Blog post images are a pretty big deal – they’re the only thing that matters on Pinterest and Instagram. They increase engagement on Facebook and Twitter. On top of that, images help you build a consistent and attractive visual brand.
But creating beautiful illustrations can be time consuming. Sometimes, creating the perfect feature image for a post takes just as much time as writing it.
In my search for a perfect solution – blog post images that are both visually appealing and easy to make – I tested many different techniques, and in this post I share some of my tips with you.
Create your brand guidelines
The subjects in your photos and drawings may vary, but when put next to each other, they should look like they’re a part of the same story.
Your style will evolve over time, and it’s to be expected that your old images will look worse compared with the new ones, but you can reduce this by sticking to a consistent color palette, fonts and general style. (Read more about how to DIY your branding here, and for an advanced guide on style guides, check out my post Branding guidelines (style guides) demystified.)
Pages from my own brand style guide
Of course, someday you might decide to rebrand your business and blog. When this happens, your old images will inevitably look a bit out of place.
My old brand colors, fonts and style were very different from the current one. At first, I didn’t have the time to bother with old blog posts, but one day I’ve finally had it and decided to update some of my most popular post images. I changed the colors and fonts, and re-drew some of them from scratch. It took me a couple of days to get through dozens of posts, and I’ve left many of them alone because the difference wouldn’t be that noticeable.
Whether you want to change old images or not is up to you – but make sure that going forward, the new designs you make are consistent and harmonious.
Templates save time
By far the easiest way to keep things consistent is to create templates that you’ll use for your upcoming posts.
Some people create very simple templates – text on a solid color background – and just update the post title and call it a day. I’m not a fan of this and rarely use the text-only approach, but I find it particularly helpful with quotes. I tweak the background image and colors so they’re not all exactly the same, but I keep the same composition and the ornament element.
Still, you can create templates even when you change photos or illustrations. Keep the original layered file of one of your post images, and next time you create a new image, start with the existing file instead of a blank one. Replace the photo, change the text, adjust the composition a bit and you’re done!
Make sure the text on the image is legible
Your blog post images will be scaled down to miniature thumbnails on Pinterest, so make sure to pick a font that's easy to read, and that there is sufficient contrast between the text and the background.
These are the top mistakes I see people make with their blog image designs: either they choose a curly font that turns into a blurry mush when scaled down, or they use dark text on a dark background. Don't sacrifice legibility for the sake of “creativity”. That's just bad design.
If you're using a dark image as a background, choose a lighter text color: white, cream, yellow, or light pastel green, blue or pink. If you're using a light background image, any dark, intense color that suits your brand will do.
Images with a lot of midtones or no whitespace are tricky, though. Usually you won't be able to just add text to them on its own, but you can add an area of solid color, or a semi-transparent frame to increase the contrast – see examples below.
Images for my blog posts What's in my sketching toolkit? and My WordPress Meetup talk and thoughts on roadblocks. The use of red text on the latter one is intentional, to stand out from the grayscale background.
Reuse & recycle
I used to drive myself crazy trying to come up with an original graphic idea for every single blog post. Sometimes the concepts I was writing about were difficult to illustrate. Then I looked around at what other people were doing, and realized I was putting too much unnecessary pressure on myself.
You don’t need to come up with an original illustration or a photo for every single post.
I’ve started using photos of my sketchbooks for post images, even though the motif has nothing to do with the topic I wrote about. My sketchbooks are often the source for backdrops of my designs, because they add to the unique visual style of my work.
Image for my blog post On being in the Process
If a particular image works very well for two different concepts, you can use it for both – as long as these two posts don’t immediately follow one another. There’s an exception to that: if you’re working on a series of posts, you can use the same image for all of them to reinforce the fact they’re a part of a series (for example, my blog post series Month of Fairies).
Create a photo library
Using stock images is fine, but I’ve found that the images I like the most tend to be over-used by other bloggers as well. The best way to avoid this is to shoot your own photos for every purpose you can think of.
Some examples of what you might want to photograph:
- Your work desk with your tools
- Details of your studio or office space
- Close-up photos of your sketchbooks, planners, journals, pencil holders, art supplies...
- Nature around your home or office
- Details around your home (house plants, flower vases, pillows, curtains, books...)
- Photos of you creating art
- Close-ups or cropped view of your finished artwork
- Your outdoor creative adventures
- Artistic self-portraits
When shooting images for your blog, make sure you leave a large amount of uniformly colored space in the composition where the text is going to fit, so you don’t have to cover up any important bits. Fore more tips on taking good photos of your art, read my post: How to take great sketchbook photos.
Keep your photos sorted in folders by subject, so you can quickly find what you’re looking for when you need it.
Batch the image creation process
Batching is great for several reasons:
- When you’re focused on a single task, you work better and faster
- Your images will naturally look more coherent because you’re in the same mood and state of mind
- You improve your technique with each new illustration, and your style evolves quicker
Dedicate one day every month to creating images for all the upcoming blog posts. In order to do this, you’ll need to have your post drafts ready, or at the very least the topics you’ll write about. I use Trello for managing my editorial calendar, and I can easily filter the posts that need illustration, so I can see them at a glance.
My blog editorial calendar in Trello – posts that need images are marked with a blue label
You can also use your list of blog topics as an inspiration when you don’t know what to draw during your daily creative practice, or whenever you’re bored.
Use your unique advantage
This is so simple, yet so easy to miss.
When I started this blog, I thought that creating vector cartoons for my featured images was the best way to go about illustrating my posts. I wasn’t normally doing vector cartoons, but I figured hey, how hard can it be?
These cartoons took me way more time than I anticipated, and the results weren’t that great. The graphics were decent, just not very impactful, and not me at all.
I thought that in time I will improve my technique, but to be honest my heart wasn’t in it. It just wasn’t the style of art I was interested in getting better at.
On the other hand, I could be sketching doodles with ink and watercolor all day long, and I’m making lettering pieces just for fun. These are the things I’m eager to improve, and I’m more pleased with them than I ever was with my vector pieces.
Images for my blog posts Mind Detox Retreat – A Cure For Burnout And Overload and 15 ways to infuse creativity into your boring business tasks
Go with what’s easy and fun.
I’m all for experimenting with new techniques, but it’s important to review whether the experiment was a success or not, and to decide if you want to keep doing the same thing.
Your blog graphics may be the first art of yours that new visitors see. If these graphics are not a good representation of your style, maybe they’re doing you more harm than good. This doesn’t mean that you need to create detailed, finished artworks for every post. But you may choose the same technique, or a style that’s consistent with your other work.
- If you draw and paint, keep drawing and painting.
- If collage and altered books are your thing, make an altered book specifically for your blog.
- If you enjoy lettering, instead of doing just famous quotes, start lettering your own wisdom.
- If you’re a designer, create patterns, ornaments and icons you can use in your blog graphics.
- If photography is your strong suit, well, duh.
Don’t treat your blog images like a chore – consider them an art project in themselves. See where your inspiration takes you when you have a constraint of creating based on a specific topic.
Don’t treat your blog post images like a chore – consider them an #art project.
Knowing social media image dimension helps, but don’t obsess with it
The problem with social media is that they tend to change their featured image dimensions at least once a year. After doing this blogging thing for a while, I kind of got tired of trying to design my images so they look the very best on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+. There are some templates out there designed to conform to most common featured image standards, but they get outdated quickly.
I recommend that you focus on social media channels that bring you the most traffic and engagement, and tailor your featured images to fit them. For Facebook, the preferred image format at the moment is horizontal. For Pinterest and Google+, the preferred image format is vertical.
Pick an image standard for your blog that you prefer, or vary your image dimensions with every post – it’s up to you. In my opinion, trying to keep up with social media giants is more trouble than it’s worth.
If your blog isn’t good, no amount of social media optimization will save it. If your blog is great, you will get loyal readers and tons of social media shares regardless of your featured image size.
I hope this guide was helpful, and that you’ve gotten some ideas on how you can improve and streamline your image making process.
If you’ve found a great way to create images that you’d like to share, please write it in the comments! I appreciate any ideas and tips that you might have.