Let’s be honest about this: good graphic design, the kind that ends up on advertisements in magazines or on top rated websites or even on clothing and accessories is very, very difficult stuff. It requires a blend of artistry and creativity with marketing and advertising savvy as well as a decent amount of technical know-how. Not everyone who sets out to be a graphic designer is going to be able to pay the bills that way.
That all said, graphic design can be lots of fun for anyone: who says you have to design either the next iconic corporate logo (Nike’s “Swoosh” or Fed Ex’s block print/arrow, as fine examples) or the next viral image (a blue and red Obama looking off to the horizon hopefully comes to mind) to make something you can enjoy the hell out of and show off to friends and family with pride. Or that can make your next presentation to the company pop off the Power Point slide. You don’t need to create masterpieces to create some successful graphics, you just need to identify your needs and meet them. And here are five programs that will help you do just that.
OK, this is going to be a curveball and may surprise some people, but our #5 pick is actually just good old PowerPoint. First off, if you got most any MS Office software, you likely got PowerPoint included in there, so that’s a plus. Second, you can download it for free or cheap of you poke around, so there’s that even if point one doesn’t apply, and third, who isn’t at least relatively competent with MS Office software by now? You will be amazed at how much you can really do image editing and placement and layout/graphic design-wise once you start to fiddle with this trusty old workhorse!
4 Adobe InDesign
If Adobe’s Creative Suite is the gold standard, then their InDesign offering is the silver. It is still pricey, thus silver’s spot at #4 rather than a customary #2, but it’s less than half the price of Creative Suite and is still totally professional grade. You could easily design magazine or webpage layouts with this program that would pass muster at the highest standards of excellence. Or you could just make a fun flyer for your family reunion picnic. There is something of a learning curve with InDesign, but for those already competent with various types of software it will be a reverse exponential curve, with you learning faster and faster once you get the basics of the program down.
Scribus is no Adobe Creative Suite in two important ways: one, it is not the best graphic design software you can get, which is a con. But second… it is free, which is a serious pro! Scribus is a downloadable, open-source program that democratizes graphic design in that lovely way the internet occasionally does with things. You will, unfortunately, find a steep learning curve with this program, designed and maintained by people with accelerated computer skills as it is. But if you soldier on and master the program, you will find yourself able to competently design layouts, alter and edit photos, create images, etc. And without paying anything but your time.
2 Xara Designer Pro 7
Whew, take a breather, we can knock a thousand dollars off the price of the Adobe suite above there. This software package will run you $299. Much more palatable. And for most casual graphic design enthusiasts, a fine bit of software indeed! From photo editing capabilities to layout design and editing tools, Xara is a lighter weight, Jack-of-All-Trades type of program, superlative at nothing, but able enough at most everything you are likely to need.
1 Adobe Creative Suite 5.5
No surprise that the top of the list in terms of quality and versatility is Adobe’s Creative Suite 5.5. Here’s where there is a catch that might have you bounce right along to numbers 2 through 5 (and we would not judge you)… you could get a decent albeit well-loved used car for what you’ll pay for it! Yep, $1,300. So breathe in, breathe out, and then know this: Creative Suite 5.5 is absolutely professional grade stuff. You will be hard pressed to dream up a design element or technique this software can’t handle. That’s largely true because this suite is really many powerful programs all hanging out under one roof, like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. So if you want a one stop graphic design powerhouse, this is it.