Jess Ostroff

Five Must-Have Free Visual Marketing Tools

By: Jess Ostroff | September 10, 2014 | 

Visual Marketing ToolsBy Jess Ostroff

I’m no artist.

And it bothers me sometimes how easy it is for some people to pick up a pen and paper and create a masterpiece.

My imagination, unfortunately, just doesn’t work that way.

This lack of artistic ability poses a threat to my marketing career, especially now that visual content marketing is the hot ticket to success.

It makes me nervous because, even though I have other creative traits, which are key in marketing, I’m worried I’ll get left in the visual storytelling dust.

And I know I’m not alone.

Visual Marketing Tools… to the Rescue!

Luckily, we non-artists have a few new tools at our disposal that we can use to mask our lack of design talent when we don’t have the resources or budget to hire a full-fledged graphic designer.


These tools are all free to use, and they often have some more advanced paid features for when you’re ready to step up your visual storytelling game.

They don’t replace the expertise of a designer, but can be used for smaller projects like blog graphics, Slideshare templates, and social media graphics.


Canva is likely the most well-known and mentioned visual marketing tool…and for good reason.

It’s free, easy-to-use, and its chief evangelist is Guy Kawasaki.

The tool has been getting a lot of media lately, including a fun tutorial here on Spin Sucks.

The beauty of Canva is that its goals are intentions are clear: Anyone can make a great design from scratch with Canva.

Or, as Guy Kawasaki says, “Canva democratizes design.”

In a world where complicated business models and tools run rampant, Canva practices what it preaches with its eye-catching logo and creative marketing materials.

I suggest starting with Canva, playing with its different backgrounds and fonts, and then moving on to its useful tutorials to get your visual marketing feet really wet.

The image above was created using the Canva Facebook photo import feature, which let me choose from my own Instagram photos.


Picmonkey an image editing and creation tool that is like a beefed up version of Canva.

While Canva was designed primarily as a text-over-image tool, Picmonkey offers a variety of other options, such as photo editing, touch ups, and collages.

I made this collage of the Arment Dietrich team in less than five minutes:

Spin SucksTeam

Kind of like the Brady Bunch, it’s the Spin Sucks Bunch!

This collage is very simple (I told you, I’m not very artistically imaginative), but Picmonkey has many more design and editing options than Canva.

For example, the cover photo on the Don’t Panic Management Facebook page was made in Picmonkey.

These options are perfect for the more advanced user who has experience with Photoshop and Illustrator, but might seem overwhelming to the average user.

If you are more interested in a high-quality tool that also offers simple stitching and editing capabilities, Picmonkey is right for you.


Who here hates Excel?

I’m probably one of the only freaks who actually enjoys using spreadsheets, but I do find myself having some hiccups with their chart functionality.

Enter… DataHero!

This free tool allows you to upload your spreadsheets (think social media metrics, email open and click rates, website metrics, PR reach data, and more) and then choose which parts of the data you’d like to visualize.

You can then create a comprehensive report of as many or as few charts from the data as you wish.

I used some of their sample data to show you what it looks like:

DataHero GDP ($B) by Date (1)

You can customize everything from colors to type of chart, and you can connect your file-storing and data tools like Dropbox, Hubspot, Google Drive, Mailchimp, and more for easy data import.

When you’re ready to download, you’re given a high-resolution PNG file that you can add to your documents for beautiful data visualization.

To include custom colors, combine more than one data set, and increase your file limit, you can upgrade to their paid account for $49 per month.


Skitch has been around longer than any of these other tools, which is probably why it has been a bit overshadowed.

When I first started using Skitch, I primarily used it as a screen capture tool so I could show people how to do things via email.

I would simply attach a marked-up screen shot so they could see where to look and click.

It’s perfect for drawing over images, circling important points, and adding arrows to draw the eye.

And, if you’re an avid Evernote user, it’s your perfect screen capturing and note-taking companion.

In addition to how-tos, Skitch is great for highlighting specific data points (perhaps from the charts you create with DataHero), annotating documents, and providing feedback on content, especially if it’s in the form of an image.

My favorite part about Skitch is that it lives as a desktop application so you don’t have to be working in yet another browser window to use it.

Plus, you can easily save to Evernote or drag and drop into email, upload to WordPress, add to Dropbox, whatever your heart desires.

I made this in literally 10 seconds by snapping a screen shot from Facebook. Doesn’t Gini look great? Hehe.

Skitch and Gini

Recite This

Recite This is unique because it’s less about the images, and more about turning words into art.

You can take any word, quote, or sentence and make it beautiful by typing into the tool, choosing one of their templates, and voila!

You now have a shareable quote that looks professional.

Here’s one I made using one of my favorite sayings that I keep in my mind every day when dealing with conflict:


The tool is relatively new and beyond simple, so there aren’t a whole lot of bells and whistles like some of the aforementioned tools. I would imagine that they will be adding more templates and more customization options in the future.

Bonus – WhatTheFont

Need to manipulate or recreate someone else’s cool text-over-image visual but can’t figure out what font they used?

Simply upload the image (or even a part of the image that includes some text) to WhatTheFont and it will spit out some font options for you, many of which are free.

The most important thing to remember with these tools is that practice makes perfect.

You’re not going to create the nicest looking Canva creation or data visualization on your first try.

Consider your visual marketing goals, the time and resources you have to play with, and then choose the tool that’s right for the task at hand.

I’m looking forward to hearing your own experiences with these tools. And remember, you don’t have to be an artist to make great visual content.

Good luck!

About Jess Ostroff

Jess Ostroff is the founder and director of calm of Don't Panic Management, a virtual assistant agency. She loves finding efficient ways to get work done, bringing good people together, and enjoying live music.

  • Oh cool, new toys!!! Thanks!

  • Good list. I always seem to look around Google, find a “free” source and discover it isn’t really free.

  • These are great jessostroff  I have been playing with Canva. I am going to check out the rest. Thank you!

  • ClayMorgan RIGHT!

  • I heart Canva.

  • OH MY GOD!!! I don’t have an artistic bone in my body, Jess. This post is AMAZING! Definitely bookmarking. Look out world, here comes Lindsay! LOL

  • I liked when Canva added the Google+ cover. Looks like they just added a Twitter post template, too. Helpful post, Jess, and LOVE the examples. 🙂

  • Um, yeah. Bookmarking. These are all awesome!

  • belllindsay LOL right?? I did it for you. It’s all for you. 😉

  • Howie Goldfarb You must! Canva is awesome, of course, but I think each of these have their place in the visual marketing world.

  • ClayMorgan YUP. I think all of these have the upgrade/paid option, but you can at least start with free. And Canva, for example, you only pay about a dollar for one of their premium templates, which seems very worth it.

  • biggreenpen Anytime 🙂

  • I feel like a kindergartner with a shiny new tool box to explore. Thanks, Jess for showing me how to write, chart and paint between the lines!

  • Word Ninja Yes! I believe they include most popular social media cover options. Super handy!

  • annelizhannan Love that!!

  • Danny Brown

    You know, I read that as saying “Even if you don’t like Jess”, meaning visit regardless! 🙂

  • Ellie Pierce

    Not like Jess?! I don’t even think that’s possible, Danny.

  • Jess Ostroff


  • JohnMTrader

    Bottom line? With this post, there are no more excuses to not become a visual marketing PRO. Thanks Jess!

  • jessostroff

    Sarah_Hiers YAY!

  • SavvyCopywriter

    I’m addicted to Canva. Like you, design isn’t my forte. Having Canva guide the way and make design easier has changed my online world. I LOVE IT! I haven’t tried Skitch or Recite This yet but I will after reading this. Thanks!!

  • Creating visuals is something I struggle with all the time. Thanks for the list! Bookmarking now and looking forward to playing.

  • Lindsay Bell-Wheeler

    Nobody likes Jess.

  • Danny Brown

    So I gather.

  • Kara Keep me posted on how it goes for you!

  • JohnMTrader Woohoo! I agree. It took a bit to wrap my head around, but if I can do it, anyone can do it!

  • SavvyCopywriter Awesome! Hope you love them 🙂

  • jessostroff

    ginidietrich YAY!!! My left cheek is waiting for you…

  • jessostroff

    timyoungman What kind of problems are you having with Recite? Perhaps they’re overloaded with people checking it out 🙂

  • timyoungman

    jessostroff probably it was just hanging when I tried to use it so will try later as a useful tool!!

  • timyoungman

    jessostroff probably it was just hanging when I tried to use it so will try later as a useful tool!!

  • a) This post is awesome
    b) I love this collage of us because it is so typical it totally makes me laugh:
    -Gini flashing her award winning smile
    -Clay looking all professional
    -Ellie being all funky and cute….

    ….and then you get to Lindsay and I…..HAHAHAH!

  • jessostroff

    timyoungman Great! Keep me posted. Hope you like it!

  • LauraPetrolino EXACTLY! That was my goal 🙂 I looked at so many pictures of you guys, by the way 🙂

  • jessostroff LauraPetrolino Hahah! You did a good job! And isn’t it amazing how people’s photos totally sum up their lives! Organic visual storytelling 🙂

  • jessostroff It’s always all about me, Jess. You know that! 😉

  • SpinSucks

    annlamanes That jessostroff’s good, right?! 🙂 ^ep

  • patmrhoads

    @jessostroff Thank you for this post! Perfect. Timing. You are my hero (at least for the day).

  • ronsideas

    DebutTV jessostroff I would add cartoons and white board animation to the list.

  • Great list @jessostroff ! Have you seen for creating infographics? Might be a good one to add to your list.

  • philgerb Thanks so much, Phil! I’m a bit of an infographic hater… just because I think they’re overused for the wrong reasons, but it’s always great to have a good resource for when you SHOULD create an infographic. Appreciate the tip!

  • jessostroff

    MercerAMoore Of course! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  • jessostroff You are so welcome. 

    Totally agree they are overused – but some have created NONE, which is not good either. 🙂

  • 12perks

    bdorman264 Hey Bill, see your using Hootsuite. Would you like to test our new tool for twitter marketing?

  • Pingback: How Small Businesses Can Use Visual Content and Increase Conversions | Convince and Convert: Social Media Strategy and Content Marketing Strategy()

  • schultzy

    Be extra organized from the get-go. In some cases clients will need their
    consultants to assistance them with organization. This can come about
    especially with e mail, when a client promptly scans a list of things and
    misses one thing significant, which she then feels the need to have to ask you
    about later.Attempt focusing each e-mail  on just one subject at a time.
    For instance, send a single e mail about “Friday’s appointment time.” Dispatch
    a separate email about “new budget projections.”Also, empower your customers to
    come across for themselves the answers they’re looking for. A reside Google
    Drive document with project specifics can be helpful for customers to seek
    advice from and can be updated very easily every single time new concerns
    Schultzy @

  • Pingback: Content, Analytics, and You Spin Sucks()

  • Pingback: Let's get visual: An infographic about visual content in social media - Aubia Communications Aubia Communications()

  • SusynEliseDuris

    I don’t see Piktochart listed so I will add here. Amazing for infographics!

  • Pingback: Bore No More! | Rock on()

  • Pingback: Twelve Digital Tools You'll Be Using More of in 2015 by @jessostroff Spin Sucks()

  • Pingback: ShopIntegrator | 5 top visual content tips to improve your social media presence()

  • Pingback: Content material Analytics That Make Sense | Spring Wise Blog()