Be Your Own Designer - The Best Free Resources for when You’re Short on Time

You'll be pleased to hear we recently updated this post. It was originally written in June 2015, but now it contains a whole new suite of design tools!

Has there ever been a time when you’ve realised you’re a day away from a big pitch, but you forgot to book any design time through your creative department? Or perhaps there’s that last-minute blog post that needs some images and banners, but there’s no way of roping in a designer at such short notice! It’s easy to become reliant when you have a Design team at the ready, but when push comes to shove, slightly unwillingly, you sometimes have to don that faux-designer’s hat. The trouble is, where do you even begin? To help you out in such hours of need, I have compiled a list of my favourite design resources for non-designers and designers alike. Oh, and did I mention they’re all free?

Just a quick disclaimer: this isn’t Graphic Design 101 (I’m definitely not ready to declare myself redundant as a designer at Distilled). Instead, think of this as more of a design directory if you will. Whether you’re after a nice font to spruce up your Word doc or you really need some images to dress that presentation to impress, if you’re going to find a fast, free solution anywhere, start here.

Typography & Fonts

Font Squirrel

Font Squirrel does exactly what it says on the tin; all the fonts listed are 100% free for commercial use. Best of all they are hand-picked, so unlike other sites offering free fonts (e.g. Dafont) you have peace of mind that there has been a selection process. Plus, not everyone can submit material to Font Squirrel. The only thing to watch out for are the types of licenses: some fonts may only be allowed for desktop use and not web, so do pay attention before downloading.

Google Fonts

If like me (and Distilled as a whole), you’re partial to a Google Doc, you might already be familiar with the awesomeness that is Google Fonts. The ability to just be able to pick and choose from hundreds of open-source fonts, without even needing to download anything! That’s the thing though, Google Fonts are all about the web and positioning themselves as the best resource for ‘webfonts’, they don’t even advertise the fact that you can download every single one of them to use elsewhere offline, even… (drumroll please) in Microsoft Word. It’s really simple to do. Once you’ve chosen your font and added to your collection, click ‘use’ and on the right-hand side, there will be a small download icon. I’d typically recommend getting the .zip file and installing the font manually.

Font Pair

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to use not one, but two awesome Google Fonts to mix things up, what you need is a good font pairing. Luckily for you, the guys at Font Pair have it covered. Choose between no less than six different style combinations that will be sure to give any copy that exciting edge.

FontFace Ninja

Finally, to round up this section is my absolute favourite: FontFace Ninja. This is really more of a tool than a resource, but I just couldn’t leave it out. Gone are the days of desperately trying to find out the font that I’ve seen used beautifully on a website, but which I don’t know the name of. FontFace Ninja is a lightweight extension, for Chrome or Safari, which allows you to find out the name and details of any font on any webpage, simply by hovering over some text. If it’s a free font it should also give you the option to download it. What more could you ask for?


Although in recent years our screens have become saturated with crisp full-screen images, the trend isn’t quite over yet; users are apparently still hungry for more! Here are a couple of my favourite photo sites that will a) meet your audience’s demands, b) not cost you a single penny, and most importantly c) not get your head in a twist over attribution and licensing issues, because they’re all released under Creative Commons Zero (CC0). In other words, not only are the images completely free to use, no attribution is required either.




If photos aren’t your thing and you’re after illustrations instead, unDraw offers a neat selection that wouldn’t look out of place on any modern website or banner. The best thing is they’ve made it really easy to change the main colour of each image to suit your needs, for instance, if you ever have the internal brand police on your case!

Screenshots & Mockups

Screenshots can be a tricky one to get right, yet in our line of work, it can play a significant part in things like sales pitches or client presentations.

Nimbus Capture

Apart from Grab, the native Mac OS app (which I also do swear by), Nimbus Capture is definitely one of the better screenshot extensions I’ve used.  Capturing a full web page may seem slightly excessive if you just need to show a section, but for those instances when what you want to show extends beyond your laptop screen’s physical height, this works wonders.

Magic Mockups

If you want to take it one step further, for example when selling creative ideas, Magic Mockups might just be the extra boost you need. This impressive and easy-to-use tool lets you create in-situ mockups of your website, app or product in just a few minutes. Not convinced? The following example took me less than 2 minutes to make and download. I barely lifted a finger, so this probably is a secret best kept amongst us lazy bunch.


A lot of icon sets out there are definitely tailored to a more design-savvy audience, those who have Illustrator or Photoshop at their disposal. But what happened to the plain and simple PNG image that you can just whack next to some text in a banner? Look no further than the following two sites. Sure, they don’t have the same volume as a site like The Noun Project, but as with the photography sites I recommended earlier, the advantage is that they require zero moolah, zero attribution.




Colours are things that can often throw up a challenge for even the more experienced of designers, let alone someone whose full-time job is not doodling and colouring in all day. 


Whenever I need colour inspiration, I head over to Coolors. Hit spacebar to cycle through their generated colour combinations (try not to get too mesmerised and sidetracked when doing this!). If you’re the picky type, it allows you to tweak and lock down on the colours you like, just hover over the colour blocks to configure.

As a side-note, everybody should have a trusty eyedropper extension installed (any will do really). While “guess the hex” may have a catchy ring to it, there’s no good reason in trying to match colours by eye anymore, especially if you want to keep your brand colours in check.

Image Templates

Canva shouldn’t be a revelation for people who have to deal with social media marketing. It’s fast becoming the go-to tool for creating quick images, sized perfectly for your needs whether that be Facebook, Twitter, etc. That said, its capabilities aren’t restricted to these, you can use it for general image creation of any kind. So, if I were you I’d take the advice given on their homepage and “Get your team on brand. Unleash your creativity.”!

Presentation templates

Finally just to wrap things up: if the going gets really tough, and you find yourself having to create and design your own presentation from scratch, my advice for you would be… don’t do it! In recent years there has been a surge in interest for presentation tools claiming to do a lot of design heavy-lifting for you. One of them which has come close to living up to this promise is, Even as a designer, I sometimes relish the opportunity to relinquish control and just let someone, or something in this case, take care of things like spacing and alignment, not least because it frees up time to focus on the content of your presentation rather than fretting over the format.

If your team are adamant about sticking with the G-suite though, check out Slides Carnival. They offer a range of free Google Slides templates, which can at least get you going. There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank slide, not knowing where to begin.

That’s all for now, folks. Thanks for sticking around. If you have any questions or thoughts, just drop me a line in the comment section below.

Get blog posts via email