I've been using the free program "PAINT.NET" for about a year now. Fiddling with it learning how to make a decent sig, banner or anything with some cool pictures usually based on some of my favorite games. I use this one 'cause "The Gimp" had some bugs in it and I couldn't afford a decent one.
My Profile page Banner was made from a modification for Half-Life 2 named "Nuclear Dawn". My signature was also a Half-Life 2 modification named "NightFall: Initiation". Both were made just from one main image, everything else was a later add-on or something I personally put in.
I highly recommend this to the MS Paint users who can't afford a decent Program. Personally, I hate the poor quality MS Paint images found frequently in the art forum.