Free Design Software
Picmonkey is my absolute favourite free design software. It’s like Photoshop and Illustrator for beginners all rolled up in one. You can use it to edit your photos, create graphics for your website / blog posts / social media, design your logo and much more.
Picmonkey is also really easy to use and has a wide range of filters, shapes/illustrations (called overlays) and fonts built in for you to use. While Picmonkey is free to use, without even having to create an account I might add, they do also offer a paid account which gives you access to an even greater variety of fonts, overlays, filters and other features. A Picmonkey Royale account is also very affordable at just US$39.99 per year or US$4.99 per month (as at September 2016)
Aside from being really easy and fun to use, one of the main reasons I love Picmonkey so much is that you can also use the fonts installed on your computer, as well as upload your own overlays. This is great if your brand uses specific fonts and it makes it easy to add logos and watermarks to your photos and designs.
But that’s not all! This year has seen Picmonkey adding to their already amazing features. In 2016 alone Picmonkey has introduced design templates, a layers palette which makes it easier to select and edit different elements in a design, a free mobile app and Picmonkey Hub (Royale members only). Now you can create your designs (from a template if you wish) on your phone as well and save it to Picmonkey Hub and access your design on your computer.
Unfortunately when you save an image from the mobile app it flattens everything into a single layer meaning you can’t re-edit later. However when you save to Hub from Picmonkey.com it does not do this and you are able to continue editing your design later. This means that you can set up templates for things like blog post graphics and use the ‘Save A Copy’ feature to make a new design.
NEED HELP USING PICMONKEY?
I made a video tutorial on how to create blog post graphics using Picmonkey where I also run through the basics of the program. Picmonkey also has a great tutorial section where you can learn how to use specific functions and tools and achieve all sorts of different effects.
Canva is another really great free online design tool. This is more like InDesign and is great for designing layouts and documents. The main differentiating feature of Canva is their extensive library of templates making it a great option for newbie designers.
They have templates for almost every sized document including Social media & email headers, Social media posts (Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter), Blog post graphics, flyers, book covers, CD covers, presentation slides, letterheads, business cards, invitations and much more; in fact there are 53 document types in total.
Like Picmonkey, Canva has a large library of shapes and illustrations, both free and for purchase*, but it also has a large library of free and for purchase stock images. I personally find the stock images in Canva a bit corporate looking for my brand and prefer to find more creative stock images elsewhere (find out where in the Stock Photography section of the vault).
*All elements that are for purchase in Canva only cost US$1 each
To use Canva for free you need to create a free account but this is easy enough as you can login via Facebook or your Google account. In your free Canva account you are able save your designs and re-edit later. All your saved designs are accessible on an easy to use dashboard and you even have the option of making your designs public so that you can share with your friends and other Canva users. It’s like an inbuilt Facebook for your designs.
Canva also has a wide range of fonts that you can choose from although it doesn’t have access to the fonts installed on your computer. This is really important if your brand uses a font that Canva doesn’t have. But if all your brand fonts are in Canva then the free version of Canva is perfect.
If you want to use Canva with your brand fonts that Canva does not have you still can. Canva's premium service, Canva For Work, allows you to upload your brand fonts as well as save your brand colour palette, create branded templates and collaborate with team members.
Canva For Work is a bit more pricy at US$119.40 per year or US$12.95 per month as it is aimed at small and medium businesses with teams of people needing to create branded documents and designs.
The last thing to note is that Canva is not ideal for photo editing. While it does have some photo editing features such as filters and image blur, it is not the main focus of the software and it is therefore far less robust than the photo editing capabilities of Picmonkey.
NEED HELP USING CANVA?
Canva has a great collection of 30 tutorials showing you how to use Canva and also teach you some of the basics of design.
So which program do you use?
The program that you use is going to depend on what you need. Use the table below, which outlines the main features of both Picmonkey and Canva to help you figure out which program suits your needs best. You may find that you use both for different things as both programs have their strengths and weaknesses in different areas compared to the other.
Picmonkey and Canva are the two free design programs that I have used and am able to recommend from personal experience. However there are a number of other free online design programs that, while I have not used them myself, you may want to check out.
Similar to Canva. Graphic & document design
Photo editing and graphic design
Pixlr Editor & Pixlr Express - photo editing
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