So first things first. I'm a writer, not a designer.
But running your own blog creates a need for quality imagery every now and then. A blog with nothing but text, in this day and age, is a bounce waiting to happen.
At the very least you need to create nice looking header images for your posts.
But... being a writer, I have just about zero working knowledge of Photoshop. (Until recently, I thought layers were something you put on when it's cold out). Also, I don't want to shell out the money for a tool I don't understand and likely won't ever have the time to learn.
So I have spent a good bit of time investigating free alternatives to Photoshop. There are many of them -- most of them web-based -- that you can find with a quick Google search.
But there are a number of limitations with most free alternatives to Photoshop:
- They're "Freemium" - All the good features come at a cost
- They're Clunky - Poor UX, full of ads, and just generally hard to use
- They're Online - No editing and saving your work without an Internet connection
- They Have Funky Font Choices - Where are all the standard Microsoft fonts I've come to know and love? Or the custom ones I've installed?
If you're like me, you're on a Mac and, by default, only have access to Preview (which can't do jack squat when it comes to editing). And if you're like me, you've been dying for an EASY solution to create crisp imagery for your blog without Photoshop or clunky free alternatives.
Say hello to Powerpoint. (Yep, that Powerpoint. Chances are most of you already have it installed and ready to roll.)
Hear me out -- here are 6 simple and surprising photo edits you can do right inside of Powerpoint:
1) Mash images together
Have you ever wanted to combine two or more images into one and found it unnecessarily difficult? You can do this in Preview on Mac, but it's absurdly complicated.
Try this instead.
- Open up a blank side in a Powerpoint presentation
- Drag and drop each image onto the slide
- Position & resize at will
- Enlarge the screen or go into presentation view
- Snap a screenshot
And bam. You get something like this:
2) Add text to images
Adding text to images is like, THE number one capability bloggers need to have. This comes in handy for post header images, custom subheads, captions, quotes, and more.
But, again, you can't do this in Preview. And uploading to one of those free online Photoshop alternatives seems like a waste of time, when everything you need (including all of your favorite fonts) are available right on your computer.
Try this instead:
- Drag your background image onto a new slide
- Create a text box and position it roughly where you want it
- Type your text
- Choose any font, size, color, or other text effects
- Adjust until it looks cool
3) Add filters
Time to get a little fancier. If you've got a particular aesthetic in mind, or a color scheme you want to fit, or you just want to do something a little out of the box, try applying a filter to your photo of choice.
Powerpoint comes with a number of built in filters that can apply some nice looking effects. You'll find this on the Format Picture toolbar when you have your image selected:
For example, here's that same mountain picture with the Pencil Sketch filter applied. Pretty cool, right?
Or you can use the Adjust Picture recoloring tool (right click on the photo, choose "Format Picture") for a fun tinting effect.
Layer in a basic shape and some text, and you get a super easy and crisp blog header in no time.
4) Add borders
Here's another one that should be mega simple but just isn't for many Mac users.
Borders are useful sometimes for adding logos into a blog post, or other images with white or transparent backgrounds that may look like they're just sort of floating there.
To add a border, drop your photo of choice into a Powerpoint slide, right click, "Format Picture", and use the Line tool.
A simple black border is easy, but you can customize the color, weight, and even gradient of the border to no end.
5) Create buttons
Your blog probably comes with some basic CSS styling for buttons and other clickable HTML elements. But if you're up to it, you can create whatever the heck you feel like using some really basic Powerpoint features.
Just create a shape:
Layer in a text box with your Call to Action copy.
Then right click, "Format Picture", and play around with 3-D formatting of the top and bottom edges for a nice, button-like aesthetic.
The end result might look something like this:
6) Play with transparency
Medium introduced a really popular feature, not too long ago, regarding text over full-bleed images. It looks something like this:
You can recreate this yourself, to a degree, using Powerpoint.
You wouldn't want to use this for large portions of text (since it won't be readable by search engines), but how about next time, instead of a simple block quote, you drop those words over a nice looking image?
If you find you're having trouble with the contrast and readability, crank up the transparency of the image for a really slick, smooth look. You can find the transparency slider on the Format Picture toolbar:
Here's what it can look like when you're all done:
One thing to note before you go off and try building cool blog photos in Powerpoint yourself:
Since you're not actually creating images (just laying elements on top of each other), as far as I can tell there's no good way to grab all the elements in a single file. So your screenshot game will need to be on point.
The best thing to do, once your image is ready, is blow up the screen as large as possible or enter presentation mode, then grab a very carefully selected screenshot (Command + Shift + 4 on Mac).
I'd also like to reiterate that using screenshots from Powerpoint is probably NOT the way to go for beautiful, high-fidelity web design elements. But... if all you need is some quick, clean imagery for your blog, Powerpoint is one of the most elegant and convenient solutions I've found.