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In the fast-paced digital era, social media has become an essential platform for individuals and businesses to connect, share information, and express creativity. With the ever-increasing demand for visually appealing content, graphic design software has become a necessity for crafting eye-catching social media posts. As we enter the year 2023, the quest for the best free graphic design software to create captivating visuals for social media intensifies. In this era of innovation and cutting-edge technology, we explore the top tools that empower users to bring their creative visions to life without breaking the bank. Whether you’re a seasoned designer or a social media enthusiast, join us as we dive into the world of free graphic design software and unlock the limitless possibilities that lie ahead in 2023.
As both a photographer and writer, I’m very aware of what gets me likes. Whether you use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or TikTok, visual posts, like photos, videos, and graphics, get more engagement.
The good news is you don’t have to hire a designer or spend hundreds of dollars on software to get great visuals—there are some awesome free graphic design apps out there you can use to create incredible social media graphics. I’ve been writing about and using these kinds of tools for almost a decade, so I’m very familiar with what’s good. And what isn’t.
Here are the best free apps for creating social media graphics.
The best free graphic design apps for social media
Canva for template-based design
Adobe Express for scaling a side hustle
Pablo by Buffer for quickly making images to share on social media
Snappa for creating occasional images
VistaCreate for a free social media and print design app
What makes a great social media graphic design app?
How we evaluate and test apps
All of our best apps roundups are written by humans who’ve spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it’s intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We’re never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.
Social media posts have a very short lifecycle, so you shouldn’t spend hours creating them. It’s more important that you get your content out into the world where people can actually see it than you pore over every pixel to get things perfect. This is why a good graphic design app is so crucial: instead of starting from scratch each time, you have a range of great templates and design resources (like stock images, icons, shapes, and text styles) ready to go. Then, all you have to do is mix and match things with your own brand elements to have something unique and powerful. Being able to repurpose the posts you’ve already made is a huge time-saver.
And you don’t need to pay huge prices to get incredible results. What makes graphic design apps free isn’t necessarily a lack of quality, but a lack of some powerful design features and nice-to-have extras, like AI-powered features. I’ve considered close to 40 free graphic design apps and found five great, free resources. Granted, some of these are more limited free plans of premium products, but they’re all up to the job of creating awesome images for your social media marketing channels. I’ll also flag what you get if you’re prepared to pay a few dollars a month—some of these options have great value paid plans.
I’ve relied on Adobe Photoshop for over a decade, and it sets a high bar for paid products. I didn’t expect these free social media post makers to eclipse it, but they had to offer a great service. Even if something is free, I won’t recommend it if it’s awful.
To test each app, I spent a significant amount of time browsing hundreds of themes to get a feel for the quality of each one. I also created at least two test posts using the templates (with most of the favorites, even more). I generally focused on the overall ease of use and professional offerings of each app, but I also had some key criteria that each app needed to meet to be included on this list:
Is this app easy enough for anyone to use? Tools like Photoshop and Illustrator (which I love) are incredible in the right hands, and unusable in the wrong ones. Social media management is rarely done by people with a design background, so any app has to cater to regular people. If you have the chops to use Photoshop and pay for it, you’ll probably get the best results, but it isn’t the right option for the majority of people looking for a free tool. This isn’t to say there won’t be some learning curve, just that it doesn’t require a textbook to climb.
Is this app suited well for social media marketing? Again, Photoshop and Illustrator can do incredible things, but they’re complete overkill for most people trying to create images for their social media marketing channels. I wanted apps that streamlined the process of creating strong graphics, not offering every tool under the sun.
Is the app experience good? A free graphic design app has the potential to be, frankly, awful to use (looking at you, GIMP). But even if you’re not (yet) paying for a service, you shouldn’t be hamstrung by a slow, janky, and just unpleasant experience. Especially when there are great apps out there you could be using.
Are the design assets varied and professional? It’s easy to find social media templates online, but many of them are awful. You can’t slap some cheesy clipart on a graphic that represents your brand, or keep recycling the same social media post design over and over. I only included apps that had assets that would allow you to represent yourself or your company in a professional light. (To be honest, this criterion cut the most apps.)
Can you use the app in multiple ways? If you create one post for Twitter, it should be easy to repurpose it for Instagram, or even for a flyer. Similarly, you should be able to quickly edit and update last year’s Christmas sale post with this year’s info. Apps that made this list had to be multi-purpose, rather than force you into one way of working.
One other thing: while AI tools like DALL·E 2 and Stable Diffusion are incredibly popular right now and can generate impressive images from a simple text prompt, they aren’t yet able to create the kind of complex graphics that are part of most brands’ social media strategies. If you want to find out more about using AI-generated images, check out the best AI image generators or a list of all the AI art generators out there. They’re a lot of fun to play around with and can certainly be an occasional part of a social media post, but they aren’t a replacement for any of the apps on this list.
With that said—on to the apps.
Best free social media design app for template-based design
Canva(Web, iOS, Android, macOS, Windows)
Canva is a powerful, but still simple-to-use, template-based free design app. There are over a million templates, graphics, and photos you can use as part of the free plan (that goes up to multiple millions of assets with a Canva Pro subscription).
When you open Canva, you’re presented with dozens of possible templates for everything from posters to Instagram Posts. It’s a lot to navigate, but there’s great search built in. Click the search bar at the top of the screen, and look for something like “birthday instagram stories” to see more specific options. (I got almost 4,000 suggested free templates just for that, although a fair few of them had Pro elements that you have to pay $1 for.)
Once you’ve found a template to work from, the drag-and-drop editor makes it simple to add your own resources. Click Uploads then UploadFiles in the left sidebar, add any images or brand elements, and you can drop them straight into the editor. One tip: right-click on any element and click Send Back or Send Forward if you want to move it behind things like the text (which you can double-click on to edit) or the image frame.
Like Google Docs, Canva enables you to share and collaborate with others, so if you want a second set of eyes on your design, click the Share button in the toolbar and then add an email address.
When you’re done, click Download to save your post for, well, posting. If you’ve accidentally included any premium assets, you’ll have the option to pay to remove their watermarks (normally at about $1 per asset). It’s handy if you only occasionally use Canva, but if this happens a lot, you should subscribe to Canva Pro for $12.99/month (or at least check out the 30-day free trial). Pro has heaps of extra designs, and some nice features, like automatic resizing, a social media scheduler, and the ability to upload your “brand kit,” so you can easily add your logo, brand colors, and font to your designs.
Canva has recently started adding lots of AI-powered features. Most are locked behind a Canva Pro subscription, but you can check out the AI text-to-image generator on the free plan. It’s…fine, but you’d be better off using a dedicated AI art generator like Stable Diffusion or Midjourney and adding their output to your Canva design.
If Canva does the trick for you, you can probably stop here—it’s an all-around winner. But if you’re looking for Canva alternatives, keep reading.
Canva price: Free for 1,000,000+ templates and other assets, and 5 GB cloud storage; from $12.99/month for Canva Pro, which offers 1TB of storage, multiple millions of assets, and more.
Best free social media design app for scaling a side hustle
Adobe Express (Web, iOS, Android)
Adobe is the biggest name in graphic design, so it’s no surprise they have an app designed for making social media and web graphics. Adobe Express (which was on this list previously as Adobe Spark; it was rebranded and updated last year) isn’t as well known as Photoshop or Illustrator, but it’s better for most people who are looking to create graphics to share on social media. And it’s free to get started.
Template-wise, Express still falls behind Canva. It has less to choose from, and the search isn’t as good. Don’t get me wrong: there are still thousands of awesome free templates, but you’re less likely to find that perfect template and more likely to have to spend a few minutes tweaking one that’s close, but not quite there.
For all that, Express is a better editor in many respects. It has Quick Actions on the home screen that can do things like resize images, convert videos to GIFs, and remove backgrounds. They’re powered by Adobe’s Photoshop and Premiere apps operating in the cloud, apparently. It’s a really intuitive way to have access to what can be quite advanced tools in other apps.
In the editor, Express has some pretty powerful features, but it keeps them out of the way. Almost anyone should be able to create a great-looking social media graphic with it, but if you want to drill in deeper and customize things more, there are advanced layer options, blend modes, color toning, and other features pulled from Adobe’s better-known apps. You can generally access them by selecting any design element and checking out the right sidebar. It really hits that nice middle-ground: quick and easy to use for 90% of jobs, but with the more powerful features available for when you want them.
Express is an excellent standalone app for designing social media graphics, but it’s hard to overlook its integration with the rest of Adobe’s Creative Suite. If you plan to scale your business to the point where you need to use (and pay for) Adobe’s more powerful tools, Express is the way to go. You can create libraries (in the Libraries tab of the sidebar) that are available across all your Adobe apps and pull in photos from Lightroom or brand elements from Illustrator. Adobe Stock images and graphics are also available throughout the app.
Adobe is also going all-in on AI and has teased a powerful generative AI called Firefly. The features aren’t available in Express yet, but expect them to get added over the coming months. They are likely to be limited to the paid plan, though.
Adobe Express price: Free for basic features and 2GB of cloud storage; from $9.99/mo for premium features, such as logo upload and placement, branded templates and tools, additional Adobe apps, and 100GB of cloud storage.
Best free social media design app for quickly making images to share on social media
Pablo by Buffer(Web)
Pablo is a minimalist tool for placing text over the top of images, from the team behind the social media scheduling app Buffer. It couldn’t be simpler to use or in its design. For me, that’s a feature—but if you need something with more options, check out one of the other great apps on this list.
Seriously, Pablo is a barebones post maker app. Open the website, and you’re straight into the app. There’s no need to create an account—because there are no accounts. In the center of the screen, there’s a preview of your image. On the left, you can search for an image through Unsplash or click Upload Image to add your own. At the top of the screen, click Templates to choose from one of the six defaults. On the right, you can choose the size and shape of the canvas, add a filter, position the text, and insert your logo or another graphic. Click on the text to change its formatting, double-click on it to edit it directly. Oh, and click Reposition to change the position and crop of the background image. That’s literally it.
Once you’re happy with your post pic (and it won’t take long for you to be), click Share & Download to save your image or post it directly to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram (or queue it up with Buffer). If you do queue it up with Buffer, you can also connect it to any of the other apps you use with Zapier.
For all the lack of options, Pablo is still on this list. It makes it beyond simple to create basic-but-good-looking social media images, and by stripping most features, it makes it impossible to create ugly ones. If you’re a fan, you should also check out Remix by Buffer—it’s a smartphone app for creating graphics for Instagram. It’s too niche to make this list, but it does what it claims to do.
Pablo price: Free
Best free social media design app for creating occasional images
Of all the apps on this list, Snappa is the only one whose free plan has access to the exact same templates, graphics, images, and other design resources as the paid plan. The catch is that, instead of having to carefully check what template you’re using, you can only download three designs a month.
If you only occasionally need to create images for your social media channels—or just want to create a one-off banner for your Twitter account or Facebook page—it’s really nice to not constantly be running into upgrade notifications or selecting themes only to be told they’re only available on the Pro plan. As good as Canva and Adobe Express are, the free plans do make you very aware that there’s a paid plan they’d love you to be on. Snappa is a lot less pushy—but no less useful.
The other mild difference with Snappa is that its templates—while excellent—aren’t as thoroughly themed as some of the other options, nor is there an easy way to search through them. You need to look at the defaults as a base you can customize and build from, rather than something ready-built where you’re simply adding a photo and changing the words.
If you want to make a birthday post, for example, you should look at the templates and pick one that has a layout you like, and then make it yours by adding your own images—or finding one of the included royalty-free stock images that works for you. You can customize it further by clicking on Effects and adding a color overlay, blur, or other adjustment—most of which serve to make any text on top of the image more legible.
Of course, you then need to add balloons. Because every birthday post has balloons. To do that, click the Graphics tool and then Icons. Use the search to find a balloon you like, and click to add it. To make sure everything lines up nicely, you can click the Toggle Grid option in the top toolbar and use it to position things perfectly.
When you’re happy with how things look, click Download to save your image or Share to push it directly to your social media accounts—so long as you haven’t maxed out your free posts. If you have, you’ll need to upgrade or save it to keep the file until the monthly limit resets.
Snappa price: Free for 3 downloads or shares per month; from $15/month for Snappa Pro with unlimited downloads, shares, and integration with Buffer and your social media accounts.
Best free social media and print design app
VistaCreate(Web, iOS, Android)
You might know the name VistaPrint as one of the biggest online custom print shops. Well, its free design tool, VistaCreate, is capable of making awesome graphics for social media as well. It used to be a popular tool called Crello, but Vista (as the parent company now calls itself) acquired it in 2021.
VistaCreate stands out for how much it offers for free. Any templates I looked at were available on the forever free plan, and there are apparently more than 100,000 of them across all the different design categories. There are also more than a million photos, videos, and vectors you can add to your creations—though that goes up to more than 70 million with the $13/month Pro plan.
Similarly, the editor’s Stylesfeature makes it simple to change the color palette and font of any template, which gives you even more options. You can even create your own custom “brand kit” with your logo, color palette, and chosen font so that you can make any template match your brand with a single click.
What’s more, VistaCreate gives you a whopping 10GB of file storage, so you can upload all your brand assets and marketing material. Of course, Vista is presumably hoping you’ll take the opportunity to design and order some matching business cards or flyers—but it’s hard to fault what’s on offer.
If you want to collaborate with your teammates, have multiple brand kits, or be able to automatically resize any graphic into a different format, you’ll have to upgrade to that $13/month Pro plan. Still, with unlimited storage and version history, it’s a pretty solid deal. And even the free plan comfortably goes toe-to-toe with Canva and Adobe Express.
VistaCreate price: Free for thousands of templates plus 10GB of file storage; from $13/month for VistaCreate Pro with team features, millions of stock assets, and unlimited storage.
What is the best free graphic design software?
When it comes to creating social media posts, you want to use the app that will make it the quickest—so you can get your content out there and get people engaging with it. Since these are all free graphic design tools—and they’re all easy to use—give each one a spin for a few minutes and see which one works best for you.
Learn more: Find the best AI image generators and the best AI photo editors
This article was originally published in October 2017 by Emily Irish. The most recent update was in May 2023.
In conclusion, the field of graphic design is constantly evolving, with new software and tools being developed each year. In 2023, several free graphic design software options have emerged as the best choices for creating social media posts. Canva has proven to be a reliable and comprehensive choice, offering a user-friendly interface and a wide range of customizable templates. GIMP has also gained popularity for its advanced editing capabilities and extensive feature set. Lastly, Gravit Designer is an emerging contender, with its innovative cloud-based platform and effortless collaboration tools. However, individual preferences and specific project requirements may vary, so it’s recommended to experiment with each software to find the one that best suits your needs. With the rapid advancement of technology, it’s exciting to anticipate the innovations that will shape the graphic design landscape in the coming years. Whether you’re a professional designer or a beginner looking to enhance your social media presence, these free graphic design software options can undoubtedly empower you to create stunning and impactful social media posts in 2023.
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