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Your Guide to Free Online Resources

I remember working on the school newspaper as a senior in high school thinking, “There must be an easier way to do this.” To produce the paper, we were employing X-acto knives, technical pens, dictionaries, drafting tables and rubber cement. Cut and paste literally meant cutting and pasting articles and photos to produce a page layout that would become “camera ready.” All the training that I received over a two-year period about page layout and design came from my instructor and little else. Further research on a career in graphic design would have required a trip to the public library to check out a book on the subject.

Your Guide to Free Online Resources

Having the right fonts, textures and images can make all the difference.

(Originally published in the May/June 2022 issue of Insights.)

I remember working on the school newspaper as a senior in high school thinking, “There must be an easier way to do this.” To produce the paper, we were employing X-acto knives, technical pens, dictionaries, drafting tables and rubber cement. Cut and paste literally meant cutting and pasting articles and photos to produce a page layout that would become “camera ready.” All the training that I received over a two-year period about page layout and design came from my instructor and little else. Further research on a career in graphic design would have required a trip to the public library to check out a book on the subject.

If finding information about a particular subject matter felt like a trickle in the 1990s, it’s a fire hose today. I take it for granted that information is available at my fingertips whenever I want. The difficulty now is determining what is relevant and useful.

Over the last decade or so, I’ve discovered many online resources that are indispensable to me and my career. These resources include, but aren’t limited to, fonts, images/photos, production tutorials, community resources, templates, color knowledge and examples, graphic design tutorials, fabrication tips and design inspiration.

A few disclaimers and cautions before proceeding:

  • There are too many resources to list and discuss in a single article. I will, however, cover how to acquire all my online resources.
  • Online resources will come and go—some will remain free, and others may not. Such is the nature of online content.
  • Online resources should never replace creativity. The work of design and production should remain in the hands of the creator.
  • Many of these resources appear in “best of” lists. Be aware that downloading anything from sketchy sources can have consequences.
  • If you fall in love with an online resource, bookmark it. Then make a habit of exporting your bookmarks at regular intervals.
  • This article covers a short list of favorites. Most of the links to free content exist on my Excel file. You can download handouts for the best online resources for designs, templates, photos, and production

Fonts

My philosophy on acquiring fonts: some is good, more is better and too much is just right. Having a nearly inexhaustible and free source for different fonts is almost sinful. My go-to site for free fonts is dafont.com (Figure B). Not only does this font repository contain one of the largest font caches, but it also has filters to sort the type of fonts you are looking for (e.g., serif, sans serif, decorative, script, etc.) All the fonts are free; however, some are for personal use only. But guess what? There is a filter that allows you to sort for fonts that are completely free-use as well.

Figure B

Figure C

Another font favorite is fontsquirrel.com (Figure C). What makes Font Squirrel different from other font sources is that it does not actually store the fonts for download; it simply redirects you to other online locations where a font can be found. In that way, Font Squirrel allows the user to discover even more resources for free fonts. The website also contains a font identification feature (Figure D), which is similar to the feature in myfonts.com called “WhatTheFont.”

Figure D

A definition of graphic design is the marriage of images and text to convey a message. Fonts are 50% of that equation, which is why it’s so important to have the right font for your project. These websites mentioned are just two of the 18 websites from my Excel file.

Textures

Textures might not be something that comes to mind when designing a project. As someone who prefers the vector side of design as opposed to the rasterized side (think pixels, images and photos), I’m aware that having this preferred design penchant can sometimes make my artwork look repetitive and simplistic. Adding texture to a design can add complexity and interesting detail in what might otherwise be a large area of homogenous color. Figure E shows a simple vector square next to a square that has a semi-transparent texture dropped on top. For a real-world example, my poster project in Figure F has a texture layer over the top of the green and yellow vector artwork.

Figure E

Figure F

Figure G

To be sure, this is just one of the uses that texture can bring to a project. One of my latest discoveries, texturelabs.org (Figure G), has thousands of textures organized by media type. All images can be downloaded at high-resolution for free. No account setup is needed. 

But wait, there’s more! This website also happens to have some of the best Photoshop tutorials I’ve ever seen. This is largely due to the expertise of the website’s presenter and Photoshop guru, Brady. Brady effortlessly demonstrates his advanced Photoshop talents while explaining his techniques without losing the viewer in technical jargon that is often the case with other YouTubers of this ilk.

Even if you do not have or use Photoshop, the concepts are solid, and the techniques can be interpreted for other Photoshop alternatives, like these free ones: GIMP, Pixlr, Photo Pos Pro, Apple Photo and others. Corel Photo-Paint can also duplicate many of the same functions as Photoshop.

Images/Photos

Before COVID, I was tasked with designing a jacket cover for a friend and author working on a self-help book. After reading the early draft, I was on the hunt for an image to use as inspiration. I found it at digitalcollections.nypl.org (Figure H). With over 2 million options, it’s one of the largest free repositories for digital images. The image we ultimately used, and the current design draft, are shown in Figure I. These images are mostly free, including free of copyrights, and have a filter to sort as such. If you need images with a more modern feel, check out pixabay.com or pxhere.com. An account is needed for both, but it’s smooth sailing after that.

Figure H

Figure I

These are just three of the 15 sites listed in the Excel file.

As mentioned earlier, there are too many free resources to cover in a single article. There are many resources to discover for production, templates, color combinations and samples, community forums, free education, documentaries, fabrication techniques and much more.

Also, as promised, a tutorial on how to export bookmarks (to prevent the loss of your favorite sites when replacing your old computer) can be found at bit.ly/exportingbookmarks.

And yes, you can find this link, and much more, in the Excel file.

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