How much time do you spend fussing over the words in a blog post? Probably a lot, right? The tone, the grammar, the storytelling – it has to be perfect.
Unfortunately, we often don’t put in the same effort with another aspect of blogging that’s just as important: The blog post’s visuals.
A couple of years ago, Jeff Bullas wrote a great article listing six reasons to include images in your online marketing. Although the article is focused on businesses, it should be essential reading for bloggers and anyone else publishing content online.
(And, yes, Bullas’ post does include an image — an excellent infographic that shows articles with images get 94 percent more total views.)
But as important as images are, finding one to include in a blog post often is an afterthought.
I’ll admit I’ve been there before. And, boy, did I have excuses: I was on deadline and ran out of time. I didn’t know where to go to find an image. Graphic design is hard.
And it’s true — graphic design can be time-consuming and difficult. The good news is there are tools that make it easy for non-designers to find or create great images for their blogs; you just need to know where to go.
Here are 14 of the design resources we love.
1. Creative Commons Search: Creative Commons licenses make it easy for artists to share their creative work according to whatever conditions they prefer. Conversely, they also make it easy for bloggers to look for content that can be used freely and legally. There are lots of places to search for Creative Commons content; however, my favorite is search.creativecommons.org where you can specify which CC search service to use (options include Flickr, Wikimedia Commons, and the Open Clip Art Library) and what license parameters you want to use.
2. HubSpot’s Stock Photo Collection: There are a lot of stock photo services – some you subscribe to, others pay as you go. If you don’t have a budget, though, you still have options. HubSpot’s collection of 450-plus free photos is one of my favorites. You do have to provide your name and email address, and some of them are business-focused. But I’ve found a number of good images in their packs, especially holiday-themed images.
3. Death to the Stock Photo: One day, two photographers realized they had a lot of images sitting around and not getting used. They decided to email them out in packs to friends, freelancers, and businesses they knew were in need of better images. From that sprung Death to the Stock Photo, a monthly email of 10 gorgeous images that are free to use.
For $10 a month, users can upgrade to a premium subscription that includes access to all photos, past and future, and an extra image pack sent monthly. A portion of monthly sales also goes back into the creative community, funding photography trips around the world for future photo packs. If you want more visual inspiration, Unsplash works in a similar fashion, sending you 10 new photos every 10 days.
4. PR Newswire for Journalists Multimedia Gallery: There’s much more to our media site than customizable newsfeeds. Registered bloggers and other content creators have free access to thousands of high-res photos, videos, and multimedia. Log in, click the Multimedia tab, then browse topic categories or target your search by keyword. All multimedia is free to download and use for editorial purposes when credited to the image or video’s source company.
5. IconFinder: If icons are what you need, Copenhagen-based IconFinder hosts the world’s largest collection with more than 340,000 icons in stock. It also offers free icons under a variety of licenses for commercial and personal use. Either do a keyword search or browse the categories, then filter by free and premium. Prior to downloading, icon backgrounds can be set to white, black, gray, or transparent.
6. Canva: Although I’ve already blogged about my obsession with Canva, there’s no way I’m not including it on this list. It’s a blogging essential I use at least twice a week, and with the constant additions of tutorials and layout ideas, it’s one I see myself continuing to use.
The layout templates and collection of fonts, images, and backgrounds make it easy for anyone to design a basic graphic (they even have a seasonal card template for Valentine’s Day). More advanced photo editing tools are also available. The only time it will cost you to use Canva is if you use one of its premium design items, which cost $1 each.
7. GIMP: If you need desktop software for photo editing and retouching, drawing, resizing and other specialized tasks, but can’t invest in Photoshop or Illustrator, GIMP is your answer. The GNU Image Manipulation Program is freeware and offers a lot of tools. Dig through its tutorials to learn how to do red eye removal, add film grain, or other textures to your images, and other beginner through advanced tasks.
8. Photovisi: Although Canva and GIMP offer users the ability to make pretty much any image, sometimes you don’t have time to throw together something fancy. Fortunately, there are many one-use apps out there that take the effort out of certain tasks.
For instance, you can make a collage with Photovisi in only a couple of minutes. Pick a collage template, upload your images, select backgrounds, text and shapes if you want, then download. The free version includes a Photovisi watermark on the collage, though premium versions minus the watermark also can be purchased. If the watermark is a dealbreaker, choose from one of the photo collage makers in this list by CreativeBloq.com.
9. ReciteThis: Similar to collages, if you don’t want to use a photo editor to create a quotation graphic, there are tools available like ReciteThis. Plug in your quote, select a ready-made background and style and upload it to your blog or social media in no time at all.
10. Skitch: Evernote’s Skitch software gives you the ability to easily annotate images by adding arrows, shapes, and sketches. It’s often used to make notes on images or screengrabs a group is collaborating on; however, if you need to write a how-to or point something out in a blog post, Skitch definitely can come in handy.
In the example below, you’ll see a screenshot of an image from PR Newswire for Journalists, pointing out how to download and source it.
11. Meme Generator: If you’re looking to add some humor or snark to a post, try a meme. On Meme Generator, you can browse popular memes or create your own. In addition to being able to upload your own image for a meme, the site provides a list of popular meme characters (think Grumpy Cat and Philosoraptor) you can use. As with any image you create, though, just make sure the humor you use in your meme is appropriate for the tone of your blog.
12. Imgflip: Take your graphics one step further with GIF animation. On imgflip, you can make animated GIFs from video on YouTube, Vimeo, and other video websites, video files you have on your phone or computer, or a series of images. I prefer imgflip because the site offers text captioning and a lot of control over the GIF’s speed and customization. The imgflip watermark on free GIFs also is small, though you can use the site’s premium service if you want to remove the mark.
13. COLOURlovers: If design isn’t your strong suit, it can be difficult to pair colors in a graphic. This is why I love COLOURlovers. Let the millions of colors and palettes inspire you, and if you find a color you like, each one includes HEX and RGB codes to use in photo editors.
14. Smush.it: Although images are essential, there can be a downside — image files’ ability to drag down your website load time. Using an image compression service like Yahoo’s Smush.it can help remedy the issue. Smush.it strips unnecessary metadata from the image file to make it smaller without losing quality. WordPress offers the WP Smush.it plug-in for this; however, you also can go to the Smush.it site to compress images.
From finding, editing and optimizing photos to trying new things like memes, gifs and collages, this list will put you on the road to a stunning looking blog. Give these resources a try, then let us know which design tools you love to use in the comments below!
Bloggers: Don’t let our name fool you. PR Newswire for Journalists offers many free tools for bloggers. Sign up and get access to high-res multimedia, story ideas, expert sources, and product opportunities. It takes only a few moments to get started.
Amanda Hicken is a media relations manager at PR Newswire. Follow her on Twitter @ADHicken for tweets about the media, Cleveland, and comic books.