Repeat after me: You don’t need a sleek Apple laptop and thousands of bucks in expensive software to be a hotshot designer. All you need is the Internet and this column to get you started. From automatic button-makers to millions of free layouts and themes, the Internet is design wonderland for the amateur designer. When we refer here to amateur design, we mean simple stuff—putting together your own home-made greeting card, or designing the look of your website. Those serious about design shouldn’t take this column so, umm...seriously, but these resources may also help the veterans.

There are two big misconceptions about designing on a computer that need to be dispelled. The first is that you need Adobe Photoshop, which is pretty much the Microsoft of the design world. Photoshop is expensive — a boxed copy of Adobe Photoshop CS4 will set you back by around Rs37,000.

Art 2.0: The Internet is a great resource for amateur designers.

Paint.NET , a project that was initially intended as a simple replacement for MSPaint, is another excellent free design tool.

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The added advantage of Paint.NET is that it’s small and light, and is perfect for those who occasionally dabble in a bit of photo retouching or card-making.

Let’s also not forget that Adobe has a free variant of Photoshop online, called Photoshop Express — it’s a little bare bones for proper design, but perfect for some quick editing work on photographs or pictures.

The second big misconception is that everything you design must be painstakingly drawn from scratch. Not true. The Web 2.0 world is ripe with generators, templates and themes that help you with this, and give you a great headstart.

Take, for example, the seemingly time-consuming task of generating a nice background image. All it takes is a visit to a couple of websites. You can choose from millions of stripes at StripeMania , dots and circular patterns at Dotter , checks at Tartanmaker and other pretty patterns at Pattern Cooler. Go to the links, choose your colours, customize size and a few other simple variables, and you’re done.

The Web also makes other, more nuanced aspects of design easier to approach. Not sure if your colour schemes will match, or looking for shades that are more elegant? Try Adobe’s Kuler application, which helps you pick and compare colour schemes.

Need a nice, flashy button for your blog or website? Try the Buttonator . Ditto for logos with LogoCreatr .

For more inspiration, check out Smashing Magazine , an online design resource which carries frequent round-ups of the best free Web-based design for download or use. These include themes for Wordpress blogs, wallpapers that are free to distribute, and links to nifty tools such as the ones mentioned above. A word of caution, though. While the Internet makes all this seem remarkably easy, it’s useful to keep a few pointers in mind. With design, issues of copyright and credit are always a thorny issue. Remember to give credit where it is due, check the legal terms of use of everything you intend to incorporate in your design—and never, ever, plagiarize. Now, go design.

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