They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but let's be honest ... a pretty cover doesn’t hurt when it comes to your marketing. That’s why -- whether you're creating lead generation content, social media content, calls-to-action, or infographics -- your marketing materials should always be as visually appealing as possible.
Problem is, actually creating all these beautiful visuals isn't exactly every marketer's forte. Oh, another problem? Design software can cost an arm and a leg (plus all the classes you need to take to learn how to work the darn stuff).
But there's good news -- there are plenty of free and easy-to-use tools out there that can make you look like a master designer. This post will break down 21 of our favorites so you too can create visuals and images that'll make your marketing pop. Get ready to create visualizations, banners, infographics, and more like a total pro.
Free Color Tools
Even though it may seem like we have an unhealthy obsession with orange, we promise we’re equal opportunity color enthusiasts at HubSpot. We recognize that colors can say a lot about your brand, so we think you should figure out how to use them. Below are a few of our favorite tools to help you do just that.
Adobe Color CC (formerly Adobe Kuler) allows you to create and save your own color schemes that you can import into other Adobe Creative Suite design programs and apps like Photoshop and Illustrator -- but that doesn't mean you have to have an Adobe account to use it. Even without logging in to use the import and save features, you can get color scheme inspiration from the "Explore" tab, upload a photo to help you pick similar colors, use the help of different color rules to choose your theme (analogous, monochromatic, triad, etc.), and get all the RGB and HEX codes for individual colors.
Warning: You could get lost browsing this site for hours since there are lots of food, puppy, and kitten pictures. The creator personally curates bold and seasonally relevant images alongside color palettes to match the photo. You can easily modify a website or marketing materials around one of these palettes since you can access each color’s HEX code by hovering over the color chips on the right.
Remember that time you wanted to match your call-to-action design to that color you were using on all your event swag ... but the one person who would know what that color was didn't work at your company anymore? Next time that happens, snag a picture from of that swag and upload it to ImageColorPicker.com, or use any image URL to do the same thing. Select any point of the picture, and immediately see its corresponding HEX, RGB, and HSV values. Helllloooo matching color schemes.
Paletton is similar to the aforementioned color tools. Simply pick one color, and view various schemes of your choosing -- monochromatic, complementing colors, whatever. What makes it unique, though, is that you can even preview a sample website with your chosen color palette in a light and dark version.
If you were to mash up Design-Seeds, Image Color Picker, and Paletton, then you'd end up with COLOURLovers. There are loads of pre-made color palettes with available HEX codes, or you can create your own if you so desire. Plus it has a cool tool called PHOTOCOPA, which allows you to upload a photo and outputs a corresponding set of key colors.
0to255 is the best resource for easily viewing many variations of the same color -- kind of like the paint chips you see at the hardware store. This is awesome for choosing border, gradient, or access colors -- for use in an infographic, for example. It's also useful for when you’re unsure of how intense to go with a color.
Free Font & Icon Tools
We want you to be smart about fonts and to remember that usually, simpler is better. However, sometimes a standout font can be just what you need for a little extra oomph. We encourage you to play around with these tools and see what you can come up with.
Check out Google Fonts, a directory of over 600 fonts that are ready for use on your website. Simply copy and paste one line of HTML and CSS onto your site, and you’re done. Or you can download the fonts to your desktop and use them when making new marketing content -- the choice is yours.
It’s like Shazam, but for fonts. Just snap a screenshot or enter the URL of a logo or picture and WhatTheFont will let you know exactly what font it is, and where you can go to download it. This is especially useful when you’ve hired designers in the past to create materials for you and were never left with any font files or names.
There are plenty of sites out there with heaps of “free” fonts to download. That's great ... if you don’t mind pop-ups or getting nabbed in a licensing suit. If you’re reading our blog, we figure you’re into internet etiquette. So these are three of our favorite sites -- 1001 Fonts, Font Space, and Font Squirrel -- that have an impressive spread of design-inspiring fonts with clearly specified licensing terms -- and plenty of "Free for Commercial Use" options, too!
We think there’s something undeniably adorable about tiny little vector icons. But as much as we love playing with them, it’s not exactly time-efficient to start from scratch every time you need a new one. IcoMoon has high quality, free, scalable icons to choose from that come in handy when making an infographic or navigation buttons. You can easily select the icons you need and export them for your use.
When you want both flat and three-dimensional vector icons, IconFinder is the place to go. Stacks of 3-dimensional coins and reflective speech bubbles run rampant throughout the site, which features a filter for commercial-use icons only. Again, these icons are great for use as buttons on your website, in infographics, or in your lead generation offer content.
Vecteezyis another great library from which to source visual content. There are tons of wallpapers, icons, and vector graphics to use for your site and marketing materials, like location pointers and bookmark ribbons, all with clear outlines of the appropriate commercial rights.
Free Image Creation, Sourcing & Editing Tools
All of these tools don't help too much if there isn't a beautiful image to work with, right? Here are some of our favorite image creation and editing tools ... all for free, of course!
From the creators of Evernote comes the simple screenshot tool, Skitch. Easily grab snippets of your screen, annotate them with text, shapes, and objects, and even “blur” out potentially confidential information. You can then save those pictures to your desktop, or upload them directly to your Evernote account. Screenshots are a great addition to blog posts, ebooks, or white pages that show off software features, online reviews, or other information only found on a screen.
All the basic features of Photoshop have been adopted and made easy-to-use by both Pixlr and Sumopaint, free web-based photo editing apps. These are not your regular crop-and-draw-lines photo editing apps; they are for online photo editing. Use either tool to create an awesome new cover photo for your Facebook page, quickly place an image of your coworker’s face on a bodybuilder’s body, or maybe even to revamp your logo.
Pixabay is an awesome go-to resource to find over 290,000 free photos, vectors, and art illustrations -- all with specified licensing and attribution information. Simply download and modify however you see fit. Or don’t. 'Sup to you.
Because you can never have too many sources for quality photos, you should definitely check out Death to Stock Photo. Once a month, Death to Stock Photo will send you a batch of high-quality photos that are all aligned around a specific theme. Not only do they arrive in your inbox every month, but every single one of ‘em is totally free for commercial use, too.
We specifically created these visual social media templates in PowerPoint to help anyone easily create snazzy images to share on their blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, or elsewhere -- all without the need for Photoshop or Illustrator. Those design programs are pricey and take time to learn. PowerPoint, on the other hand, is a tool most business and marketing folks have some experience with, so why not work with whatcha got and whatcha know? These templates exist in two files that each contain the same designs in a wide variety of colors and formats, but have different dimensions for use on different social platforms (there's more info and instructions in the downloadable templates themselves). Grab 'em and go play.
Want to be the Bob Ross of your marketing department? No problem. Canva makes graphic design drag-and-drop easy. Create Facebook cover photos, email banners, posters, event invitation graphics, and so much more in Canva's interactive web canvas, and re-allocate all your saved time and money to office snacks and shindigs. You're welcome.
What tools and tricks do you have up your sleeve to help you create amazing visuals?
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.
Originally published Dec 22, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017