Graphic Design: 5 Best Practices for eLearning

Whether you are a freelancer or just getting to grips with graphic design for eLearning, it’s easy to fall into the most common design traps. From exporting images 10000x bigger than the original size, to naming your files ‘Image 1’ (we’ve all done it), is there a way to make sure you are generating the best images for your eLearning course?

Managing your Images Better for eLearning

If you’ve ever completed an eLearning course with poor graphics, then you’ll know how distracting it can be for learners and can turn what could have been a great piece of learning into a chore.

A bad graphic design stands out like a sore thumb, whereas good graphic design complements the learning, adds breathing space, can offer a touch of fun, and can enable the learner to engage and understand information easier. I’ll take you through what I believe are the 5 most common eLearning graphic design mistakes and what you can do to avoid them.

1. The "Image 1" Trap

This is probably the easiest trap we’ve all fallen into. There’s nothing quite like being on a tight deadline to create some graphics! It’s so easy to name your graphics or projects ‘Image 1, 2, 3 etc’ and add these graphics to your course straight away. Now, depending on your eLearning authoring tool a few things can happen if you do this:
• Your file management software will be in chaos and a no-go area (more on this later)
• Organisation in your authoring tool will be a nightmare and time consuming
• 5,000 ‘Image 1’s later and you’ll dread the day a client asks for a small tweak to that particular graphic (good luck finding it!)

The moral of the story is always, always, name your graphics correctly. I use the following naming convention religiously:

Company Name, Course Title, Area in the course, What it is

For example: ThinkBiscuit Media_Allergens_Ingredients_Sesame seeds.png

Even when I have not organised my folders correctly (which is still bad!) I can usually turn to the trusted search bar and find the graphic I need. This leads us to the renaming of linked images and moving files around in your file management software. If you use Adobe Illustrator or After Effects – don’t do it! Here’s why…

2. File Management and Linked Images

If you’ve dragged images from your file management software into your Illustrator or After Effects project, it’s most likely that they are now what Adobe calls ‘Linked images’. This means the programme is using the file name and location of the images to add them to your project, rather than embedding the image itself.

Using linked images is a great way to reduce file size as the programme is not storing these images, it is simply retrieving them from your folder.
However, if you move any of these images around in your folder, delete them or rename them, Illustrator or After Effects will be searching for them in the original folder using the original naming convention – with no luck!

If you do this, it is possible to re-link each image, but it will take time to search and replace. You can also decide to embed all your images in the first place to avoid this (Illustrator only), but this will make the file larger in size and potentially more difficult to work with on your computer.

I believe the best solution would be to organise your file management system into an order that makes sense for your business and…you guessed it…name your images correctly. That way you won’t need to move, rename or delete any original images… …unless you have HUGE images sizes, then you may have to reduce them. Take a look below at how to export the best images sizes for eLearning.

3. Go big or go home?

  • When it comes to eLearning image sizes, go big or go home is not a good phrase to follow. One of the best things about some eLearning authoring tools is that they are fully responsive. This means you can choose to complete your training on a smartphone, tablet or a desktop. This is great news for learners who prefer using, or only have, a specific type of technology.

    What that means for eLearning designers is they should think about how to create images that work best for different screen sizes. A large image simply will not work with all screens and will likely lead to bloated file sizes and cause slow loading times.

    A good sizing convention I like to follow for full-width background images is:
    Desktop: 1920px
    Tablet: 1280px
    Mobile: 512px

If you have exported your images at huge sizes and need to change them – there is good news!

You can open them up in Photoshop, navigate to File, ‘Export as’, tick ‘Smaller File’ and then type in the width of your choosing. You should now have an image size appropriate for eLearning.

This takes us onto reducing file sizes…

4. From KB to MB

Nobody likes an eLearning course that take 5 minutes to load its images. You want a smooth and fast course that doesn’t bore you with a spinning wheel before you’ve even started!  I’m guessing you also want to keep high-resolution images and not scrimp on quality?

You can have both!

Fast-loading images (without compromising on quality), is what we aim for with every image in every eLearning course we design.
We do this by compressing every single image before we upload it to our chosen authoring tool – it only takes seconds…

Best of all it can even be free!

At ThinkBiscuit, we use a website called, which we’ve been using for years, and it really helps our graphics maintain their quality, but minimise their size.  Sometimes images are compressed to be more than 4 times less than what they were originally. Don’t be fooled by the name either – you can use PNGs or JPEGs!  There are loads of free compression tools to choose from – I just like the simplicity of tinypng.

Top tip – have you ever exported a perfectly proportioned image from Illustrator only to realise that the image size has been multiplied by 10,000 making it a huge image and huge file size? I have.

To save yourself hours of re-exporting images make sure you tick ‘Resolution: Screen (72 ppi)’ when you use ‘Export as’ in Illustrator, that way it exports exactly the same size as you created it to be. The higher the resolution you choose the bigger the size of the graphic it exports at.

But be aware of the pesky 1px problem! Leading me to my last top tip!

5. Illustrator’s Extra 1px Problem

Have you ever been asked to export something at a specific size and you find that it exports with 1 pixel extra, for example, 101 px by 100 px? Even though you’ve double, triple-checked that the artboard is exactly 100 px by 100 px!?

It probably means that the artboard is between points in Illustrator.

How do you fix it?
Go to the properties tab, then go to transform and remove the decimal point from the x or y axis (I’m using a Windows-based version of Illustrator). Your artboard should always be placed on a whole number otherwise it will round up the size of the artboard when you export. For example: x: 640.7 px, y: 512 px should be changed to x: 640 px, y: 512 px.

Once you’ve done that, your oddly-proportioned export nightmares should be over!

But wait…I don’t use Adobe!  For those of you who use alternative products to the Adobe software suite, it can be quite frustrating when you need to test out new products for your needs. There are however some packages that I’ve tried and tested that I think are useful for eLearning designers to use to create amazing graphics.

See below for the packages I would recommend using, all free to download:

  • Canva – This is a great app for generating photo and text overlays, useful when creating header/hero images for eLearning courses, social media images, etc. Demo the product in your browser.
  • darktable – This is a great photo manipulation software tool (think Lightroom). I would suggest watching some YouTube videos to learn the basics.
  • Gimp – A great alternative to Photoshop, again to manipulate your photos/images.
  • Inkscape – Illustrators free alternative. Useful for drawing, creating infographics, and generating pixel-perfect illustrations.

    I hope you found the tips in this article helpful and if you know anyone in the following position below at their desks, let them know about the solutions, and let’s help our fellow frustrated eLearning designers concentrate on creating beautiful, creative graphics.
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Rosie McQueen

Rosie McQueen

Although a baby to the eLearning world (hello 2 year anniversary!) my career history has taken me from designing UI for scientists, printed media for exhibitions, websites and digital media, fine art practice to an eLearning Content Developer at ThinkBiscuit Media where I create graphics, illustrations and build digital learning for a variety of industries.