graphic design

By Evan Ferguson

Graphic design is one of the most important elements to a small business owner’s branding strategy, yet it’s often taken for granted. Everything from marketing emails to web design to social media posts need to incorporate elements of design and help to mold the image of your business.

Statistically speaking – bad graphic design can seriously harm a business’s earning potential. Studies have consistently found that users rank well-designed websites as more trustworthy than poorly-designed sites. On top of this – good graphic design has been shown to be directly correlated with brand recognition.

With good design meaning more trust and more brand awareness – it pays to invest in graphic design if you’re a small business owner. But herein lies a dilemma. Smaller companies tend to have less disposable funds, which means they’re more likely to have less resources allocated to graphic design. While large businesses can hire experienced, professional designers – an up-and-coming brand doesn’t have this luxury. That’s where free online tools come in handy.

With so much riding on the design of your brand, knowing how to create cost-effective, yet professional-looking graphics is critical to success for a small business. Check out the list below for some amazing tools that will make graphic design a breeze for small business owners.


Burst is an image-hosting database that offers hundreds of professionally-taken public domain photographs. Images on Burst come with a creative commons zero license for free commercial use. This means the you can download professionally taken photographs for use in everything from marketing to web-graphics to print advertisements.

Finding quality photographs is no easy task. Shooting professional photographs on your own can be costly and time-consuming. If you’re a small business owner, you know that money and time are two things you can’t afford to waste.

You could pay for stock-photos, but with expensive licensing fees and complex legal requirements – purchasing stock photos can end up being more hassle than it’s worth. With Burst – you can browse stock photos, download them and upload them into your marketing materials – all in a couple of clicks.


Canva is a free graphic design tool that can be used to make everything from Facebook posts to album covers to advertorial posters. Offering a number of ready-made templates for things like marketing emails and social media posts – Canva has become an increasingly popular tool for non-experienced graphic designers looking to give their designs a more professional polish.

Canva’s strength is in its easy-to-use drag-and-drop design interface that allows users to select from millions of fonts, graphics, icons and photographs. With Canva, you can easily arrange elements onto a template to create professional-looking designs.

It’s wildly fun and incredibly easy to play around with text, images, icons, borders and shapes to create your own designs. Even if you’re not the creative type – Canva offers a number of ready-made, preloaded professional templates with fully-customizable text and formatting options.


PicMonkey is a free online photo editing tool that can be used on any desktop computer or through a mobile app. While there are paid versions of the app with more features – the free version still offers a ton of basic photo-editing and touch-up tools.

From PicMonkey’s use interface, you can upload your own photos, crop them to your liking, adjust their brightness and contrast, add filters and a whole lot more. My personal favorite feature to PicMonkey is the portrait editing capabilities. PicMonkey has special portrait touch-up tools to fix blemishes, remove wrinkles, reduce shine, boost blush and more. Professional photo-editing can be costly and time-consuming – but with PicMonkey you can give your photographs a professional edge in a matter of minutes.


Infographics have become one of the most widely used tools for businesses and organizations in both digital and print media. You can attribute this popularity to the convenience of using infographics. They’re a clear, effective and artistic way to present data without losing the attention of your reader. With internet-users being bombarded by information and attention spans steadily decreasing – infographics are quickly becoming the modern tool for presenting information in a fun and interesting way.

Professional-looking infographics can be tricky to create with expensive graphic design software – and that’s where Piktochart comes in. With Piktochart – you can create beautifully-designed infographics using a ready-made templates and your own data sets that you can input manually or import it from a spreadsheet program. Piktochart makes it easy for any business owner to present their info in fun and interesting way without having any prior knowledge of graphic design.


Any graphic designer will be able to tell you about the importance of color when it comes to branding. It’s nearly impossible to think about an iconic brand like McDonalds and not think of the bright, golden-yellow arches accented by a vibrant red background.

The truth is that graphic designers make very calculated decisions about which colors to use. Professionals have spent years studying – not just color harmony in design – but the psychological triggers associated with certain colors and ways to make an audience experience a certain mood based on the colour palette being used.

Without being a professional – simple design decisions like which colors to use together can seem daunting. That’s where Coolors comes in handy. Coolors is a free tool that allows you to upload any image and automatically generate a harmonized color scheme by sampling colors in the image. From there – you have the option to save your color palette or make adjustments to one or more of the colors in your pallette and auto-generate complementary colors. This means you can create complex, harmonious color-schemes without having any sort of graphic design experience.

Evan Ferguson – aka @HarveyStewartTO is a writer and digital artist based in Toronto, Canada. He’s written about content marketing, futurism, and technology. He graduated from York University in 2012 with a degree in Journalism.