Why read this? : We share a selection of our favourite online graphic design resources. Learn how to use these to learn specific tools and techniques, and source specific design elements. Read this to learn where to find the best online graphic design resources.
Variety is the spice of life. And life’s certainly spicy when you work with graphic design. When your job is to deliver visual communications, you never know what’s coming next. You have to be open-minded, stay positive, and be prepared to flex your creative skills.
You might get a brief, instantly have a clear idea, and then bang out great work. But, let’s face it, it’s rarely like that at all. Most of the time, it’s hard work.
99% of graphic design is hard work
Often, there’s no brief. Or, there is one, but it’s vague and unhelpful – “I need a new logo”.
Or, it goes the other way. Too much information. A brief that’s not brief. Prescriptive demands with no chance to add your graphic design creative flair. “Change the rectangle to Hex colour system reference #6EA4BF, and add a 5% drop shadow”.
Maybe the brief just doesn’t inspire you. Or, it sparks a rough creative idea, but it’s one you’ve never done before. And you’re not quite sure how to do it.
And of course, there’s the ever-present challenge to do it quickly. Or, to do it cheaply. Or, even worse, to do it quickly AND cheaply.
Thankfully, EVERYONE who works with graphic design faces these challenges. That means there’s help out there if you know where to look. Those who’ve been through it before are usually happy to share their solutions. There’s a lot of good karma at work in graphic design. You should be able to find plenty of graphic design resources to meet these challenges.
The vague brief
Most graphic designer clients only care about what comes out of graphic design. They don’t care about how it gets done.
But, if you’re creating those things, you need more than “make it look great”. But, that’s a “brief” you see a lot in graphic design projects.
Briefs have to be more specific. The sharper the brief, the better the results. A good brief identifies the target audience and the design objective. It sets questions for the designer, which they have to use their design knowledge to answer.
For example, designers should know and use the Universal Principles of Design. Taken from the book by Lidwell, Holden and Butler, these 100+ principles share proven techniques which raise the impact of your designs. (You can download a graphic version of the book here. See also our separate design principles in marketing guide for more on this).
These principles go from “accessibility” – making objects and designs as usable, without modification, to as many people as possible – to the “weakest link” – a deliberate use of a weak element that will fail in order to protect other elements in the design from damage. They make every piece of design, including graphic design more appealing, impactful and usable for the audience.
Specific written briefs reduce ambiguity
Specific written briefs reduce ambiguity. They help the designer clarify expectations and give them a goal to work towards. Written briefs save time later down the line. They make it more likely the work will be what the client had in mind.
For example, if you’re asked to “make the T-shirt blue”, that’s unclear. What shade of blue do you mean? Navy blue? Sky blue? And do you mean the whole T-shirt including the design, or just the T-shirt’s base colour? If the initial response to a graphic design request is a bunch of questions, that’s a clear sign you need a better brief.
Designers often like to use their own brief format. That’s fine. There’s no definitive best format.
However, we usually like to start with our own communications brief format as a default. (Particularly for larger jobs)
It specifies key information about the target audience, the brand, and the business objectives.
All information which clarifies the brief. (Download this from our resources page, where you’ll also find other graphic design resources).
We would then normally also add a specification sheet to the brief. This varies by job.
This would cover design decisions like the overall size of the design, and grid-based guidelines on margins, gutters and spacial zones.
It works as a checklist to reduce technical errors.
The project triangle
The brief also sets expectations on the scope, cost and time elements of the job.
These make up the classic project triangle, which drives the overall quality of the project outcome.
Change one element, and one or both of the others adjust to balance out the change.
For example, adding more scope to the design means it takes longer or costs more.
If you want something cheaper, then you reduce the scope or increase the time available
And if you want something faster, you pay more or reduce the scope.
This helps overcome the scenario where the requestor expects the graphic designer to “magic” up a great design quickly and cheaply. It’s usually a request like this :-
Oh, I need a (image, graphic, design) for a (website, social media post, poster, brochure). This is what we’ve done before. Can you do something like that? But better? And I need it by the end of tomorrow, by the way. Oh, and I don’t really have much budget for this.
When the graphic designer is doing the work on behalf of a marketing agency, it can be the agency processes and templates which cause the overly detailed brief.
You have to find the right balance, where the graphic designer has enough information to do a good job. But not so much, they waste time up-front deciphering what’s needed.
The uninspiring brief
Sometimes briefs can be clear, but uninspiring.
You know what the requestor wants. But, you look at the words, and no ideas spring to mind.
Don’t worry. It happens more often than you think. Nobody walks around with a brain packed full of creative ideas all ready to go.
The obvious first choice is to jump on Google Images. Look for ideas from what other people have designed. But you soon realise there’s lots of design material out there. There’s no quality filter on Google Images, and you often don’t know where the idea came from.
So, often the best step is to go where there is a good-quality filter. And, you know exactly where the idea came from. That’s likely to be Behance and / or Dribbble. These are the best-known online design hubs with inspiring graphic design resources.
Behance describes itself as a social media platform “to showcase and discover creative work”. It’s owned by Adobe and has 10 million+ subscribers. It showcases professional and up-and-coming designers across all types of design skills.
The first thing which strikes you is the quantity of content. It can be overwhelming with pages and pages of designs from all over the world.
So, to find specific inspiration, you search for specific topics.
Example search on Behance
For example, say we wanted to create a design featuring an umbrella.
(Pretty topical and relevant given the recent heavy rains and flooding here in Australia).
The search results you see here give you an indication of the wide variety of creative inspiration you’ll find.
For example, there are architectural images from Norway (which were headlined as umbrella images). We got a Russian site with lots of simple but on-trend illustrations including umbrellas. Then, we got a photography project with extreme light editing, an anime manga-style project, and a retro illustration project related to the Netflix show, the Umbrella Academy.
A single search topic, with 5 completely different creative style results. (We also got some practical links to the Adobe Stock site, where we could search and buy actual umbrella graphics. If that’s what we wanted).
This is where Behance works best as a source of graphic design resources. It creates inspiration for how you might tackle a new project. While you obviously never copy other designs, you can be inspired by other designers’ work. You can create an idea mood board to help you move towards a final design. Or you can follow a style, but put your own creative thinking into the final design.
Behance - other functionality
But there’s even more to what you can do on Behance.
For example, you can filter by technology. So only looking at say Photoshop or Illustrator designs. You can comment on designs, give constructive feedback, ask questions and praise great work. And, you can save links to look at them again later via your own profile. You can even contact the designer directly.
For bigger agencies looking for unique styles, it’s often used to hire designers for specific projects. There’s even a jobs section.
Behance also has a section on training. You can access “how to” content to learn how to do all sorts of design work.
The only downside to using Behance is the search function is driven by tags added by the originator. So, if someone tags projects poorly, actually finding something specific can become harder.
Dribbble is similar in concept and content to Behance. The main difference is it’s independent from Adobe. So, you get a less Adobe-centric view of the world.
The scope is also a little tighter. There’s a definite focus on illustration and web design. It doesn’t have much on topics like photography, for example.
The quality of the graphic design resources and content is similar to Behance. It’s a great alternative if you can’t find what you need on Behance.
However, it does push the benefits of its paid-for “Pro” services quite hard. Some of the functionality is limited if you don’t pay. Not enough to make the site unusable, but clearly, it’s much less open than Behance. The focus is on more professional regular contributors compared to the more wide-open nature of Behance.
Example search on Dribbble
You can see the Illustration focus when we try the same “umbrella” search we ran on Behance. Dribble’s top responses are all Illustrations. Though with quite a difference in illustration styles.
You can see quite different illustrative approaches to colour, perspective, tone and use of lines.
If you’d already decided on illustration as your graphic design style, these would give you lots of ideas on how to tackle your brief.
Dribbble - other functionality
Similarly to Behance, the main other graphic design resources you’ll find on Dribbble are around jobs and training. You can look for work, or hire designers. Plus, you can access (paid-for) interactive workshops.
Between the 2 sites, Behance is usually our first point of call. It covers a wider range of topics. And it has more “free stuff” overall. We all like free stuff, don’t we? (This is probably down to Adobe making most of its money elsewhere, as we’ve covered in other articles).
But in terms of access to graphic design resources, both sites work well. Dribbble makes a useful alternative if Behance doesn’t do it for you.
The “I’m not sure how to do that” challenge
Both Behance and Dribbble offer access to learning courses and videos about all types of design skills.
In Behance’s case, these are normally live-streamed videos where you follow along with a designer as they work through a project. These are usually 1-3 hours long, with a focus on a particular topic. For example, creating a logo, or a specific output like a brochure or flyer.
However, for more formal training via Adobe, there’s also the Adobe Education Exchange site.
Adobe Education Exchange
This șite is mainly for those who teach graphic design. But even for your own learning as a graphic designer, it’s a useful place to access different graphic design resources you’ll not find on other sites.
It has more downloadable content in the form of learning plans, and checklists, for example.
Most of the “how to” guides you find via Behance or Dribbble are video-led. But, sometimes, you want something written down. For example, as we put this article together, the site was featuring :-
The graphic design resources on this site are helpful if you have an Adobe Creative Cloud license, and want to test out a platform you’re less familiar with.
We need something quick and cheap
Let’s move on to the “quick and cheap” graphic design challenge. To tackle that, a useful place to access graphic design resources is Envato.
Envato offers a mix of services. It’s a design marketplace, where you can directly buy all types of design elements. It also offers training tutorials and courses via its Tutsplus service. And, it offers a great mock-up and interactive design creation service through Place-it.
On the Envato marketplace, you can buy and download all sorts of visual assets.
In addition to graphic design resources like fonts, logos and icons, you can also access and download website themes, royalty-free photography, video and audio materials and even code, scripts and plug-ins.
These types of graphic design resources mean you don’t have to start everything from scratch.
It works on a pay-as-you-go basis.
There’s also a subscription option called Envato Elements, which offers unlimited downloads starting at $16.50/month.
If you regularly use a lot of graphic design resources, this can be a reasonable investment to access a wide range of digital assets. In particular, the access to files beyond graphic design, like sound effects and Website plug-ins makes it even better value.
If you’d like to learn how to create some of those digital assets yourself, the sister site to Envato marketplace called Tutsplus offers a wide range of “how to” videos.
Many are free to access, particularly the ones which cover the basic introduction to a skill.
More advanced courses require sign-up with a $16.50 monthly subscription fee, though it’s a bundled deal with Envato Elements. You get access to both services for the same fee.
The quality of these tutorials is generally high. The scope is wide. So, you can learn about topics like design and illustration, code, web design, photo and video, business, music and video, and 3D and motion graphics.
For example, in the design and illustration section, you can learn skills like how to create animation in Adobe After Effects, how to do movie poster design in Adobe Photoshop, and the basics of Print Design.
If you run your own e-Commerce store, you may already know Place-it.
Place-it offers templates to mock up all sorts of digital and physical materials, so you can place your own custom designs into them.
We first came across it as a way to create mock-up photos for our T-shirt designs. But, they provide templates for around 50 items, as varied as books, beanies and business cards. This mock-up will be much cheaper than doing real photography with a model and photographer.
Like the other Envato services, there’s a monthly subscription fee (of $14.95) for unlimited downloads, with the option to buy items individually. The results look professional and are quick and easy to do.
As you work from templates, you run the obvious risk your background image mock-up will appear on a different e-Commerce site (albeit with a different design). So, it’s not the best from an originality point of view. But, the chances customers will (a) spot this and (b) choose not to buy if they do, are pretty slim.
They position themselves as a service to make good graphic design templates available to those without the skills to do the work from scratch. You can use it to create simple graphic designs for different digital media and print requirements.
Limited options on originality
Professional designers aiming to create original work may find the options limited on Canva. But, those with “light” graphic design needs can quickly and easily create professional-looking designs.
These plug-and-play graphic design resources sites like Envato and Canva make good design more accessible to ordinary users. They save time on basic jobs which don’t have complicated requirements.
However, there are challenges with these sites. First, there can be limits on licensing and usage. You have to make sure you can use the digital assets you source for what you need. For example, you can’t use Canva assets to create T-shirts to sell via print on demand.
And of course, there’s always the lack of originality from buying someone else’s designs. The best way to create your own unique brand identity via graphic design is to create something entirely original. You can do that yourself (see our early T-shirt design experiences article, for example), or hire a professional graphic designer to help you.
Other graphic design resources
For example, when creating our first advert for Three-Brains, we used Adobe Animate and found videos like this one to learn what the software can do, and how to use it.
It goes step by step through the basics of the software. Lots of advice on how to create different types of animations.
Great if you’re new to the tool as we were.
With YouTube, you can then also drill into very specific “how to” lessons.
For example, if you want a basic guide on how to animate a stick figure to make it look like it’s moving, something like this video is very helpful.
You get to follow along with the designer and learn the key steps to produce something similar for your own needs.
Note, there are simpler tools to do animation, including some where you can even do animations on your phone, for example.
Udemy is an online training platform with video courses on all sorts of topics.
If you want to take a more formal course on how to do graphic design, we’ve found Lyndsey Marsh to be a great trainer. We completed several of her courses. We’re not affiliates, by the way. We just found her courses helpful and learned a lot from them.
She regularly updates the content, so you get good value from the course. We recommend you wait until the courses go on sale, though. The regular prices are high. But on promotion, they’re discounted by 80-90%. Much more affordable.
Conclusion - Graphic Design resources
Through this article, we’ve shared the graphic design resources we use most often.
These cover the 3 most common business needs for graphic design.
For inspiration, Behance and Dribbble are your best bet. Use those to see what other designers do, and use what you see to make your own work better.
For education or training, check out Adobe Education Exchange and Tutsplus. YouTube and Udemy also work as backups.
And finally, we’ve all been there when we need something quick and cheap. If you’re OK sacrificing originality and reading all the licensing and usage requirements, Envato marketplace, Canva and Place-it can be good tools to use.