I begged my girl Mickey to write this post for you guys, because creating aesthetically pleasing images is not only helpful in blogging, it’s downright necessary.
She didn’t want to give away all of her secrets (I don’t blame her), but she was down for giving you a few pointers to help you create better blog graphics. Mickey has been doing it on Horkey HandBook’s behalf for awhile now and it’s easily apparent when I try to do one of my own. 😉
Take it away Mickey!
Creating good blog graphics is becoming the norm in the blogging world.
You need graphics if you want to share your blog post on social media. Graphics not only help you establish your brand online, they make your posts easier to read and they help others share your posts more easily with their own audience.
In this post, I’ll share four things to pay attention to when you create a graphic for your blog.
Disclaimer: I am not a graphic designer, and I don’t claim to be one. I’m not claiming to be an expert either. I’m just a graphic design enthusiast who has reached these conclusions through old-fashioned trial-and-error and a lot (a lot!) of independent study.
Sometimes, I am mortified as I look at images that I created a year ago, and find about one hundred ways they can be improved. I’m sure my style and process will continue to evolve and change, just as it should.
Another thing worth mentioning is that I’m a natural simplifier.
I believe in the beauty of simplicity and “less is more” is not just a cliche as far as I’m concerned.
This is why I tend to use fewer fonts, fewer words and fewer colors in my images than most people.
Gina says that creating graphics is my superpower. Alas, no. My superpower lies in gathering resources that I constantly consult when I need to create graphics.
I’ll share some of these resources in this post.
As always, my advice is to try it out and use what works for you.
So try stuff. And don’t get bogged down by the many options. You have to start somewhere and you can always course correct along the way. I guarantee you will!
I was one of the early adopters of Canva and I use the free version for creating graphics. PicMonkey is another great alternative, but it’s not as versatile. Although the learning curve for Canva is a little bit steeper than for PicMonkey, especially for a newbie, I think you should try it. The free Canva Design School will walk you through the basics of how to use the tool, while also teaching you basic graphic design principles.
Your images don’t have to look perfect.
But there are ways to DIY the images to make them look professional and aesthetically pleasing.
Here are four tips to get you started:
1. Use an Image That Doesn’t Look Like Stock
I’ve had my fair share of sitting through corporate presentations and being bored by Powerpoint slides.
Pretty much around the same time is when I became allergic to stock images that look like stock images.
You know what I’m talking about.
The one in which everyone is smiling as if they’re in a toothpaste commercial.
And they’re awkwardly shaking hands and smiling. And they’re all dressed in starched business attire… and smiling.
And there’s this woman who’s holding a giant clock in her hand to symbolize time management. And she’s smiling.
Yeah, I wouldn’t touch those with a ten foot pole.
There are so many websites out there that offer free Creative Commons Zero photographs that are fresh, authentic and definitely don’t look like stock images.
Almost too many sites, really.
It’s easy to get lost in them and spend hours scrolling through pictures looking for the perfect one for that post. I’ve been there, done that and came up with a system.
Why do they agree to this? Simply for the exposure that a site like Unsplash brings to a photographer. It’s akin to a freelance writer doing guest posts to attract an audience and get portfolio samples.
Unsplash sends out an email every 10 days with a collection of 10 pictures curated by a creative entrepreneur. And when people source images from Unsplash, that’s where they generally stop.
There’s nothing wrong with that. But the downside is that your site will end up looking like all the others that have used the same photo. (Gina: I’ve been SO guilty of this in the past!)
But not you! You’re smart enough to take that extra step.
The extra step is to create a free account on Unsplash, and get access to an ever-growing library of photos. It is literally growing every day as new users add high-quality pictures under the Creative Commons Zero. Creating the free account will allow you to curate your own collections.
So whenever I have time, I create collections of photos that I might use in blog graphics.
When I need to create a blog post image, I don’t have to scour the internet for the right photo. I just go to my collections and pick one, download it and upload it in Canva.
That way, I’m not going on a wild goose photo chase when I’m on a deadline.
Other resources for Creative Commons photos:
Please double check the copyright to the images on these sites before using them in your graphics.
2. Use an Overlay to Create Contrast
Once I’ve chosen my image, and uploaded it in Canva, the first thing I do is add an overlay. Adding text straight on the image can make the text hard to read. I use the overlay as a buffer to create contrast for the text to stand on.
Some bloggers add an overlay over the entire image (and that looks great!), but I usually add the overlay only to the middle portion of the image. I still want the original image to be visible, and not just a shadow in the background.
You can opt out of adding the overlay if the image you’ve chosen has a lot of white space where you can add the text.
For example, take this blog graphic from a post written by Gina.
Pro tip: I start with a white overlay, and then adjust the transparency from there. You can also start with a black or grey overlay and use the transparency of the overlay to adjust the “feel” of your image.
3. Use Fonts Judiciously
Choosing fonts that look good together is really hard.
There are so many options, and even more ways of combining them.
My first rule of thumb is not to use more than three fonts per blog graphic.
My second rule of thumb is to combine serif fonts and sans-serif fonts. Why? Serif fonts by themselves are hard to read on a screen. Sans serif fonts balance them.
(Don’t know what in the world I’m talking about and who this sheriff is? Check this out!)
Also, don’t fall into the trap of only using script fonts. You may have fantasies of your blog graphic looking as if it was penned by Jane Austen herself, but that’s not the effect it has on others.
There’s no way you will get your message across if your audience can’t even read it.
My favorite combination now is to pair a bold square font with a script font.
Speaking of fonts, do you ever pay attention to spacing? You should. Both to the spacing between the letters and the spacing between the lines.
Say it again. READABILITY!
Typography is a fascinating and intricate subject, and graphic designers study it in many a courses. There’s that much to say about it.
Instead, here are some resources that will help you with choosing and pairing fonts.
- Typegenius – To find a good font combination.
- Evoking Emotions Through Typography – A very informative presentation from a graphic designer about the effects that fonts have on our emotions.
- Wordmark.it – If you want to know how a certain text will look written in different fonts. Just type the word or phrase and see it appear in hundreds of different fonts.
4. Use Colors Judiciously
The possibilities are endless. Go wild!
Not so fast.
Canva informs me that there are 16 million colors to choose from on the color wheel. Talk about analysis paralysis.
There are entire university courses on how to choose the best colors for your brand. And if you have a degree in Marketing, you’ve almost certainly had to sit through a class in Color Psychology.
These are the three rules of thumb that I use:
1. Keep the color combinations simple and consistent.
Use roughly the same colors in all of the graphics that you design.
Preferably those are also the colors of your branding elements. It will make it easier for your audience to associate that color palette with your website or blog.
2. HEX codes are your friends.
You know that combination of numbers and letters that looks like a censored swear word?
Those are the hex codes.
You can use them to make sure that your branding uses the same colors throughout. I know and use the same hex codes for all the images I create for Gina’s website.
3. Be easy on the eyes.
Choose colors that are easy to read over the image that you’re using as a background.
Make sure there is contrast between the images and the background.
And unless you want your blog graphic to resemble a flyer for mattress liquidation sale, go easy with the flashy colors. There’s a time and a place for that. The time is never and the place is inside a highlighter.
Some people seem to be born with an eye for color, and they’re the ones who usually have a great eye for fashion too. Me, not so much. That’s why I use these resources when in doubt.
- Color guide for content marketing – A crash course in color theory.
- Brandcolors – These are the hex codes for the world’s biggest brands. Coca-Cola? They’re such a ed1c16. Facebook? That baby is 3b5998.
- Coolors – Hit the space bar and it will generate color schemes for you.
- DeGraeve – Enter the URL of an image and it will reveal the hex codes and the palette.
If you want to improve the blog graphics that you’re creating, here’s my honest (and very obvious) piece of advice: Always be learning.
Learn from free resources online, such as the ones I linked to.
Learn from what others are doing.
Google “boutique graphic design studios.” Take a look at their portfolio pages. Not just an “Aww, that’s cute” look. Study their designs and ask yourself why they did it that way. Why did they choose that font spacing? What effects does the color have on me, the person looking at the design? What can I learn from their font pairing?
Always be curious. Never copy. Always learn.
Do you have any other tips for creating blog graphics? I’d love to read them. It’s part of that learning thing I was mentioning…