Free tools, expensive tools, tools for beginners, and tools for experts.There are video and graphic design tools for just about every experience level and budget.
We've rounded up our top tips and picks to help you in your DIY endeavors.
Whether you need a quick graphic for Instagram, a series of videos for a coaching program, or branded graphics for a uniform look across all your media, there is a program for you.
NOTE: We believe most people are familiar with their built-in phone apps for taking and editing photos and videos. With that in mind, we focused on desktop and web-based programs. We also chose software that is affordable and works no matter what type of computer you have.
As always, if you have questions, Pat is has bi-weekly office hours for Business Guild members every other Thursday from 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM (Eastern time).
Our number one tip about DIY'ing graphics is to keep it simple.
Graphics can be anything from PNGs, JPGs, animated GIFs, slides, SVGs, and photos.
With so much variety, it's not surprising there are dozens of programs to help you create and edit graphic files.
If you're looking for a way to combine stock art and text for things like handouts, downloads, or web graphics, you can get stellar results from an office type program you already use.
No, we're not talking about word processing programs like, MS Word. Word processing and spreadsheet programs aren't designed for that, but you know what is?
One of the most overlooked graphic tools are presentation programs like PowerPoint, Keynote, and Google Slides.
These familiar programs make it easy to combine text and graphics, add drop shadows and links to create complex designs for handouts, videos, and websites.
Standard slides can also be downloaded in multiple formats: png, jpg, pdf, ppx, and svg, which makes them handy little tools when you need to put together a quick graphic document.
This is one of those situations where you can save a lot of time and money by thinking outside the box.
Once you get past the idea that a programs like PowerPoint are used to make slide decks, you will crack the door wide open to other design possibilities.
Choose custom size under settings to create standard 8 1/2" x 11" for printable or downloadable workbooks, worksheets, pdfs, and more.
You can even use slides to create branded digital notebooks. -- We love these digital notebooks for projects because it's easy to link to content and calendars and embed files. Even better, there are so many free and paid templates that you never have to start from scratch.
If you need some inspiration, check out some of these resources.
Most of the free templates are designed by teachers for use by students, but it's easy to update the cover art to something more professional and use the notebook for a personal or project planner.
If you want something more sophisticated, check out the Etsy link above. Etsy sellers do charge for their templates, but the cost is usually reasonable, and they often include sticker packs and theme variations.
We cannot stress the importance of getting the right files when you work with a professional graphic designer.
As much as we all like the idea of doing things ourselves, some things, like logos and print graphics, are best left to the experts.
Bargain basement online sources like Fiverr might make custom graphics affordable for businesses on a tight budget, but sometimes you get what you pay for.
When you hire a graphic designer to create custom graphics for you, make sure you know what you're buying.
Professional designers will typically do an intake interview to determine what you need and what you are going to use the graphic for. They will then produce two or three concepts for you to choose from.
When the project is complete the final product will be presented in multiple file formats.
Depending on the scope of the project and what you need the graphic for, you should expect your graphic designer to present the final product in a few different file formats for print and web use.
For example, a logo graphic should include a scalable vector graphic (SVG) so the logo can be scaled to any size -- think websites and billboards, a PNG version for the web, an EPS file for print work. Depending on the designer, they may also include extras like a branded icon for use on your website or other small projects.
You won't necessarily receive all of these, but your graphic designer should provide at least one version as a PNG for the web, an EPS or PDF version with editable layers for your printer, and a third version that is appropriate for the project or expected use. In an ideal world, you would also get a scalable vector version as well, but it's not universal.
Quality, professional, royalty-free graphics and photos can be a life saver for a busy small business owner.
Unless you have a dedicated graphics person, you probably don't have the time or staff to have someone go out and take the perfect picture or create a stunning graphic every time you need one. This is why we love royalty-free graphics.
For a few dollars a month you can sign up for a service that curates and creates professional photographs and graphics you can use for your website and other business content.
NOTE: Be sure to read the fine print and ensure the files you are paying for include the ability to edit the images and/or use them in commercial content.
Use caution with free services.
Copyright infringement is a big deal. If you get a stolen graphic from a less-than-reputable free service, you will be the one receiving cease and desist letters.
We're serious, this stuff really happens.
We've met a shocking number of people who have grabbed graphics from the web thinking they were in the public domain or had creative commons licenses only to get a scary letter from an expensive sounding lawyer threatening to sue if the images weren't removed from a webpage.
The good news is many paid services also offer free plans. The free plans may limit file sizes or the number of downloads you can have per month, but at least you know you're getting a legitimate license for use.
Here are a few of our favorites:
It's not a complete list, but these are some of the bigger services and should have almost anything you need.
You don't have to become a digital da Vinci, but you'll look like a pro if you master the basics of customization.
As we mentioned in an earlier tip, small businesses don't have the time to build everything from scratch.
Here at The Business Guild, we make a lot of our own graphics, but we use so many images for websites, social media, class content, and articles that it would be a full-time job to design everything.
This is where royalty-free images come in.
Most people think of photographs, but royalty-free images can also be editable eps, ai, psd, or svg files.
These types of files give you the opportunity to present professional, branded images with very little effort.
Don't be intimidated by design programs. You only have to learn the basics to customize images with ease.
With a few mouse clicks and a little patience, you can take a royalty-free image and make it your own.
Check out sites like Pixabay, Vecteezy, and Flaticon to find a wide variety of editable graphics.
There is no doubt that Adobe is the all-time leader when it comes to graphic design products, but all that graphic magic comes at a steep price.
Adobe has one of the largest learning curves, requires users to be on Windows or Mac, and pay a subscription even if you only use it a few times a year.
If you're on Linux or simply don't want to spend hundreds of dollars a year on graphic software, we've got several free or low-cost options that will give you professional graphic results.
Note: Photoshop started life as a photo editor and evolved to include tools for creating raster graphics. The programs listed below offer photo editing, graphic creation, or both.
All of these programs can be used to edit photos and create graphics with those photos. If you're looking for something to build or edit graphics, please the dropdown for graphic design options.
There are so many options for graphic design programs that do similar, but different things, it would be impossible to cover them all here.
Instead, we have compiled a list of our top picks for close alternatives to Adobe's professional design tools.
For a 1-to-1 alternative to Adobe's Illustrator and InDesign we like Inkscape and Scribus.
If you're unfamiliar with these programs, Illustrator is a graphic design program for creating vector graphics and InDesign is used for desktop publishing.
Like their Adobe counterparts, Inkscape and Scribus are professional-grade programs for serious graphic designers and desktop publishers. Both of these programs are open source (free) and work across most platforms. (Windows, Mac, Linux)
The depth and richness of their tools can make them challenging to learn, but it is well worth it for anyone who is serious about graphic design or desktop publishing. On the plus side, if you are already familiar with Adobe's Illustrator or InDesign, you will find that many features are very similar.
BONUS: If you need help navigating Inkscape, Logos by Nick is a fantastic resource for Inkscape tutorials.
Just like Photoshop, many graphic programs have evolved well beyond their original scope to do an amazing array of tasks. This section of graphic design tools is a catchall for those nifty programs that do multiple things.
Not all of these programs do exactly the same things, but they can all be used to create social media graphics, infographics, and much, much more.
NOTE: If you don't need anything too fancy, you can also make impressive charts and graphs for free in Google Sheets. In addition to use in graphics, you can also embed Google-created charts and graphs on websites and they will update every time you change the data.
We're going to let you in on a secret. The right setup is whatever you have to work with.
As nice as it would be to have a professional studio with soundproofing, lighting, and cutting edge equipment, the truth is with a little ingenuity and some help from technology, you can get good results from almost anything.
If you plan to record a lot of videos, it's worth setting up a designated recording space so you don't have to setup and break down your equipment. If that's not an option, think about how you can set up your regular work area as a micro studio.
The first place to start is Lighting
We know most people will look to cameras, microphones, or other recording gear, but quality lighting is the easiest way to make your videos look more professional.
You can buy lighting kits and filters on Amazon for $20 - $300. A high end lighting kit is a great investment for a professional videographer, but unless you have a dedicated studio space, most of the more expensive models will be a pain to setup, take down, and store every time you need to record a video.
We suggest you try to use the natural and ambient lighting you already have.
If possible, position yourself so you are facing a window.
Natural light is the best option, but if it's too bright, or you have too many windows, you may need to add a window covering.
An inexpensive set of white or natural colored sheers provide a great filter for harsh afternoon sunlight. If you have multiple windows casting too much light into the room, you may need to get creative.
When we need a temporary fix for overbright windows, we use binder clips and shower curtain hooks to hang a blanket from the existing curtain rod.
On the other hand, if the room is too dark or has weird shadows, try an inexpensive ring light and a couple of clip-on shop lights.
Position the ring light directly behind the camera facing you. (Pat has hers clipped to her computer monitor next to her webcam.) You may have to adjust the light's setting based on the other lighting in the room, but it's a cheap and easy way to get direct light without shadows.
Attach shop style clip lights to the edge of your desk (or any other object) to offset bright natural lights or bounce them off the wall to offset shadows with indirect lighting.
We like these options because the are cheap, effective, and unobtrusive when you're not using them, but if you have storage space, it might be worth moving up to tripod lighting that can be easily adjusted to provide the perfect light, no matter how dark the room is.
You'd think the camera would be the one piece of equipment you'd have to spend a lot of money, but it's not. At least not for the average person doing a video for their website or social media.
Expensive DSLRs and camcorders are tempting, but most cell phones and laptops have good enough cameras to for making quick social media videos. If you want to take it up a notch, consider getting a stand alone web camera like a Logitech C920. This has been the go-to model for several years, and with a price around $70, it's a worthwhile investment if you want to improve your video quality.
In addition to producing a better image quality, we like the C920 because it's easy to reposition on your monitor or clip to a selfie-stick.
The ability to put a small webcam on a tripod/selfie-stick may seem counterintuitive for creating a recording studio at your desk, but it is a nice feature if you want to record an in-person interview without having to huddle around a laptop.
It also works well for video conferencing an in-person meeting to a remote audience.
This is how we handle hybrid Zoom/in-person meetings. We put the webcam on a small tripod at the front of the room and add a stand alone mic in the middle of the table. It's a simple, affordable setup that captures everything.
Sound is another area that has a lot of opportunities to spend money.
If you're a professional podcaster and this is a major source of revenue for you, then it's worth doing a professional setup with expensive microphones, mixers, and soundproofing.
If you're on a tight budget or aren't ready for a major investment, don't worry.
All it takes is a little creativitiy and attention to detail to get pro-worthy audio with very little cost.
When it comes to sound, there are only three things you need to think about.
Input is how you capture audio.
Do you use your camera or laptop's built-in mic? Or do you use a freestanding mic, clip-on (lavalier) mic, or a headphones with a microphone?
In most cases you can get by with your device's built-in mic if you're the only person in the video or doing a 1-on-1 conversation on a Zoom type video.
These type of microphones capture a broad range of sound and you're more likely to pick up background sounds than you will get with a lavalier or headphones, but they're okay.
Lavalier and headphones are designed to isolate the speaker's voice and do a decent job of blocking stray background noises. -- Nothing is going to help if your dog is standing next to you barking, but lav mics and headphones give a good effort.
Freestanding mics are podcaster favorites because they provide a depth of sound and isolate the speaker. They also tend to be a little more expensive. You can get a decent gaming mic for around $50 and an entry level Blue Yeti podcaster mic around $125.
Depending on what we're filming, Lisa usually uses her device's built-in mic and Pat uses headphones or a stand alone mic.
Output is how you hear your video's sound.
Before Zoom, using your device's speakers to hear someone while you were taping a video call was a challenge. More often than not, the video would pick up the echos and render much of the audio useless.
Technology has improved quite a bit in the last couple years. Many online video platforms are now able to clean up a lot of the echos and background noises automatically. It's not going to help much if someone is using a jackhammer or a leaf blower outside your window, but if it's just general street noise you should be okay.
Our best tip for this is to err on the side of caution. If it sounds a little loud, or if there are a lot of people in the room with you, just use headphones.
We've used more brands and models than we can remember. Our best advice is avoid bluetooth for long videos as they can cut out. Also be cautious of some of the less expensive usb headphones as they can pick up computer noise like fans or spinning discs if you're using an old style hard drive.
Noise reduction is a lot easier (and cheaper) than you think.
As we said above, start by using headphones. This will cut down on most outside sounds.
Once you deal with the external noises, you need to think about how your recording space affects your sound quality.
It's surprising how loudly sound echos off of bare walls and hardwood floors. If you're using a device or stand alone mic rather than headphones, you might want to take an extra step to minimize some of the sound bouncing off of hard surfaces like floors, walls, and desks.
Things like adding drapes or a small area rug beneath a desk will help reduce some of the sound, but laying a towel on the desktop will give you a noticeable reduction in hard surface echos with no cost. (Everyone has a towel in their closet, right?)
We did this in our old office, and we still do this in the conference room when we host hybrid Zoom/in person meetings.
Along a similar line, you can also hang blankets or quilts on the walls to dampen sound.
Tip: Using a green screen as your background can do double duty as light soundproofing. Most aren't thick enough to provide total silence, but they will aid in dampening background noise.
There are two things you need to know about green screens.
There is a reason the film industry uses green or blue backdrops, but as long as the fabric is smooth with no shadows or wrinkles you can use white, black, or any other color you want. You may get colorsplash, and different colors will reflect light differently, but you can remove any solid color background with a custom chroma key in post-production.
Which brings us to why you should be using green screens.
The main benefit of green screens is they give you the ability to work anywhere and create the illusion of being somewhere else.
A lot of offices have interesting walls or dedicated neutral spaces for recording video. If that's an option, then you're all set. But, if you don't have a cool looking mural or a brick wall to stand in front of, a green screen can help you add a professional, branded background, no matter where you film your video.
They're not even that expensive.
You can DIY a green screen by hanging a green sheet on a wall or painting the wall green, but it's not really necessary.
For the $50 you'll spend on a can of paint, you can buy a temporary or semi-permanent green screen on Amazon.
Our top picks are:
We use similar models to all three of these. They all have pros and cons, and they all get the job done without a lot of money or effort.
Our top pick is the Webaround. There are other brands available at a similar price point, but this is the one we've used.
Closing the Webaround is a little tricky to master, but once you figure it out it's a great option for quick setups.
If you have a permanent space and want something that doesn't require setup or storage, go with a ceiling or wall mount. Pat switched to a ceiling mount green screen last year and loves the convenience. She says it took about ten minutes to install and was well worth the extra $10.
We don't want to geek out, so we're going to keep this simple.
The current wisdom is you should have a minimum of 16GB of RAM if you plan to do a lot of video editing. Note the emphasis on the word minimum.
If you're planning to edit videos longer than 15 or 20 minutes and/or use a lot of advanced editing features, you should consider 32GBs.
How do you decide whether to add RAM or buy a new computer?
In general, if your computer has less than an I7 processor or the motherboard can't support more than 16GB of RAM, it might be time to shop for a new computer.
On the other hand, if your computer has a fast processor and supports more than 16GB of RAM, it's probably cheaper to upgrade your RAM.
The current price for 32GB of Crucial Ballistix (gaming RAM) is $136.99. That's a lot cheaper than $1000+ for a new computer. (We're using Ballistix as an example because it is a popular brand for use in gaming and video editing. You will need to check your specs to determine what type of RAM is suitable for your system.)
If you need a new computer but can't afford all the bells and whistles, go for a fast processor and 16GB of RAM. It's super easy to add more RAM when you have money, just be sure to check how much RAM your new system will support before you buy.
Unless you know you're going to be editing long, high definition videos while running multple graphics programs, 16GB is probably enough. But it's nice to have the option to add RAM if you need it. :)
For what it's worth, we often run multiple high load graphics programs while we're editing video with no issues on an I7 processor with 16GB of RAM.
What software can I use to record a video for my website or social media?
As we said in the camera section, the easiest way to film and edit a short video for the web is to use your cell phone.
Most come preloaded with software to record video, do basic edits, and upload to social media. If you want to make a longer or more complex video with lots of effects, you'll need to use a desktop or browser based recording application.
Programs like Zoom make it easy for anyone with a laptop, webcam, or a cell phone to record a basic interview, presentation, or webinar, but there are many more options if you need to do something more sophisticated.
If you're looking for a free place to start, most operating systems include user friendly video recording programs.
There are also dozens of online and desktop programs for just about every need and budget.
Camtasia is a solid, stable video recording program for Windows and Macs.
This popular program does not have a free version. Their standard license is a one-time payment of $224.99 for a lifetime license. It sounds like a lot of money, but if you do a lot of videos it's well worth the cost when you consider the many features.
Loom is another popular app for recording and editing short videos on Windows, Mac, and Androids.
The free version limits you to 25 5-minute videos per person, but the paid version is only $8/month if paid annually, and lets you record an unlimited number of videos with no restrictions on length.
Other features on the paid plan include:
Our final pick for recording software is OBS Studio.
OBS is mainly known as a cross-platform, open source program for gamers to record or live stream their games, but its rich feature set makes it a good choice for recording complex, professional videos with ease.
Of all the programs we've mentioned, OBS is the one that has all the bells and whistles you need to remove green screen backgrounds, create lower thirds and fly-ins, present slides, and do pretty much anything you need to on a live Zoom or YouTube session while you're recording it.
With it's free price tag and extensive features, OBS Studio is a fantastic program for Windows, Mac, or Linux. It has a higher learning curve than the other options, but it's not overwhelming.
Bonus: Among it's many features, OBS Studio displays an active feed with your computer's resource usage so you'll never be surprised by a system crash.
These are our top picks among the programs we've used, but there are many more browser apps and desktop programs.
Most include similar features for basic editing and transitions, but you should keep an eye out for things like restrictions on file size, resoulution, or video length. Free platforms will often embed their own watermark, and may restrict access if a video becomes popular and uses too many system resources.
What should I use to edit my videos?
The short answer is it depends on your system, resources, and needs.
If you just need to do simple trims and clips with basic title transitions you can use pretty much any editing program.
There are also several inexpensive online editing tools worth trying.
If you're looking for a professional grade tool, Adobe Premier Pro, for Windows and Macs, is the most popular choice. Like all of Adobe's Creative Suite products, Premier Pro is subscription only, but with a price tag of $20.99/month for the individual plan, it is an affordable option for anyone looking for a lot of features.
Apple's Final Cut Pro for Macs is another popular, feature rich editing program. At a cost of $299.99, Final Cut Pro it's a little steep for a casual user, but it's a solid product for anyone who needs more advanced features with quality you expect from Apple.
Our final proffessional grade paid video editor is Lightworks Pro. This is the editor used by many Hollywood movie studios. They have a free version that offers basic editing tools, but the paid plans are where you'll find all the cool toys. The Creative plan is $9.99/month is described as being for "anyone who wants to do more than cut clips together." The Pro plan,$23.99/month, is for film makers and people who want to produce Hollywood level movies. Note: While they offer licenses for Windows, Mac, and Linux, we've found that the Linux version can be difficult to install and unstable when using.
Our Top All-Around Pick is Kdenlive
We've used Kdenlive for several years and continue to be impressed by how many things you can do with it. We also love that it's open source (Free) and works on any platform (Windows, Mac, or Linux).
We also love how many easy to follow tutorials there are for Kdenlive. Our favorites are TJ Free and Arkengheist
Whichever program you choose, be sure to give it some time. Video editing is just as much an art as a technical skill and it may take a little time to master some of the programs and visualize the possibilities.