graphic illustration for blog of computer pages phone and tablet with grids

When to use design templates & when not to

November 23, 2021


While I am always a proponent for collaborating with a professional to fulfill your graphic design needs, I also know that sometimes it’s just not in the budget, especially if you’re just starting out or running a small business. The good news is when you use high quality graphic design templates and customize them to fit your brand you can save money while keeping your content and platforms professional (a must for all brands!)

Now, that being said, there are some things you absolutely should not use templates for, no matter how great or reasonably priced they are. I know it’s tempting, but trust me, you’re going to wish you hadn’t later down the road. To help you navigate the does and don’ts of template use (because there are A LOT of options out there), I composed this list and included a few tips and tricks for using them.

Do

Like I said, with the right templates and customization you can save money without compromising in the way of professionalism. In this day and age you thankfully don’t have to spend tons of money to make your content, shop, and brand look good.

Templates can be a great alternative to hiring a graphic designer when you need something that doesn’t need to be 100% custom made. These are things that you can apply your brand identity to and customize yourself.

 

Here are some of the things templates are great for:

  • eBooks, workbooks, magazines, look-books, and catalogs.
  • Lead magnets (quizzes, checklists, challenges, roadmaps, guides, etc.)
  • Presentations and slide decks
  • Social media posts templates
  • Websites (you can often find templates to help you build your blog or website, just make sure they work with the program or platform you’re using, like WordPress or Squarespace.)
  • Mockups (these are usually photoshop templates that allow you to place your designs of products like t-shirts to see what they would look like in real life. I personally love and use mockup templates regularly to help my clients and customers see what a potential product will look like.)
  • Documents (invoices, proposals, business documents, business plans)
  • Emails (just make sure they work with whatever platform you’re using for your email marketing like MailChimp or Sendinblue.)
  • Mood boards and style guides (this does not include the brand, just the template to insert your own brand)
  • Icons

 

Some key things to look for when shopping for templates:

  1. They need to be completely customizable. You need to be able to change pictures, fonts, colors, pretty much everything, so that you can make it look like the rest of your brand.
  2. Make sure that you have the tools and programs needed to use the template. Some require professional design programs like Adobe Photoshop or InDesign in order to even open them, so make sure you are double checking the format and program requirements of the template you want to purchase. If you can find templates that can be used on Canva these are great because their accounts are free to use! Just be sure that none of the fonts or images require a pro subscription.
  3. Avoid using free templates. Every now and then using a free Instagram post template on Canva is okay, but in order to get quality designs you’re going to have to pay a few dollars and there are a lot of reasonably prices options out there.

Remember, not all templates are created equal so it’s important you to do some shopping around for something that will best fit your brand and needs. A great site for finding templates (besides mine of course!) is Creative Market, a platform where professional designers of all kinds and styles sell their products. You can find literally anything here, from blog site templates and email newsletter layouts to Pinterest posts and product look-books. They have other cool things here too like snazzy fonts and fun gradient backgrounds.

Don't

As great as templates can be there are some things you really shouldn’t use them for. When it comes to the things that need to be 100% custom and authentic to your specific brand, it’s important to budget for a professional designer.

 

Things you don’t want to use templates for:

  • PLEASE do not buy premade logos. Not only will your logo not be custom to your brand, it could also end up looking just like several other brand’s logos. While it’s bad practice to have a visual identity that looks like it belongs to someone else, what’s worse is that it could also get you into legal trouble later. Your logo is such a key component to your brand’s identity, save your pennies so that you can one you can be proud of and won’t land you in hot water later.
  • Branding kits. Your whole visual identity needs to be made specifically for your brands needs and audience. A good designer isn’t just going to throw something together that looks pretty. They’re going to build an identity that meets your brand’s needs, appeals to your target market and/or audience, and is unique to you. Just like the logo, you don’t want a visual identity that looks just like someone else, especially if they’re a competitor.
  • Packaging (hang tags, labels, shipping materials, etc.)
  • It should go without saying, but if you are going to sell something it needs to be of your own design. Don’t infringe on someone else’s copyrights, it’s illegal and can land you in a lot of trouble. Plus, it’s just kind of shitty.

Take things on a project-by-project basis. You’ll find that sometimes a template works great for what you need, and other times what you need is a design that is tailored and designed specific to your brand. Just make sure that when you do decide to go the template route that you customize it to match the rest of your brand’s identity.