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  • Amanda Paterson

Doing your own graphic design? Try these tips & tools:

There are many reasons why you (or a co-worker) might be doing your graphic design in-house.

You might be a start-up without a large budget (or any budget)... The economy is in the shitter and you've had to scale back... You have someone in your company who's got a knack for these things... You have your own stellar in-house marketing team...

No matter the reason, if you've found yourself Googling "Tools to create a brochure for free" or "What is the best post size for LinkedIn?". I've compiled a list of some of my favourite graphic design tips and tools that will help you save time and frustration - and most importantly, elevate your company's brand.

Don't get me wrong - graphic design is a big part of what I do. I strongly believe there's a time and a place to hire a professional graphic designer. HOWEVER, there are many circumstances where you may do JUST FINE creating your own materials.

The key to the DIY design approach? You MUST establish and follow branding 'rules' so you can maintain consistency across all materials:

  • Company colours

  • Typical fonts

  • Logo usage (logo orientations, logo aspect ratio, etc.)

  • Your tone of voice (how you speak in writing - casual, professional, funny, encouraging, etc.)

  • Acceptable imagery styles

(Want to read further on this? Check out this post for a checklist of things that your logo designer should have helped you with when they handed over your files.)


What are some of my fave FREE graphic design tools for the average Joe? Let's dive in.

TOOL: Canva (free version, for mobile or desktop)

I suggest Canva to my clients often. The free version is easy to use (drag-and-drop), has a ton of built-in templates, and allows you to upload your own images. You can customize colours to match your company's, as well as upload logos. Canva also gives you quick access to free-for-commercial-use photos (and paid images as well).

The paid version allows you to set up a Brand Kit to better organize your logo, colours, etc. You'll get more options for images, icons, etc., and I like their resize image tool allowing you to easily transform your design to suit Facebook link posts (horizontal orientation), then Instagram (square), etc.

Note: although Canva is amazing for some projects, my clients have explained the platform isn't the best for detailed brochures, or highly customized pieces.

TOOL: Snapseed (for mobile)

What a fantastic on-the-go photo editor! It's free. Super simple to use and has some really powerful editing features. Like the basics of Photoshop wrapped into an app. Find it where you download mobile apps.

TOOL: Best Free for Commercial Use Photography Sites

Please for the love - stop 'borrowing' photos from Google, using clip art and cheese-y stock photos (Do you actually fist-bump your colleagues after a production session around the boardroom table...? Nooooo).

Here are 3 of my favourite free for commercial use photo sites. Although you may still find cheese ball pictures, I find these three websites easy to search and find unique images:

BONUS: All images found on these websites have been released under Creative Commons CC0 into the public domain. This means you are basically free to use them however you please (without attribution).

TIP: Let your design breathe

Don't try to 'cram it all in'. Allowing for white space (empty space) is important - it allows your reader's brain to digest the information in front of them.

Canva did a nice job explaining white space in their blog:

TIP: Delete at least 1/4 of your words

Yep. Go back, read through your work and start cutting. This is one of the most problematic areas for my clients. Sometimes we try to sound 'extra professional' or be 'extra convincing'. Extra words make your content BORING.

Edit your work and look for these trigger words:

  • Just

  • That

  • Really/very/extremely

  • Cliche sentences

  • Reiterations of the same idea

If a sentence is not imperative to getting your point across - delete it (or trim it, at least).


I work with in-house designers and DIY marketers all the time. When you're tasked to create something that's out of your wheelhouse, contact me. We can discuss how I can best serve you while keeping the project within your budget.

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