What Graphic Resources Do I Have?

Outsourcing

As far as paid options go, perhaps your most affordable tool is to outsource any graphical needs via sites like Fiverr.com or Upwork.com; these allow you to select from a host of graphic designers who have done work similar to what you’re looking for and will work for cheap. The main advantage here is cost. The disadvantages are many. You could get a shady designer that gives you work that contains elements of other jobs and is copyright infringement at worst and unoriginal at best.

There’s no obligation to go with a cheap designer on these sites. Upwork, for example, has options to only show your accept applications from designers in the United States, and you can specify that you want the best experts who charge more. With some luck, you can find a great designer for an affordable rate. You also have some protections if you go through reputable sites. (note: Upwork is a rebranding of ODesk and Elance).

Do-It-Yourself Tools

With pretty much everyone having access to a high-quality camera and amazing tools and tutorials, doing it yourself isn’t farfetched. It may take some research, but you have complete control over the product.

The most popular tools to get the job done are found in the Adobe Suite. It’s a pricey bit of software if you buy it outright, but there are also subscription options that may work for you (and students get half off).

A free alternative to Photoshop is Gimp. An alternative to Illustrator is Inkscape. Some other free programs that might help are Krita (does vector and raster, excels at painting), My Paint (super accessible painting), and Blender (free 3D animation/modeling).

One issue with using free software is that the templates downloaded from your CD duplicator or marketing materials printer may only be for Adobe and other commercial programs.

Creative Commons

There are many free resources that fall under the Creative Commons umbrella, but they aren’t all licensed for any use. Most come with caveats, such as you can’t use them commercially, or you have to provide attribution to the original author in a specific way. The only CC license that is completely unrestricted is CC0—the Creative Commons dedication. Any asset that accurately falls under CC0 is free for any use forever, including passing it off as your own work with or without modification. For this reason, they usually require significant alteration to be original enough to use. Still, it’s a good place to go for elements of your final creations. For example . . .

CC0 piano into a creative CD cover

If you took this CC0 piano image and used a little creativity, no one would recognize it.