This series is supported by Gillette. Learn more about Gillette and its products at

No matter how much quality information or witty repartee we send out into our social networks, first impressions are almost always visual. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the first thing we see when checking out a new Twitter follower, Facebook friend, or LinkedIn connection is a profile photo. And in a world of quick clicks and divergent attention, if the photo you present isn’t eye-catching, or illustrative of your personal brand, you may miss your shot at making a positive first impression.

We asked social design experts for their take on what makes for a killer profile pic, and they’ve provided some strategies on implementing your personal brand, and a few tools for snazzing up that boring Facebook self-shot you’ve been clinging to.

1. Start With a Quality Photo

This may seem obvious, but we’ve all come across countless social profiles with blurry, dark, or low-res images. When your initial photo is inadequate, there’s no amount of post production or digital magic that can bring it up to snuff.

“If there is one element that lets so many profile images down, it’s a lack of sharpness,” said Grace Smith, owner of Postscript5, a micro-design studio based in Northern Ireland. “Of course now there are numerous Sharpening Photoshop Actions, but in order to cut down the amount of work in Photoshop, it’s best to adhere to a few simple tips. Namely, use a tripod to avoid camera shake, shoot in continuous mode for more challenging conditions, try to invest in good quality lenses, and aim for a low ISO [image sensitivity] to keep the amount of noise low.”

Smith cites the Digital Photography School website as a great resource for learning how to capture better digital images.

2. Be Consistent

A rule of thumb touched on by many is consistency. Because followers and friends will be looking out for your face first, it’s important that once you find a photo that works, stick with it.

“Don’t change it every few days. Don’t even change it every month,” said Chris Coyier, web designer and curator of CSS-Tricks. “Make one, do a good job, and leave it alone for a long time. People’s attention is split a million different ways these days, and you only get a split second to try and make an impression and forge a connection. Consistency makes that easier.”

This may be especially true for Twitter, where networks tend to go beyond personal friends and family.

“Your Twitter profile is your personal brand and with any brand, consistency is key,” said web designer and illustrator Brad Colbow. “When you market yourself, your avatar becomes your logo. It will be seen on Twitter, Ning networks, Flickr, and in blog comments, everywhere.”

3. Be Conscious of Formats and Dimensions

Social networks often play by different rules when it comes to images. If you plan to look your best on all your networks, you should brush up on some of the technical requirements of your profile pictures.

“To ensure that you maintain a consistent and professional brand identity in various social media/networking sites, you should rescale your avatar in a graphics editor like Photoshop or GIMP,” said Jacob Gube, chief editor of the design blog Six Revisions. “If you upload a file that is too big or too small, the site might render your avatar in ways you might not expect. For example, on Twitter’s profile pages, the standard size is 73 by 73 pixels, while on Digg, your profile page’s avatar size is 120 by 120 pixels.”

The ideal image dimensions are not always apparent on every network, but Gube offers a trick for discovering them. “In Firefox, what you can do is to navigate to someone’s profile page, right-click on the avatar, and choose “View Image Info,” which will display details about that image, including the dimensions of it.”

4. Tools of the Trade

Once you’ve decided on an image you can stick with, and scouted the proper dimensions, it’s time to get creative.

Even if you’re not an award-winning photographer or design whiz, there are a few tricks you can use to spice up a dull profile pic, especially if you know some Photoshop basics.

“The lomographic effect produces an authentic, colorful and vibrant look that can aid you in creating a unique profile image,” said Grace Smith. “It’s not even necessary to have a dedicated Lomo camera, as there is now a wealth of Photoshop Actions available that can give you a range of Lomo-inspired effects, from Tilt-Shift to Retro.”

Another classic is the “sketch” look.

“If you want to showcase your creative side without too much effort, then it’s worth looking into the Pencil Draw Photoshop Action, which gives any image a style similar to something hand-drawn,” Smith added. “It’s both fun and quirky.”

5. Avatar Fun

When all else fails, there are always web-based photo manipulators and avatar generators that can add a bit of fun to your face on the web. Many will display your enthusiasm for a particular show, product, or cause — a certain conversation starter.

Photofunia: If you’ve ever wanted your face on a billboard or a $100 bill, now’s your chance. Photofunia has a variety of one-click options that can turn your profile pic into a smart novelty image.

Mad Men Yourself: Fans of the hit AMC original series can’t get enough of the hard-living 60s, and the show’s clever promotional avatar generator has been popular, especially during its third season last year. When you’re finished building your perfect 60s-self, you can download formats ideal for Twitter, Facebook, and even desktop wallpaper.

South Park Create-A-Character: Release your inner fourth-grader with this mainstay avatar generator that is especially true to the graphic style of the show. No matter how you arrange your parts, you’re sure to look as though you just stepped out of everybody’s favorite dysfunctional Colorado town.

Simpsons Avatar: If Springfield is more your speed, this flash-based avatar generator will give you that yellow hue in no time. It was part of a larger promotion for the Simpsons movie — click the “Create Your Simpsons Avatar” at the top of the page.

Twibbons: If you’re not into cartooning yourself, but would rather represent a cause with your own face, Twibbon is a go-to app for a variety of campaigns, from LIVESTRONG to Autism Awareness. The app interfaces with Twitter’s API, and automatically generates a new profile image when you connect the accounts.

What other tips, tricks, and apps have you found make for an excellent profile pic? Be sure to let us know in the comments.

Series supported by Gillette

This series is supported by Gillette. Learn more about Gillette and its products at

For more social media coverage, follow Mashable Social Media on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, jhorrocks

Tags: design, facebook, linkedin, List, Lists, Photos, profiles, social media, twitter