Top tips and tools for designing stunning graphics on a budget

06 June 2018 by Marty Doherty

As a creative in a fast paced e-learning company, I am constantly motivated to produce content that is current, stands out and engages.

Whether or not you know your hex codes from your jpegs, there is a wealth of free online assets and tutorials out there that can help with building beautiful content.

When you’re working on a project, searching for free assets is often key to keeping costs down. Free design resources to help us add flare to the graphics in our projects, and let’s face it: we all love a good freebie.

Here is a collection of some really useful online design resources that can help you on your way to creating stunning content:

1. Get tooled up – free online graphics editing tools

I cannot recommend Pixlr and Vectr enough, they are awesome for basic graphic manipulation and design. If you need to crop a photo or design some icons, but don’t have access to Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, then these applications are capable alternatives.

As the Adapt background images, banners, sliders and assets all have certain size requirements, you will need access to editing software, so these web apps are definitely worth having.

Check out the useful tips and tutorials on their websites to help you get started.

High quality free photography

Looking for some really cool images for your project but don’t want to be forking out a small fortune for stock photography? There are loads of free stock photography sites out there, but some of them host low resolution images and have rules of usage.

Pexels and Pikwizard have thousands of completely free images that you can use wherever and for whatever, commercial or personal, and no attribution is required upon use. This is made possible by a huge community of generous photographers who donate images.

Although there are plenty of photos to browse through you are limited to what’s available and there’s a chance you may find others using the same images for their own projects.  

3. Add some bling – free vector artwork and illustrations

Icon packs, banners and vector illustrations are all available for free from Vecteezy and Freepik . These sites also have advertising and links to paid stock sites such as Shutterstock, but there’s still a lot of cool stuff up for grabs.  

These assets mostly come in vector’s supported formatting such as .eps .pdf files.

If you are not familiar with the difference between various digital image formats it would be worthwhile doing a little research online.

For the purpose of this blog it’s important to know that Pixel based images (photos) are made up of tiny squares called pixels and vector graphics (Illustrations) are shapes that are determined by a path that uses mathematical calculations to plot out points in these paths.

So, a vector will not lose quality when resizing upwards while a photograph will.  

For all your free fonts and typefaces

If you feel like getting creative on your graphics and need some nice fonts to experiment with, then look no further than these great sites, Dafont and Google. You can download many genres of fonts from fancy decorative to old school calligraphy.

Although having access to lots of free fonts isn’t always a good thing – hours can be lost trying to find the perfect font for your project. It is also worth mentioning that if you wish to use custom fonts in your Adapt or LMS content that they need to be from Google as our Adapt and LMS only support Google fonts.

5. Confident with colour – generating colour palettes with confidence

One of those underestimated areas of the design process that make or break any project is colour groupings, selection and correction. Think about it kind of like choosing paint or wallpaper to decorate a room in your house – you wouldn’t just throw anything on the walls would you? A really important design tool for any creative project is colour scheme designers such as Coolors and Paletton.

Pick colours manually or explore combinations within these apps. You can also upload a photo to Coolors and it will design a palette based on the colours used in the image. Generate colour combinations that work well together and give your project a confident feel that should also influence the design of any other assets included in your projects.

Without going into much detail on colour theory it’s probably best to point out that these generators will create screen version colours in Hex Colour Code format beginning with a hashtag e.g. #808080 and RGB Colour Code format showing Red, Green and Blue values e.g. rgb (128, 128,128).

6. Size does matter – image compression and resizing tools

When working with web graphics, load time is everything. As a designer I tend to start bigger then work my way down, rather than the other way around. TinyPNG and Smallpdf are fantastic tools that compress file size whilst maintaining resolution. You don’t want your tech department on your back about slow bandwidth, so it’s best to optimise the size of your graphics before you load them. So when it comes to ‘design freebies’ that’s six of the main areas covered. Even experienced designers still use these resources on a daily basis. I personally use at least half of those links I have recommended above. There are many more tools available online and a wealth of tutorials, these are just a few of my favourites that I have found useful in recent years.

I hope these tips have been of use and some of you can avail of the free resources for your projects, whether they’re work related or for a personal activity, a basic understanding of graphic design can make you stand out from the rest.

Now, go be creative folks!


Marty Doherty
Senior Graphic Designer

Marty has over 12 years of experience in Graphic Design and Digital Communications. He joined the team in July 2015 and since then he has been the lead designer on our large scale marketing events such as Learning Pool Live and Learning Technologies, as well as creating bespoke graphics and spicing up custom content for various clients such as Sonova/SIHA, Houses of Parliament, KFC and more.

Before Learning Pool, Marty worked as a creative in the entertainment industries as a touring musician, promoter and graphic designer.

Outside of work when Marty isn’t constantly stepping on lego bricks and tidying up after his two “little angels”, he likes to spend time unwinding by attending loud gigs or eloping to the hills of Donegal with his family to their holiday home.

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