Illustrating Social Media Content

An Image Says More Than a Thousand Words

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Not a lot of people are aware that social media managers have to be copywriters, graphic designers and programmers all rolled into one. We learn as we go, fixing things, figuring things out. Fortunately, there are some web tools that make the imagery part of our jobs a whole lot easier. Today I’ll present four different options for different skill levels that have the power to make your postings stand out among the myriad of posts on a social wall.

Option #1: The ready meal of the image world

Smack a nice quote onto a lovely background image by using Buffer’s Pablo tool.

Pablo is Buffer’s web app specifically tailored to designing images for social media posts. To try it out I simply google “quotes about social media” and find something Nicola Formichetti, artistic director at Diesel, has said. I copy/paste it into Pablo and choose one of the background images offered. I could upload my own, but the point here is that I don’t want to spend my time figuring out what I could use, instead relying on the choices Buffer is giving me. I pick a serif font simply because I fancy the idea that serifs make any quote seem like it carries more weight. Pablo gives me the option to share my photo directly to social media, but since I want to use it in this blog post I download it.

And voilá, a decently sized PNG image:

A social media photo made with Buffer’s Pablo web app, featuring a quote by Nicola Formichetti on an ocean wave background

Pros: You don’t need to know anything about image editing to use it.
Cons: By choosing from the range of images available the resulting images will end up looking rather generic.
Pro tip: Upload your own background photo to make it look a little less generic.
When to use: When you want to use copy, e.g. a quote, in an image to liven up your blog post or illustrate your Facebook post or tweet and are short on time, then Pablo is a perfectly viable and quick option.

Option #2: Create an image with Drag & Drop

Drag & Drop images, icons, copy etc. into one image with Canva. No photoshop skills required.

Canva is a web app that lets you create images with simple Drag & Drop. With Canva you can pick from existing designs or start from scratch, but in any case your first decision is based on what size you need – Facebook, Twitter, or even a custom size. Then you pick backgrounds, icons, images, styled text boxes and so on. It’s a pleasant surprise that I can easily change the icons’ colours, even input hex codes.

Canva has a search option, so I decide search for an image of Ryan Gosling but, obviously, I’ll have to get a bit creative here. Canva offers me a baby duck, so that will have to do. It still looks a bit empty. I need copy! And I still need a background image to make it all come together. Ah yes, there it is.

Image created with Canva web app, featuring a baby duck crossing a highway and saying, “Hey girl, your social media post is looking damn fine today”.

Alright, I think I may have created Frankenstein’s monster here. But Canva doesn’t feel intuitive to me. I find it very distracting since there are just too many options available. While a lot of stuff is indeed free in Canva it’s usually just the more basic stuff, especially when it comes to backgrounds. More refined images usually cost around $1 per piece. Hence the watermarks in my Frankenduck image.

Pros: Canva really is Drag & Drop. You don’t have to think about image quality etc., just drag stuff onto the canvas and download the finished image.
Cons: You can really bungle things up here if you’re not a designer. My ugly duckling makes a pretty good point of that.
Pro Tip: Know what you want to say and what you want it to look like, or you’ll get overwhelmed by all the options Canva offers.
When to use: Actual Photoshop skills might be a hindrance here because you’re probably used to more complicated design thinking. However, if you know nothing about photo editing but know very well what you want, Canva might work really well for you.

Option #3: Mini-Photoshop as a Webapp

Pixlr Editor is the poor person’s Photoshop. It’s for free, has everything you need in a pinch, and it runs in your browser.

Pixlr Editor lets you do a lot of the things you can do with Photoshop, but online and for free. You can upload images from your computer or open images from a URL, and then do almost everything in the way of modifying said pictures. You can resize, colour correct, blur, sharpen etc. And when you’re done you simply export the image to your computer or even directly to Facebook.

Screenshot of Pixlr Editor web app

Pros: It works very much the way a lot of us are used to from using Adobe Photoshop but it’s a webapp and for free.
Cons: It looks a little old school.
Pro Tip: If you need only mild cosmetic adjustments you can use the more simplified Pixlr Express web app, which offers colour adjustment and filter options, or opt for pixlr-o-matic to easily give photos a retro look.
When to use: If you can’t afford Photoshop, when you’re forced to work on a computer that wouldn’t be able to run a high-end photo editing program, or when you’re on the go forced to work without your usual editing tools.

Option #4: The New Photoshop

Affinity Photo is a professional photo editing software for Mac.

This is the most pro option I am covering here today. Affinity Photo was created exclusively for Mac and is currently for free in Beta. It’s targeted at higher end users, both amateurs and professional designers. Basically, they’re targeting everyone who has been using Adobe Photoshop for digital photo editing in the past. The developer Serif is taking a big shot at Adobe, since they are also launching products to rival Adobe’s Indesign and Illustrator. Those aren’t for free, but so far Affinity Photo is and it’s worth giving it a shot (download the Beta here).

Affinity Photo has a sleek look and is actual software that will run on your computer. Those who know Adobe Photoshop well will need to look around a bit and acquaint themselves with the program but should find most, if not all, features they are used to from Photoshop. It can read from and export to .psd files as well.

Pros: After it’s out of Beta, Affinity Photo will cost a $ 49.99 and will have no subscription charges (while Adobe is sticking with its subscription model). In contrast to the web apps mentioned above, Affinity Photo will let you work offline as well.
Cons: It’s only developed for Mac, so Windows users will be at a disadvantage here unless they choose to emulate.
Pro Tip: Use the Beta to familiarise yourself with the program so you can figure out whether you will want to switch from Adobe or not.
When to use: If you’re looking for a change from Adobe Photoshop or see yourself unwilling to pay the steep subscription fees in the future, or if you just want to try something new.