2017 Update. This post was originally written by Ann Smarty and shared 13 tools for creating visual content. It was time for an update and the post was definitely worth expanding. Now, we share 39 tools and resources for creating incredible visual content.
For quality content, nothing beats visuals.
They increase pageviews. Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images. (Source)
They boost attention. Eye-tracking studies show internet readers pay close attention to information-carrying images. (Source)
They increase engagement. Infographics are liked and shared on social media 3 times more than any other type of content. (Source)
Here’s what that means: You shouldn’t settle for text-only content, no matter how good your writing is. For maximum engagement, you need to translate your words and ideas into visual experiences.
But the question remains: How? The cost of creating custom graphics and interactive visuals can be huge, from both a time perspective and designer fees.
In this post, I’ve compiled some of the best tools and resources available for creating awesome images, graphics, and visuals for your content.
- Editing Tools
- Image Sources
- Screen Capture Tools
- GIFs and GIF Makers
- Quote Meme Creators
- Collage Creators
- Video Tools
- Infographic and Presentation Tools
- Graph and Process Map Generators
Before you start creating visual content, you need a few basic tools. Photoshop (or a quality alternative) is a must-have. Here are your best options.
This is the industry standard, and whether you get it alone or bundled in the Creative Cloud Suite, it’s worth the investment. I use Photoshop every day.
If your budget is tight, however, there are a few Photoshop lookalikes you may want to consider.
PicMonkey (Free and Paid)
You can enjoy PicMonkey’s free features as a basic user: core editing and touch up, effects, frames, and templates. Upgrade to Pro for a host of additional features. Edit images (add exposure, filters, text, etc.) as well as create great-looking collages.
BeFunky (Free and Paid)
This photo editing tool is free and doesn’t require registration. Just upload your image and get to editing.
Need to edit Photoshop and Gimp files without investing in expensive software? This free app gives you a workspace that’s reminiscent of Photoshop’s, and it accepts PSD and XCF files, no problem.
Images break up your text, adding visual interest. They also enhance the meaning of your text. For scanners, they provide interesting elements to focus on while deciding whether they’ll commit to reading. Generally, you want to avoid images that are cheap or don’t add value. So stock photos have gotten a bad name.
Generally, you want to avoid images that are cheap or don’t add value. As a result, stock photos have gotten a bad name. But stock photo sites are a terrific resource for finding unusual or interesting visuals—especially if you use them as foundations to create something new.
iStock, by Getty Images (Paid)
One of the best stock photo resources I’ve ever used. Starts at $40 a month.
Fotolia, by Adobe (Paid)
I’ve used Fotolia for years and was very pleased with the images they provide. They have a variety of subscription plans to fit any budget. Starts at $29.99.
Discover over 125 million royalty-free images, video clips, and music tracks. It also comes with an editor. Starts at $29 a month.
In addition to images and illustrations, you’ll find icons, infographics, footage, and video. It also provides an editor to resize, crop, and add text before downloading your image. For $79 a month, you’ll get 5 downloads a day.
With 56 million stock images and 17 million users, it’s obviously a good source of images. $39 for 10 downloads a month.
Free Images (Free)
You’ll find some quality images in a variety of categories. All are free as long as you stick to the rules in the Image License Agreement, and you can use them for almost anything. Of course, there are some no-no’s and restrictions. You’ll need to check the License Agreement.
Stock Photos for Free (Free)
Here you can download 100,000+ stock photos completely free. The home page says they have background images, exotic locales, people—and everything in between.
These images are royalty free, so you can use them in any project or media, even commercial projects.
You do have to register before you can download an image. (I had to “like” it on Facebook too.)
One caveat: You may have difficulty finding images that suit niche topics. For instance, I searched for “blog” and got this image:
But overall, it’s a good resource for free images.
Morgue File (Free)
This has been my go-to resource for several years. There’s no registration, no “liking,” no nothing. Just call it up, punch in your search term, and scroll through your options.
Images are high resolution, so you can use them for any project. And there’s such a wide variety of images, you can usually find something worth using.
Well, most of the time. I searched for “social sharing” and turned up no results. But I searched for “frustrated” and got this:
The secret is to get creative with your search terms. Try several different ways of approaching your topic, and you may find something useful.
Foter (Free and Paid)
This one boasts more than 300 million free stock photos. And it has a free stock photo plugin for your WordPress website if you want it.
There are a wide range of categories you can browse through, but if you’re in a hurry, you can simply use the search bar.
Once you find an image you like, you will need to check the license so you know what you can do with the image. As with some of the other sites, it can be hit or miss when you search for niche terms.
I searched for “social sharing” and found some lovely images that had nothing to do with social media. Here’s one I particularly liked:
It gives me an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which means I can’t edit the photo at all, even to take off the “photo by” and “home sweet home.” I also can’t use it to sell anything. And I have to include this…
However, you can limit your search to Commercial only. Then you may find something like this:
Flickr, searched through Compfight (Free)
Enable the “Commercial” option in the right sidebar. This is a great source of free images, but you need to watch the licensing terms and give attribution for all your images.
Smart Photostock (Free and Paid)
Working with photographers and bloggers alike, this site aims to serve both communities and help each of their forms of artistic expression. The photos that you’ll find here are entirely royalty-free, and you can use them without restriction. Just link back to SmartPhotoStock.com.
Free images are available for view and download without registration. You can purchase more images based on a monthly subscription.
Your Smart Phone
Another sound idea is to simply take your own photos. That’s no longer difficult, and you’ll have original images that won’t appear anywhere else on the web.
Screen Capture Tools
This is my favorite tool for making screencasts and annotated screenshots. It’s easy to use and provides the best-looking screenshot annotating tools I’ve ever seen. Want to describe something in one of your articles? Snag a screenshot. Want to do a quick screencast video? Snagit will do it.
Awesome Screenshot (Free)
If your budget is tight, this is your best alternative for screenshots. Its imae resolution isn’t quite as good as Snagit’s, but it gives you similar editing capabilities after you take a screenshot.
Gyazo GIF (Free and Paid)
It lets you create screenshots and animated GIF instructions. Go Pro and you can annotate your screenshots as well. Simply record what you do on the screen and the tool generates the GIF or image.
Here’s another option for creating animated GIFs. It lets you convert any video into a GIF, then edit and annotate it, but it’s Mac-only.
GIFs and GIF Makers
GIFs are a great way to add interest and movement to your content. They can surprise and elicit a laugh. Just be careful not to overdo them. The movement can be distracting and keep people from reading your content.
Here, finding the right GIF is as easy as typing your topic into the search bar. When a still photo isn’t enough, search this site for an entertaining, relevant GIF.
Don’t find what you want? Fortunately, you can make your own GIFs with these tools.
ImgFlip (Free or Paid)
Make GIFs from Youtube, Vimeo, and many other video websites. Just copy/paste the video URL. Or upload your own video. You can even create GIFs from photos. The app is free, but you’ll need to upgrade to pro to remove the watermark.
See, as easy as herding cats.
Quote Meme Creators
Whether in your articles, presentations, or social media, you may want to share quotes. Sharing them as a graphic enhances sharability as well as engagement.
Recite This (Free)
Here’s a quick way to create a visual quotation. Just type in your quotation and select a template.
Picture Quotes (Free)
Choose from an assortment of backgrounds or upload your own image to create a sharable quote.
Don’t have a quote of your own? Quotery has whole sections of awesome quotes for you to use. You can browse by topic or by author to find the quote you want.
Canva (Free and Paid)
Canva is an easy-to-use online editing tool that lets you create all kinds of visual content. Templates are pre-sized for social media, presentations, posters, blog graphics, and more. It even comes with beautiful layout options, fonts, and background images.
Sometimes more really is better. A collage can help you communicate a lot with just one visual element.
Fotor.com (Free and Paid)
In addition to being an image source, allows you to create one awesome visual using a few images. Be creative. You can do shape collages, photo stitching, photo montages, etc.
Easily create collages using Picture2Life’s templates. This app is free, with no need to create an account.
This tool gives you a blank slate for creating your collages. Add photos without uploading, create your own photo collage and save/share your collages. This tool works on PCs, tablets and smart phones (iOS and Android). Choose from their collage templates or create free-form collages.
Want to do more with video? It’s a great time to step up your game. These tools let you create awesome videos even if you’re not a video geek.
Render Forest (Paid)
Create video intros and outros, as well as explainer videos, that look like you paid a bundle to have them made. Simply select a template, add your words, choose a music track, and you’re done.
Lets you collect your awesome images—which you created with the tools above—and throw them into a creative video. You can choose a template and a music track to play your images. Here’s an example of what you can do with Animoto.
Courtesy of Ann Smarty, MyBlogU
To create high-quality videos, you can’t do better than Camtasia. It does fantastic screencast videos with voice overlay, and it gives you tons of editing capabilities. It also integrates with PowerPoint to let you create beautiful video presentations. Older versions, available on the site, also allow you to do headshots with your webcam.
Premiere Pro (Paid)
Need a more powerful video editing tool? Adobe’s Premiere Pro is a good solution. It’s complicated, sure, but it’s got every tool you need to create amazing videos. By the way, if you choose to create videos as well as images on an ongoing basis, it’s worth investing in Adobe’s Creative Cloud.
Infographic and Presentation Tools
Content doesn’t have to be text. It can be purely graphic or a mix of both. Infographics and slide decks can support your text content or replace it altogether.
Haiku Deck (Paid)
Creating quality presentations doesn’t take long with Haiku Deck. You can even create presentations on the go (it’s very iPad-friendly). Here’s an example of a deck that took 15 minutes to create! (Source: Ann Smarty)
Piktochart (Free and Paid)
Have you been avoiding infographics because you thought they cost too much? You can create your own infographic for free with Piktochart. Here’s a piece of an infographic I created one lazy afternoon.
The tool provides everything you need to create attractive graphics that rival anything you see online.
In this case, when creating the infographic, PiktoChart showed me where page breaks would be, so I also made an ebook out of the graphic.
I simply opened the infographic in PhotoShop and cut it into page-length pieces, then pasted the images into a Word doc. It was a fun weekend project that gave me a fantastic-looking infographic and ebook.
Create an infographic in just 3 steps: choose a template, upload your data, and customize your design. It also allows you to create other types of visuals, including reports, posters, promotions, and social media graphics.
I’ve played with other infographic/presentation tools, but none has impressed me as much as Visme. In my first few hours using it, I created an infographic and a slide deck presentation. Both look great and the possibilities are endless. I especially like their interactive elements. It’s an easy way to make your presentation more engaging.
Graph and Process Map Generators
“Show, don’t tell,” is rule #1 for storytellers. Anytime you share numbers or data, they’ll be easier to understand and visualize if you create a visual for them.
Gliffy (Free and Paid)
Gliffy allows you to turn workflows and processes into visuals. If you’d like to illustrate complicated concepts or share a business process, you definitely want to give this a try.
I use Gliffy when planning a marketing campaign—creating funnels and process maps for my own business and my clients. But I’ve also used it in blog posts because the final graphic looks so professional.
Here’s an example that I made in about 10 minutes.
Here’s another example (about 30 minutes).
Consider making a mindmap to share a big picture with your readers, or create a flow chart or wireframe to illustrate your point. With Gliffy, intricate graphics are not only easy to make, they look terrific.
This may, at first glance, look like a kids’ tool, but it’s perfect for turning your data into visuals. I used it to create this line graph.
Here’s a pie chart I created in about 10 minutes.
In addition, you can create area maps and even xy graphs (think algebra).
Tip: Once the chart is made, email it to yourself and save it to your hard drive. You can then edit in whatever photo editor you prefer: add comments, labels, etc. Or, as I did in the bar chart, add your logo to the bottom of the chart.
Images and other visuals will raise the value of your content. Period. So it’s worth taking the time to find your best tools, experimenting with new ones, and refining your creative skills.
If you’re wondering how to use images on your blog, read: High-Quality Content? Not without High-Quality Images on Your Blog.
But don’t limit yourself. Experiment. Follow your gut. Play around with the tools and resources available to you.
You’ll have more fun creating content, and your visitors will enjoy engaging with it.