As marketers, we often wear multiple hats, writing emails and then designing the banner image for the email, or setting up a social media campaign and designing the image that goes with it. 

Design may not be every marketer’s specialty (it certainly isn’t mine!), so I’ve found it very helpful to have a few go-to design tools in my back pocket for the stray blog post banner or social media image that needs creating. For these situations, here are a few of my favorite design tools that help me easily and quickly craft visual content.

1. Fabulous photos: Unsplash

Unsplash is a fan-favorite, free photo site. With a free account, you have access to hundreds of beautiful images that you can incorporate into your marketing materials. The account takes 30 seconds to set up, so you’re downloading images in minutes!

 This photo below is from Unsplash. I then uploaded it to Canva (more on that later) and added the white font. Easy peasy! 

For more great photo sites that provide free, non-stock photos, read our article, Where to Get Great (Non-stock!) Email Marketing Images.

2. Simple sizing: Preview for Mac or Paint for PC 

You’re probably thinking, “Preview, Paint, really?” Hear me out. These may not be the most robust tools, but between emails and social media, it’s important to have the right-sized image for each channel. If you just need to crop, rotate, or resize your image, Preview and Paint quickly get the job done. It’s nothing fancy, but a solid tool to have in your arsenal.

3. Overall design creation: Canva

In my opinion, Canva is one of the best free design tools out there. You can layer, add text, and choose from a free library of images. Canva also has pre-set dimensions for social posts, display ads, and blog banners, so you don’t have to double-check your dimensions before you start creating. If you’re not sure where to start, choose one of Canva’s pre-created templates and customize it for your brand.

To show you what’s possible in Canva, I created a collage of email templates from our newly released Email Template Gallery. With the goal of creating an image for social media, I chose the Twitter post option for the size. I added a background color and then uploaded all of the images that I wanted to include. I played with the orientation and transparency of each image until I was happy with the result. 

4. Get with the GIFs: GifMaker

Gifs are a great way to add pizazz to emails, blog posts, and other promotional materials. To make gifs, try using Gifmaker. It’s a very simple gif-making tool that allows you to quickly and easily build gifs with multiple images. 

In the example below, I adjusted the positioning of the templates in 4 different images in Canva, uploaded those images to Gifmaker, and voila! A few minutes later, we have a gif! For a gif-making tutorial, read the article How to Make Your Own Email Gifs by our resident expert, Kate Schmeisser.

5. Videos: Lumen5 

As a very visual medium, video tends to work well in social media. But for those of us who don’t have a background in multimedia or film, figuring out how to even approach a video project can feel daunting. 

Luckily, Lumen5 makes it easy. On their free version, you can choose from a variety of sizes and color templates. They not only have images in their media library, but also short stock video clips that you can pull into your video to make it more dynamic. 

A couple of disadvantages of the free version are that you are unable to customize the color schemes and the video ends with a Lumen5 logo that you cannot remove. Otherwise, the free version gives you enough flexibility with the copy and images to create fun, unique videos.

I made the video below in about 15 minutes. (It isn’t perfect, but the example gives you an idea of what the tool is capable of.) 

6. Email design: Twilio SendGrid’s Email Template Gallery

As marketers, we’re frequently adjusting, adding to, or redesigning our email templates to fit with the latest promotion or email endeavor. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to play too much with your template and mess up the design (been there, done that!). To avoid this, try using pre-created templates. 

Our Email Template Gallery has 20 free, downloadable templates for a variety of email types including, newsletters, holiday promotions, and transactional emails. Avoid the stress of broken CTA buttons and wonky images by using templates you know have been professionally tested across email providers and devices. 

Design tool takeaways

Keep these go-to design tools in mind for the next time you find a project that requires design on your plate. They’re great for quick, simple designs, like adding text to an image or layering images on top of each other to create a collage. 

If you’re looking for some serious design work, do yourself a favor and hire a professional. These tools will help you with straightforward designs, but can’t replace the artistry or skill of a professional designer.

And for one last tool suggestion, try using Kami for commenting and annotating the design professional’s work with questions or suggestions.

It’s a tool that’s geared toward the education industry, but it works really well for design project edits, allowing you to draw, tag, and comment on different elements of the design.

Have fun testing out the tools, and good luck designing! For best practice tips on email design, check out our article, 10 Tips for Designing and Developing Emails



Julie Griffin
Julie is the content marketing associate at SendGrid, helping to write and edit the blog, as well as enhance SendGrid’s SEO efforts. When she isn’t at the office, you’ll find her buzzing around Denver’s coffee shops, breweries, and yoga studios.