I’m married to a finance guy. He’s the type that reads Barron’s cover to cover each Saturday. On the desk next to the computer we share is a running list of stocks he’s investigating. This is a guy that loves a good spreadsheet. Curious about the bond market? I’ve got your man.
Being married to a guy who totally grasps how money moves is terrific in many ways. Really it is. But there are some limitations. He can’t build me a new website. He’s not going to draw diagrams for me in Illustrator or digitize my pattern templates. When it comes to graphic design or photo editing, he’s at a loss.
So I’m on my own, figuring out how to make this blog, and all of my digital products, functional and good looking. In order to run this business I figure stuff out day to day, when I’ve got a burning idea and need to make it happen.
Sometimes I can do it all for free. Sometimes, though, I know with a little bit of money I can get something infinitely better than I could do myself.
Whenever I find a source that makes it just a little easier for me to create a professional and beautiful online presence cheaply and without any real training, I get excited. Today I’m going to share with you five secrets for making you look spiffy online, even if you have no training and almost no money to spend. Ready?
This week I’ve been obsessively writing a new ebook (more on that soon) and I wanted it to have a really beautiful cover. I know from working with mainstream publishers that the cover of a book is a really important sales tool. People actually do judge a book by it, after all.
I spent a few hours on Tuesday morning trying to take some kind of clever picture before deciding there must be a better way. Turns out there is. On Shutterstock I bought a gorgeous photo, full of saturated colors and with plenty of space for my ebook title, for just $14.50. There are 30 million photos, illustrations, and vectors to choose from, all royalty free. This is a brilliant resource for self-publishing. I got a two photo package so I’m going to go pick out another one and redo the cover of my first ebook while I’m at it.
Last night I was sewing some eyes on a plush giraffe, listening to Gweek, one of my favorite podcasts. One of the guests on the show mentioned Swiftly, a site that can help you with small design fixes in just an hour. They’ll do logo alteration, business card changes, and photo resizing and cropping, but the thing that drew me in was the last one on their list of services offered: artwork vectorization.
I put my needle and thread down and headed straight to the computer. I uploaded two PDFs of hand-drawn pattern templates and an hour later I had them back, perfectly digitized. Total cost? $15. I nearly cried.
3. Digital Design Elements from Etsy Sellers
Would you like a pretty set of social media icons? Or maybe some cute sewing-themed graphics to decorate your sidebar? For about $3 you can buy whole sets from Etsy sellers. Download and save them on your harddrive and you’re ready to use them for all sorts of things!
An easy and free way to play with them is to open PicMonkey, create a white background (see my tutorial here), go to <Overlays><Your Own> and upload one of the neat graphic elements you just bought. From there you can make a blog button or banner or just a pretty image to illustrate a blog post by adding some text, resizing, bringing in a photo, and just playing with colors and shapes.
4. PDFmerge and Convert-JPEG-to-PDF.net
When you don’t own any graphic design software you run into certain specific kinds of trouble. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is converting a file from one type to another. You’ve got a JPEG that needs to be a PDF. You’ve got four PDFs that need to be combined into one, this is exactly why some people prefer to just hire professionals like the ones at Graphic Design Cardiff.
You know what? Don’t sweat it. With these two sites you can fix your problem in a jiffy for free. Is it the way the pros do it? No. But it works.
Fonts are all about creating a great first impression. Beautiful typography makes your website or document feel custom made. It’s like wearing designer jeans. Yes, size 8 jeans from Target fit, but a pair of JOE’S shows off your curves like no other.
Get some interesting fonts from DaFont and jazz up your next document. Some are free, some ask for a small donation, and some are for personal use only so check before you click to download.
Could any of these sites solve a problem for you? Do you have any other design hacks that you use to polish the look of your online presence without having to buy expensive software? Please share!
I am a big fan of the tips and freebie elements from Pugly Pixel: http://www.puglypixel.com. http://www.codeitpretty.com is also a great blog for web and graphics tips and resources. I also love using dingbat fonts for little icons and whatnot.
And if you want to try using Photoshop but don’t want to pay that kind of money, GIMP is a free (!) and powerful clone.
Oh my gosh I think Swiftly might just change my life. Thank you for posting this.
Great resources!!! Thank you so much for sharing. I am almost ready for my yearly spruce-up and will give these a try 🙂
You are always so generous, something I really appreciate, thank you. I am strapped for cash so adobe illustrator is out of my league (also saw price is almost exactly the same in dollars as in pounds sterling, which makes it really expensive). I have picked up that Gimp is meant to be good to use and free and also inkscape. My problem is knowing which of them would be more useful when I know nothing about them or even exactly what I want them to do. I am erring on the side of inkscape as that is a vector programme (although that in itself frightens me). I have an idea though that I need to understand both. I want to be able to add photos (Gimp can deal with photos I know)with text and also illustrations and make hand drawn patterns into something presentable. Any I’ve purchased range from a simple out line embroidery pattern to very fancy and clever indeed.
Oh wow, Swiftly sounds awesome!
Thank you for being so generous. Not many would want to share these tips. Sue xx
I like Pixabay.com for free images (I use them for posts that aren’t about craft projects). They’re associated with Shutterstock.
The Inkscape tutorials on inkscape.org are really helpful, and also on inkscapetutorials.wordpress.com. Most useful Gimp tutorials seem to be on YouTube. If you have a Mac you can get Pixelmator for $15, which is both vector and raster editing – like Inkscape and a lightweight Photoshop together. I haven’t used it but it gets good reviews.
I got a lot out of The Non-Designer’s Design and Type Books, two books in one volume by Robin Williams (not that one :-). She’s definitely opinionated and take what you find useful from her writing, but as a basic guide to clean page layout she’s great. I have a grid set up for pattern layout that gives everything a unified look while still being flexible for different needs – see also here:
Thanks for those links, more design help is better!
Christine Thresh says
Swiftly sounds good. I’ve paid people to clean up my jagged drawings. This may be just what I’m looking for. Thank you.
Shutterstock is really helpful and swiftly sounds awesome 🙂
Abby Glassenberg says
Oh, that’s an awesome tip about using dingbats for little icons. Will do!
Thanks for the site recommendations, too!
Abby Glassenberg says
Right! Brilliant concept for a business.
Abby Glassenberg says
My pleasure, Sue!
Abby Glassenberg says
Thank you for the book recommendations. I’m going to take a look! And I’d never heard of Pixabay. Awesome.
Stacey (FreshStitches) says
Love this post!
DaFont is the best, ever!
I’ll check out your other recommendations 🙂
I love Swiftly!
And I use http://PDFJoiner.com to merge pdf files, it’s much better
Here is a suggestion on jpg to pdf conversion http://www.jpgtopdf.com/, I know this is not exactly the subject, but you never know when you might need it.