Top Resources to Save Money in Web and Graphic Design Projects

Starting a career in web or graphic design can be quite expensive, especially when you look at the price of all of those must-have design programs and resources.

Some graphic designers are able to purchase such items as the Adobe Creative Suite for a fairly reasonable student discount, but what if you are self-taught? And even with the discount, the price is still quite steep for many jobless high school or college students. Then comes the ongoing cost of purchasing other supplies, such as royalty-free stock photos or vectors. When you add it all up, freelancing as a designer comes with a high price!

The following list contains both free and cheap resources for helping designers save money, whether in print or web design. Keep in mind that there is a reason that custom photography, vectors, professional developers, and design software cost so much – they are high quality and chock-full of features. While some of these resources below are good enough to compete with expensive alternatives, eventually – once you are a famous designer making the big bucks – you may want to pull the trigger on at least a few of the programs from the Adobe Suite or use a professional photographer for high-end projects.

Free and Cheap Software Alternatives

Let’s face it, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and other programs in the suite are just plain fun. Unfortunately, the fun comes with a price. So, if you need an alternative for now, check out some of the following software:

Photoshop Replacements

Hands down, Gimp is definitely the best alternative to Photoshop. As a free image editor, it is quite robust with many of the same manipulation, painting, and animation features that come in Photoshop. Another good one to check out is PixlrEditor. While it doesn’t have as many features as Gimp, you can use it online – no need to download the program to your computer – leaving your memory free for other design programs.

Illustrator Replacements

Inkscape is probably one of the most popular replacements for Illustrator, as it comes with everything you need to create vector art, minus the fancy extra features found in Illustrator (like live trace). If you have a Mac, iDraw works fairly well for simple graphics but comes at the cost of $24.99 and DrawPlus is a good Windows alternative.

Premier Replacements

The Premier software in the Adobe Suite is probably one of the best programs available when it comes to balancing features with cost. But if you simply cannot afford such a purchase right now, Lightworks for Windows has a free version with more editing features available through the $60 version. iMovie is Mac’s version of a video editor and is quite affordable at only $14.99, but it still only does slightly more than basic editing.

For Linux users, however, there are a few more alternatives that come with some awesome features:

  1. Kdenlive – a free, open source video editor that works with GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, and Free BSD; the recent update includes quite a few improvements
  2. PiTiVi – a free, open source video editor with a strong community surrounding it and a very usable interface
  3. OpenShot – a free, open source, linear video editor with continuous updates and new features added

Dreamweaver Replacements

Aptana Studio 3

Aptana Studio 3 is recommended by many designers as an excellent program for web development as it is compatible with CSS, FTP, and PHP. Another free Dreamweaver alternative is KompoZer for Windows, which doesn’t require you to know any code. Blue Griffon is another great What You See is What You Get free and open source editor based on Firefox.

After Effects Replacements

For Windows, Wax is an excellent 2D and 3D animation software that comes with loads of presets and even a mobile version for both the Android and iPhone. Blender is another excellent open source 3D software that comes with a very supportive community of users. It is compatible with Windows, Linux, or Mac. If you are looking for an animation software made specifically for Mac, Motion 5 comes at the cost of $49.95 but with lots of features similar to After Effects.

Flash Replacements

Adobe Flash is of course a difficult one to replace, simply because flash animation was developed by Adobe. However, FlashDevelop is an open source program made for ActionScript 2 & 3 and Haxe development. It can be tough to learn but an excellent replacement for Adobe Flash once you get the hang of it. Plus it has a powerful community behind it. Another great alternative is Stencyl, which was made for game developers and requires no coding, unless you want to. Publish your games for iOS, Android, HTML5, Flash, Windows, and Mac. The updated version costs but the older one is still free. If you would rather just stick with HTML5 animation, Tumult Hype just rolled out version 1.6 for $59.99, and no coding is required to create your animation. Finally, Vectorian allows you to create Flash animation for free with no coding required.

Commercial-use Stock Photos, Vectors, and More

Finding stock photos or vectors that you can use commercially can be quite a pain and at times very expensive. Fortunately, there are some legitimate websites out there for finding free or cheap royalty-free images. PhotoPin is fairly easy to use. Simply enter your search term and once your results pop up, select the “Commercial” checkbox on left hand side. This will filter them much more accurately. However, you will still want to click on the image to visit their Flickr page and double check the author’s terms of use. A few of the images that pop up in commercial results are marked as Creative Commons Non-commercial use.

Since PhotoPin only searches for images on Flickr, you could just go to the Flickr Creative Commons search. You will first need to select one of the Creative Commons options to start searching by keyword. Obviously, Attribution images are those that only require you to include attribution when you use the photo. Of course you will not want to select Non-commercial unless for personal use, but you could use a Share-alike photo if you will allow a Share-alike licensing on the work you create with this photo. Only choose Non-derivitave photos if you plan to make no changes to the photo at all. Keep in mind that if a photo is marked as a Getty Image (scroll down on the image’s page until you see licensing information in the right hand side), then you will need to request permission for use, even if it is a Creative Commons photo.

But Flickr is mostly only good for photographs. What about when you need vector illustrations or a video as well? iStockPhoto is great for finding royalty-free stock photos, illustrations, videos, and even audio clips; but all come with a varying range of cost. You can save money by purchasing credits in bulk.

On ShutterStock, you can choose to pay as you go or pay for a yearly subscription for thousands of royalty-free illustrations, photos, and more. Stock.xchng includes many royalty-free images completely for free, but you are limited to a certain number of downloads a day. However, I have yet to have run into my download limit, and I have only the most basic account.

All of the stock photo sites that require payments have options for saving money, such as iStockPhoto’s method of paying for credits in bulk. Or you may even be able to find coupons, such as these 3 iStockPhoto coupons on Vecteezy – all for different amounts of credit purchases. Other great places to find coupons are RetailMeNot and StockPhotoSecrets, which include coupons for stock photo sites other than iStockPhoto, such as Getty Images on Flickr or ShutterStock.

Website Builders

One way to save yourself money – and to make more money – is to save yourself time on projects, and one of the best ways to do this in web design is with a site builder made specifically for professional designers. Web designers without development experience can also eliminate the cost of hiring a developer by using a site builder. And despite what some may think, using a website builder is not cheating. It’s smart business. You save yourself money and time and still provide your client with an incredibly professional website. The following website building tools are made specifically with designers in mind:

  1. Breezi is fairly new but was created specifically with designers in mind. It comes with customizable apps, visual CSS editing, skins for updating your look without the need to start over, hosting and CMS, and your websites will be mobile responsive and adaptive – and all this plus tons more comes at only $9/month.
  2. IMCreator for designers comes with an easy drag and drop HTML editor, use of templates or the ability to start completely from scratch, and a CMS for easy updates by the client. With the Pro package, you can create and manage multiple domains.
  3. SquareSpace for developers is now available in Beta but does require knowledge of coding. However, if you are a designer with coding experience, this can be a great option to help save time because of the templates. Plus you can design and test your website for free, and only pay $16/mo once you are ready to go live.

While many more amazing tools are available, the ones listed above are quite popular in the web and graphic design world. However, if you have a favorite time and money-saving resource you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment below!