Need suggestions on what apps to use

I am a quasi-graphic designer. 2-year degree in comm design but never officially worked as a designer. Used skills in my business for 13 years. This to show you I have some skills.
My project is to design a cover for my new book. Please save me months of researching multiple software programs. You are the professionals, You know this stuff. Which software program should I choose to manipulate pics of old cars and make a collage? I want to first try outlines of each car. I designed the cover of my first book in Canva, but it was all type. Looking for cheapest software solution. Don’t want to have to pay for and take the time to learn Photoshop.
Your suggestions please, thanks.

I’d say your options are fourfold.

  1. Bite the bullet and get Photoshop. It’s the best tool for the job.

  2. Buy Affinity Photo, but, if you don’t want to pay for Photoshop, you probably don’t want to pay for Affinity Photo, either.

  3. Use some crappy, free software. I don’t know what it would be, but I’m sure it’s out there.

  4. Hire a pro and save yourself a lot of time and frustration.

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These last two sentences largely rule out accomplishing what you have in mind. I routinely use a combination of InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop for projects similar to book covers. I’ve sometimes used the Affinity suite of equivalent applications, which are good products and considerably cheaper but still not free.

There are free software apps, but they’re no easier to use than expensive ones, and they generally have shortcomings of various sorts.

Yes, but professionals typically don’t have suggestions on do-it-yourself software since we don’t use it.

I’d recommend what Steve suggested about hiring a professional. However, if you really want free, try GIMP. It’s no easier to use than Photoshop, though.

Just be sure you have the license releases on those photos of old cars…


That software is called Gimp.

Just-B is correct. Gimp is no easier than Photoshop, maybe worse. Photoshop beats it hands down simply due to the overabundance of photoshop tutorials online. There probably are some for Gimp, but, eh…


Photoshop is the wrong software for a bookcover.

Scribus or inkscape is free.

Can’t help you with learning curve.

I want to fly to Australia but I don’t want to pay for a flight or learn how to fly a plane.

Gotea suck it up and pay for services you can’t do yourself.

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Since I am retired I don’t have the budget for the Adobe apps these days, so I bought Affinity Apps. The learning curve is steep but works great for me now for the two paying clients (the ones that still insist I do their work) and the probono clients I have who feel the same. Works fine for me.

Do I have to license the photo if I just want to trace the outline?

Thanks. Very helpful.

That’s exactly what I used to to. I worked for an airline.

It will be my design and work whether its any good or not.

I didn’t say I had to have free. I just don’t want to purchase Photshop and have to learn it for one project. A cheaper program would be best. I thought you guys might know all of them. I don’t have time to learn Photoshop. At 80 I don’t have time for much of anything but I will do this cover.

Plenty of free options.

do you need to buy a photo to trace? Yes. You are creating derivative art. Sometimes photo rights depend on how many pieces you intend to print too.

If you have better things to do at 80, hire someone to do this while you do those other things.
Gimp and Inkscape are free options. There is nothing that can be done about the learning curve on any software you may find.

This forum tends to be frequented by professional designers and students, so you’re getting answers from those points of view.

If this book is a personal project that won’t be listed for sale anywhere, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. If there’s a commercial nature to your book, yes, you need to make sure you have permission to use the photo if the photo’s copyright doesn’t belong to you.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of a low-cost, easy-to-learn photo editor that will do what you need. There might be something out there that would work, but as I mentioned earlier, there aren’t too many people here who dabble with hobbyist software.

The only lower-cost software I’m certain could do the image editing you’ve described is Affinity Photo for about $70, but there’s a learning curve. It’s no easier to use than Photoshop, but it is good software. There’s a 30-day trial version, so you can download it and assess it yourself.

Normally, with a book cover like yours, I’d use Photoshop for the photo editing, then move the photo into Adobe InDesign or Illustrator to add typography or vector graphic elements, such as logos or hard-edged graphics. Then again, I do this for a living, but if this is just a personal project for you, your family, and your friends, maybe you don’t need the kind of quality that the combination of tools I mentioned would provide. If you’re self-publishing this through KDP, IngramSpark, or another print-on-demand publisher, they have various online tools that might work for everything except the image you need.

After reading everything, and considering your age and your dedication to doing this yourself and I admire the fact you want to do it yourself without much of a learning curve.

Considering all this I appreciate where you’re coming from.

I would, if in your shoes, approach colleges/universities who have graphic design students and ask them if the students could work on it for you as a project for them to learn with a real client.

I’m not advocating free work, just an exchange of sorts, I’m sure a student wouldn’t turn their nose up to a few quid either.

Do you have access to a resource center or community hub you can reach out to?

All well and good doing it for free yourself with freetools and all that. But could be worth more trouble to you than it’s actually worth.

It is a personal project of sorts but it will be on Amazon like my other book. A commercial endeavor yes, but I have no delusions of making money. It makes no sense to do it and not publish it. Satisfaction is the reward. The first book took 6 years with the covers taking months and several designs and that was type only. I had to learn Canva, Edit, KDP publishing, Word formatting, and the publishing business in general. I know they were easier and cheaper than Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. I am looking for a faster and cheap way this time. There won’t be any more books. I only had two books in me. That’s mainly why I don’t want to spend a lot on software. This book will be finished in 1 year. I know this is hard work and I’m looking for ways to work smarter this time. That’s why I asked.
Thanks for your thoughtful and considered comments.

That misses the whole point. I don’t want to get it done by someone else cheaply. I want to do it myself cheaply.

Well there have been suggestions

For all the work we use Adobe software mostly (some using Affinity)
as already described, photo edits in Photoshop, Diagrams/illustrators in Illustrator, and page layout (book cover design) in InDesign.

Your free versions of these are
Photoshop = Gimp
Illustrator = inkscape
InDesign = Scribus

And up to you how quickly you can learn to do the things you want to do.

Good luck.

Very clear and useful information.