Graphic Design Tools


While Boise State University does not have a single recommended or “supported” graphic design tool, this article reviews several popular graphic design software applications and identifies the pros and cons of each one.

The intended audience for this article is faculty, instructors, TA’s etc. designing content to be used in a course.

Remember to consider accessibility elements like alternative text when creating content for online resources.

What Is Graphic Design Software?

Graphic design software is used to create and edit images, art, and illustrations. There are many different tools and options.

Why might someone might need a Graphic Design tool?

Instructors often have a need to create their own images and graphics. Use cases include the following:

  • Creating a course banner, thumbnail, or other image for aesthetic purposes

  • Creating a diagram or instructional graphic

  • Editing or annotating an existing graphic or screenshot

  • Editing a profile or other photograph

While these use cases represent the distinct activities of creating and editing, the tools available to do these tasks are often similar or overlapping.

Graphic Design Software Matrix








Boise State University provides a free Snagit license for Faculty and Staff.

User friendly

Simple, powerful screen capture software that allows the user to capture and edit anything on your computer screen, including up to an hour of video.

Snagit is a simple editor and does not have some of the more advanced features of Photoshop.


Not recommended by Boise State University OIT at this time.

Free Limited Use of Software

Easy to use regardless of skill level

Offers a variety of templates and – that can be altered to be more custom

Offers stock photos

Team access for group work

Social media templates

Free version has limited access to templates and stock photography

Accessibility issues with use of the tool, contrast, zoom, etc.

Export versions are limited

Intellectual property belongs to Canva and your account can be deleted by Canva at any time


Not recommended by Boise State University OIT at this time.

A free account is available with limited access.

User friendly for beginners.

Quality product.

The advanced graphic design features are only available with the paid version of the product.

There can be a time delay in previews.

The software can only be accessed over the internet, no offline access.


Not recommended by Boise State University OIT at this time.

There is a free version of this software available.

Easy to use for beginners.

Good free options for basic edits to photos.

Free version had ads consuming significant screen real estate.

Free version only allows for a limited amount of “Saves” before it requires upgrade to continue.

Frequent updates can cause confusion locating features in PIXLR

Adobe Express

Create and share a wide variety of visual media all in one platform.

Fluid templates and many stock assets

Powerful and useful image and video editing features

File conversion capabilities

Includes 2GB (free) and 100GB (paid version) of cloud storage

As a primarily visual platform, the tool might be challenging for students with varying accessibility needs.

Not intuitive at first if you're used to Creative Cloud desktop apps

Unexpected menus show up after certain actions

No new functionality in the webpage category (formerly Spark Page)

Adobe Creative Suite


Includes Photoshop, Illustrator and In Design. These are all professional grade graphic design tools.

(ProTip! GIMP is a free alternative to photoshop)

These products require a monthly subscription cost and do have a high learning curve.


Microsoft, Apple, and Google free built in image editing tools

Depending on your technology, you should have access to the free built in tools provided by your system.

Microsoft paint and snipping tools

Apple preview and photos

Google photos, etc.

These tools typically offer the most basic of editing options.