they include a bunch of photos from the same shoot, so if you find one you like, chances are there are more from that shoot available.
A go-to. Download fonts for free under the Creative Commons license. Canva has a partnership with Google Fonts, but not every Google font is available in Canva, so don’t be afraid to do some digging here as well.
Behance, Pinterest for inspo
Two great places for inspiration. I often search both of these platforms for packaging and print layout inspo. Behance is full of designer portfolios, which is mainly what you’re searching, and Pinterest has everything and allows you to save images you like to boards for easy reference.
Honestly, my friends, design skills are just that — skills. Anyone can learn to design well, and these tools and resources can help you up your design game if you’re invested in figuring out how to do it yourself.
And if you want help figuring some of these design things out, maybe you need a Tiny Brand?! Check out more Tiny Brand info here!