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More bang for your graphic design efforts

By Darby Jones

SUMMARY: Graphic designers enhance the message of your church's communications tools. People "read" visually before they look at the text.

Even with a limited budget, quality graphic design is important. Finding time and money to create effective marketing pieces for your church can be daunting. Stock your design toolbox with inexpensive tools. Make your job easier and your projects shine!

Do you need art?

An abundance of stock photography and illustrations will work with just about any budget. For example, allows you to purchase prepaid shares to buy royalty-free images that start around a $0.20/image. There is also a section where photographers donate their images, so you can download them for free. All the images are carefully scrutinized and selected, in order to make sure that only the best are included.

Feature your congregation's "live" art as well.

Ask talented members to be official church photographers at events or to snap staff headshots. Take your camera with you at all times and document events. Learn more ministry ideas for your church's artists.

Tap into free design tools online.

When you are ready to start designing, you can make amateur images look polished. You may not have the budget to get the latest graphics software like Adobe Photoshop, but online services such as offer free photo, video and audio editing. Aviary does not require downloads, as it is Web-based. Convert a color photo to black-and-white and see how much more powerful it becomes. Add special effects to give a photo more pizzazz. Crop your photos to remove unnecessary content and eliminate boring backgrounds, increasing the photo's visual appeal. Aviary also offers vector-based illustration tools for posters, brochures and the like. Vector illustrations offer more design versatility because they do not lose resolution quality when you enlarge the image.

Hire freelance designers.

Do you lack time or staff to handle design projects in-house? Find a freelance designer by asking your congregation, running an ad on craigslist, posting a request on your Facebook page or contacting a visual communications professor at a local community college. Students often will work with a small budget or free for real-world experience to include in their professional portfolios.

Build templates.

Go for the best of both worlds. Instead of paying a freelance designer for all of your projects, hire the expert to design a template using software you have available. A template can provide spaces and styles for your marketing pieces (e.g., table of contents, articles, tips and ads). This will give you a great head start on designing frequent projects such as newsletters. You pay a one-time fee and then, with a little training from the designer, you bring the project in-house.

Graphic Design 101

When you are designing your newsletter in-house, make it easy on yourself. Follow a few basic design rules that will allow readers to scan your newsletter and easily find the information they want.

  • Keep articles short and easy to digest.
  • Use just one or two accent colors that tie in to your church branding or that match other marketing efforts.
  • Use no more than two fonts in a single piece. Then use bold, italic and black versions of these fonts to add variety.
  • Choose serif fonts (such as Garamond or Times New Roman) for body copy and sans serif fonts (like Helvetica or Futura) for headlines and subheads.
  • Consider your audience when selecting font sizes. An older audience will appreciate larger font sizes and more leading (the spacing between the lines).
  • Attract your reader by using "pulled quotes" and highlighting "fast facts."
  • Leave a little white space here and there. It helps your design to "breathe" and helps move the reader's eye around the page.
  • Use narrower columns to fit more copy on a page than one long column of text. Narrower columns of text are easier to read.

Free Twitter Backgrounds

Spice up your Twitter pages with good design, too. offers a free background for the microblog every Tuesday at