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The 6 Best Free Design Tools to Create Social Media Graphics

Emily Irish
Emily Irish / October 12, 2017

"A picture is worth a thousand words"—but what to do when your image is one of a thousand other images?

Once, it was sufficient—maybe even novel—to share an image on social media every once in awhile. Now, if you're not using images, you're already behind. But the popularity of using images in social media has not decreased their effectiveness: Facebook posts with images see 2.3X more engagement than those without images. And it's not just Facebook—Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than tweets without images.

So how can you create images that stand out from all the other images in your audience's Facebook, Twitter, and other social feeds? More importantly, how can you create images that drive engagement with your brand and traffic to your website or blog?

Well, for starters, you're going to need a good design tool. Instagram filters and a slapdash text box won't be enough. The good news is, there are a lot of tools out there to create engaging images that stand out on social media, and many of the best are free.

What Makes a Great Social Media Image App?

You want to make an image that will catch your followers' eyes—something that will make them click and share and keep watching for the next great thing you post. You also don't want to spend a lot of time or money creating these images (because, let's face it—social media posts have a very short lifecycle).

The secret to creating these kinds of images is having a lot of great templates and design resources (images, icons, shapes, text styles) all readily available, so all you have to do is mix, match, and message.

The good news is that you don't need to pay premium prices to get premium results. I tested over 15 apps to bring you this short and sweet list of the best free apps for creating your own vibrant and professional social media images.

When testing and evaluating apps, I had a few key criteria that each app needed to meet to be included:

  • Is this app easy enough for amateur designers? In most cases, your company's designer (should you be lucky enough to have one) is not who will manage your social media. Thus, I wanted to make sure these apps could be used effectively by people (like me) with minimal knowledge about design and design tools.

  • Is this app suited well for social media marketing? Some apps are awesome, but have too many features when all you want to do is put together a good image to go with a social promotion. These apps are geared towards simplicity, so you don't have to spend agonizing hours designing every single graphic.

  • Is the app experience smooth? - When trying to design something in a web app, a major factor is how smooth and fast the web experience is. Some apps might have passed muster, except that the web experience was consistently frustrating (freezing screen, slow to load designs, not saving or accepting changes, etc.)

  • Are the design assets professional? - There are a lot of tools that offer templates—just not the kinds of templates and assets that are going to help you represent your brand well. This list features apps that are ideal for companies and individuals looking to represent their brand with professional-grade social media images. (To be honest, this criteria weeded out the most apps.)

  • Is this app multi-purpose? While images for social media marketing may be your key reason for seeking out a graphic design tool, you'll ultimately be more productive if you only need to learn and use one tool for multiple marketing design purposes, such as creating email banners, postcards, flyers, blog images—you name it. The apps that made it into this roundup feature templates and tools for designing more than just social media images.

With that said—on to the apps!


The Best Social Media Image Apps

App Icon:  Best For OS Price
CanvaCanva logoPowerful template-based graphic creationWeb, iOSFree; $9.95/mo
Adobe SparkAdobe Spark logoMinimalistic, modern designsWeb, iOSFree; $9.99/mo
Pablo by BufferPablo by Buffer logoQuick-adding custom images to your social postsWebFree
DesyngerDesygner logoDesign experience on a mobile deviceWeb, iOS, AndroidFree; $6.95/mo
SnappaSnappa logoFast text designWebFree; $10/mo
Gravit DesignerGravit DesignerMore advanced social media graphic designWeb, Mac, Windows, Linux, Chrome OSFree

Canva (Web, iOS)

Best for powerful template-based graphic creation

Canva

In the 5 years since it was launched, over 10 million people have used Canva to simplify graphics design. With hundreds of templates, image and illustration assets, and dozens of fonts and text stylings, Canva makes it easy to create unique, high-quality images that are great for sharing on social media or your blog.

It doesn't matter if you've never designed an image in your life—Canva boasts a straightforward, drag-and-drop interface that allows even a novice to get started quickly. But beginners and pros alike will benefit from Canva's rich asset library and professional templates, which let you design attractive graphics, presentations, and posters with little effort.

Start with one of Canva's preset sizes (or set your own canvas dimensions), then start building your own layout or choose from Canva's giant library. The free version of Canva provides a large library of images, icons, layouts, text styles, and shapes for you to use, and allows you to upload your own graphics, while their premium plan offers even more design resources.

Once you've chosen your template or layout, you can use this resource library and drag-and-drop elements, add or edit text, and adjust core settings like font, color, image filters, and opacity to make your graphic.

Canva offers less customization and flexibility than some tools (especially compared to major graphic design apps like Photoshop), but what it lacks in settings, it makes up for in an intuitive interface and beautiful templates. However, it is worth noting that, since Canva has 10 million+ users, you'll want to put in a little extra effort customizing your designs to make sure they stand out from other brands that use Canva.

Canva Price: Free for 8,000+ templates, 1GB storage, and up to 10 team members; from $9.95/mo per user for Canva for Work, which offers unlimited storage, access to 300,000 assets and templates, custom fonts, transparent backgrounds, and more

Adobe Spark (Web, iOS)

Best for minimalistic, modern designs

Design modern social media images with Adobe Spark

Looking for the perfect balance of minimalism and power in your design tool? Try Adobe Spark. Choose from dozens of professional templates sorted by industry category, design type (such as, social media images, Facebook covers, posters), and size, then customize that template with Spark's easy-to-use tools.

Replace template images with one from Adobe's royalty-free library, or one of your own uploads. Image adjustment abilities are minimal in Spark, but there are several basic filters available to let you adjust your image.

Unlike many tools, Spark also makes it easy for you to change the design layout—or even the entire template—from one of the sidebar menus, so you don't have to backtrack to the start page if you want something different. If you're looking for inspiration, Spark offers preformatted text styles and designs, which you can browse with just a few clicks in the Text menu. This is a great way to get a fresh perspective on your design, and maybe freshen up your brand's social media feed.

Beyond their "Post" (graphic) design type, Spark also provides two other project types: Pages and Videos. With Pages, you can build a simple, sleek web page that you can then share via a direct link. Videos is just what it sounds like—a basic video editing app that works as smoothly as Spark's graphic design tool. You can even start with a template that will help guide you through ideal video structures for presentations, ads, and more.

The main downside of Spark's free plan is that Adobe will add its logo to the bottom corner of your design. If you click on this logo, it will say "Remove Once," but I tested this several times and the logo appears to be removable in all designs—you'll just have to deal with that upgrade pop-up each time.

Adobe Spark Pricing: Free for basic features; from $9.99/mo for premium features, such as logo upload and placement, branded templates and tools, as well as desktop and iOS apps. (These premium features also come with an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, starting with the $19.99/mo plan)

Pablo by Buffer (Web)

Best for quickly adding images to your social posts

Pablo by Buffer lets you quickly create great social media images

You know that a strong social media presence is important—for your employer, your personal brand, and even your career. But most of us have better things to do than spend hours crafting the perfect branding for our social media images.

Enter Pablo. Created by the social media scheduling tool, Buffer, Pablo is as minimalistic as they come, making it drop-dead easy to add a nice-looking, customized graphic to your social posts.

Pablo has only a few features and really only one workflow. Choose a template or just an image for your blank template—all free and royalty-free, provided by sites like Unsplash and Pixabay. Pablo's keyword search is fast and precise, so you can pick the perfect image for your post. From there, choose from one of three sizes, each fitted specifically for Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook/Twitter.

Image customization is limited—choose from a few preset filters, designed to provide the right level of contrast between your image and your text. You can also add up to three text boxes. Pablo displays them as "Header," "Body," and "Caption," but you can adjust size and font to redesign the text as you see fit. Add one adjustable logo or graphic, and you're good to go!

When you've finished your image, you can either download it, put it into your Buffer queue, or share directly to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram.

Pablo Pricing: Free—Buffer subscription not required (but certainly recommended!)

Desygner (Web, iOS, Android)

Best for designing on a mobile device

Desynger is a mobile app that lets you design polished social media images

Of all the mobile design apps I tested, Desynger was the only one that truly felt as easy to use a web app. (In fact, it was smoother and faster than many of the web apps I tried, including its own web app!) Available for both iOS and Android, Desynger produces graphics on par with Canva's quality—all from your phone.

Start with a template for the social media network of your choosing, or start from scratch. From there, build your design with Desygner's library of royalty-free images and design elements such as shapes and icons. You can even create your own collection of brand assets, readily stored with Desynger's other design assets.

Even in its mobile app, Desygner doesn't skimp on features. Multiple menus allow you to hyper-customize image and text settings, while never becoming cumbersome to use on a small screen. You can even pull up a list of all layers, making it even easier to select, deselect, and rearrange image elements with a few taps.

Desynger's web app works almost identically, with sidebar menus to help you select the design assets and effects you need. The tool is simpler than Canva and provides fewer templates, images, and assets with its free plan, but combined with the mobile app, Desygner becomes a very versatile tool for quickly creating unique, professional social media images.

Desygner Price: Free; from $6.95 for more templates and assets, as well as features like versioning.

Snappa (Web)

Best for fast text design

Snappa is ideal for text-heavy social media images

If you look at your social media feed—be it Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram—most branded image posts involve a striking graphic overlaid with well-designed text. It's a tried-and-true design for everything from promoting a pop-up shop to letting readers know about your latest blog post. You can't go wrong with a good text-over-image share.

Snappa goes all-in for this design, building its app around making vibrant, polished share images as quickly and easily as possible. While this may make Snappa feel slightly minimalistic if you're used to more complicated apps, it does what it sets out to do well.

While Snappa, like many similar apps, includes a thorough template library, they put more emphasis than other apps on getting the background image just right. With a library of free (and royalty-free) images, choosing the perfect background image is just a few clicks away, whether you're using one of Snappa's images or uploading your own. From there, Snappa offers an effects sidebar that helps you create the perfect image effects for your post–whether that means darkening or coloring the background image to make white text pop, or brightening the image to highlight dark text. (It's important to note, however, that while Snappa has a library of additional graphics and shapes, these features are more limited compared to other apps.)

Snappa is similarly thorough when it comes to text. Easily edit your text from the sidebar, adjusting font, size, alignment, line spacing, opacity, and—my personal favorite–an optional drop shadow effect. It's not an overload of features, but it's more than enough to make your text, and therefore your message, really stand out.

Want to arrange everything perfectly? Between the toggled grid view and an easy-to-find layer arrangement tool, the app has you covered. Once you've created your perfect social media image, you can share (or queue in Buffer, for premium users) your image and the accompanying post without ever leaving Snappa.

Unfortunately, Snappa's free plan is more limited than similar apps, allowing only 5 shares or downloads per month, which won't be enough for many brands. You also cannot save designs in Snappa's free plan. However, the free plan is a good way to test the app and see if it's right for you.

Snappa Pricing: Free for 5 downloads or shares per month; from $10/month for unlimited downloads, shares, and social accounts, as well as full access to Snappa's template library and Buffer integration.

Gravit Designer (Web, Mac, Windows, Linux, Chrome OS)

Best for more advanced social media graphic design

Gravit Designer

If you’re intimidated by advanced tools like Photoshop, GIMP, or Sketch, but need more functionality than you can get from a tool like Canva or Desygner, Gravit Designer may be the tool for you.

Gravit Designer includes many of the classic graphic design functions of tools like Photoshop, Sketch, and GIMP—such as layers, drawing tools, grouping, shapes, text, effects, and more—with a much more simplified, easy-to-learn interface.

As a self-described intermediate (on my best days) designer, Gravit Designer suited me perfectly. All the controls and effects I needed were easily available, so I could really make the design my own without spending a lot of time starting from scratch with Photoshop and its overabundance of tools. A tutorials tab in Gravit Designer's main view also gives you ready access to all the knowledge you need to get started.

While Gravit Designer is ideal for building your own designs from scratch, it does come with a small library of templates pre-sized for uses like blog posts and social media images. Start with one of these preset canvases, or define your own. The app also offers a small library of shapes, illustrations, and icons. While not comprehensive as the asset libraries included with some other apps, it's nonetheless a handy addition to a tool that already does so much.

Want to backup your design files or make them easily shareable with your team once you're done? Gravit Designer is built to sync with the Gravit Cloud, which is also free. Simply create a Gravit account, enable the sync, and you’ll be set!

Gravit Designer Price: Free

BONUS: Use Presentation Software (Web, Mac, Windows)

Microsoft Powerpoint

While most of us think of tools like Keynote and PowerPoint as strictly for presentations, they actually work well as a very basic but flexible graphic design tool for blog and social media images.

In a presentation app, you can easily paste, crop, and adjust photos, add and arrange shapes, and add text—all with just a few clicks within a software interface you're likely already familiar with. Then, when you're done, just export the slide as a JPG or PNG image and share it as normal. The main benefit of using presentation software for your graphic design is the freedom to work quickly without worrying about needing to learn an entirely new piece of software.

If you don't already have Keynote or PowerPoint, there are free alternatives, such as Google Slides or PowerPoint Online. However, in my experience, these online presentation apps usually aren't as easy to use with images, since they can't easily use your clipboard to copy/paste images—a key benefits of desktop tools like Keynote or PowerPoint. They're also not as fast as an offline tool. PowerPoint Online also has fewer image editing tools than PowerPoint desktop (for example, you cannot adjust image color or opacity, and you have a very limited font list).


Whether you're looking to draw extra attention to that blog post you're sharing or want to design a full-blown branded Facebook ad campaign, these graphic design apps have your back.

But even the best tool can't make up for a lack of knowledge. Check out Design 101: How to Make Great Graphics without Design Skills and learn the principles you need to succeed in creating standout images for social media.

Design image by Mia Baker.

Photo of Alex Minchin

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