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In this detailed Canva review, I’m going to look at all the key pros and cons of an increasingly popular app for designing visual materials. Is it right for your business? Or should you stick with a professional desktop app like Adobe Photoshop?
Let’s find out!
First off: a key question…
What is Canva?
Canva is a graphic design app that aims to let you design visual materials without needing extensive graphic design experience. Typically, the tool is used to create social media graphics, simple videos, presentations, slides, posters and other visual assets — and a wide range of customizable templates and royalty free images is provided to help users do so easily.
Unlike traditional graphic design tools like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, Canva’s learning curve is designed to be very gentle. This means that its feature set is much more basic that these sorts of ‘pro’ solutions — but its pricing is considerably lower than them too.
Launched in 2013 by technology entrepreneur Melanie Perkins, Canva is now a hugely popular solution for creating designs, boasting over 60 million monthly active users in 190 countries. Over 7 billion designs have been created with the tool, and 2,000 staff members work for the company.
How does Canva work?
Canva can be used either in a web browser or as a downloadable app (for Mac, PC, Chromebook, iOS or Android).
It gives you three key things to help you create your design:
- templates — pre-designed layouts that you can use for a variety of applications
- ‘elements‘ — royalty free photos, videos and graphics that you can add to your Canva templates
- a drag and drop editor that lets you move elements around a template.
Additionally, Canva provides controls for editing the typefaces and colours used on a template; it also lets you create custom templates.
The idea is that you simply pick a template, drop some content into it, make a few tweaks and then export your design for use online or as a printed item.
But how easy is this in practice?
Ease of use
When you log into Canva, you are presented with a question: ‘What will you design?’
You can answer this question by entering design ideas in the search bar provided, or clicking the icons underneath it to access suggested layouts for presentations, social media posts, videos, printed products and more.
Either way, you’ll end up with a wide range of templates to choose from. You can pick one of these as the starting point for your design.
From there, it’s a case of editing the template so that it meets your needs. You can do this by clicking on one of the design’s elements (text, visuals etc.) and using the controls that appear above it to change that element.
Alternatively, you can replace the placeholder content with your own images or text (or add additional pictures and copy).
To add an image, you can either search for an element from Canva’s ‘elements’ library (hundreds of thousands are available, and I’ve yet to come across a search phrase that isn’t adequately catered for).
You just click on an element to add it to your design, and you can resize it easily to suit your purposes.
Where changing text is concerned, it’s simply a case of overwriting the existing copy, or using the ‘text’ tool (pictured below) to add new headings or body text.
Ultimately, the process involved in creating a design in Canva is simple and its interface is extremely user-friendly — anyone who’s used a word processor or a simple graphics tool will find the learning curve fairly non-existent.
So, it’s fair to say that Canva meets its goal of making graphic design accessible to non-designers.
What about adding your own assets to Canva?
Although a key aim of Canva is to give you everything you need to create designs all in one place — photos, videos, typefaces, templates etc. — it also lets you import your own assets too.
This can be done via its ‘uploads’ section, which allows you to import images, videos or audio to your Canva account. (It also lets you record a video of yourself).
Once you’ve uploaded an asset, you can simply grab it from the ‘images,’ ‘videos’ and ‘audio’ tabs provided and insert it into your projects.
You can also add your own custom fonts to Canva — I discuss this in more depth shortly.
Photo editing options in Canva
Once you’ve added a photo to a design, you can tweak it easily using Canva’s photo editing tool (you just click on a photo and then an ‘edit image’ button to do so).
This gives you access to a set of simple controls that let you alter that image’s appearance in various ways. Sliders to adjust brightness, contrast and saturation are provided, and you can also make use of Instagram-style filters.
There’s also a handy ‘background remover’ tool that lets you remove / replace the background from photographs. This is particulary useful for creating headshot photos for websites, or thumbnails for YouTube videos.
As with much else in Canva, the image editing controls are very much of a ‘cut-down’ nature. But they feature the tools that are arguably of most relevance to the majority of users.
Editing videos in Canva
In addition to letting you create ‘static’ designs, Canva lets you create videos too. The process for video creation works in a broadly similar way to designing static content — you pick a template, tweak it, and add clips to your video as necessary.
Clips can either be imported to Canva’s uploads section, or you can add them from its extensive library of stock videos (which you’ll find in its ‘Elements’ section). Alternatively, you can use your webcam to record video directly into Canva.
Once you’ve got your video clips in place, a timeline lets you drag and drop them into place, trim them and create your final edit. You can also add audio to your video from a royalty-free library of over 25,000 pieces of music / sound effects.
Although the video creation functionality on offer from Canva is nowhere near as extensive as that which you’d find in a dedicated video editing application — you won’t be able to play with a wide range of transitions, or professionally grade your video content, for example — it’s extremely usable, and the built-in stock videos and audio libraries can help users save a lot of time and money.
How to access a 45-day free trial of Canva Pro
Canva normally makes a 30-day free trial of the ‘Pro’ version available.
However, for a limited time only, you can access a 45-day free trial of Canva Pro here. This gives you access to all Canva’s premium design tools, along with a huge library of stock images, graphics, video and audio.
Exporting your projects
Once you’ve created your design or video in Canva, you can export it to a variety of formats, namely:
- PDF (low-res and print quality).
To be honest, by comparison to professional design tools, this is really quite a small range of output formats, and represents one of the key drawbacks of Canva.
If you use a professional graphics or video editing package, you’ll be able to export your content into just about any format going — but Canva really limits your options here.
Significantly, you can’t export to Adobe Photoshop’s PSD format, meaning that if you want to start a design off in Canva and then send it to a professional graphic designer for enhancement, you’re out of luck.
And only one video export format is provided: MP4 (with no options provided to adjust its size or quality).
Now, to be fair, Canva does cover the basics with its output formats, and a lot of its users won’t really need a bunch of additional ones; the key aim of the product is to let people create quickly, and export simply. For most applications, the range of export formats will be fine (especially if you’re using Canva to create content that’s destined to be consumed online).
But some users will miss the flexibility to output in a format of their own choosing.
And speaking of flexibility…
Canva’s Magic Resize tool
A particularly useful feature of Canva is its ‘Magic Resize’ tool, which lets you repurpose existing designs for different platforms really easily. You can take an existing design, and then use the Magic Resize tool to automatically reformat it to suit different social media channels.
In other words you can usually turn a blog post banner into a Facebook post image or a YouTube video thumbnail just by clicking a button.
The below video gives you an overview of how the feature works.
Ensuring brand consistency with Canva
As we’ve seen above, Canva provides users with a lot of tools and content to create marketing materials with — templates, graphics, stock photos, videos etc. In theory, you could use all these to design your assets, without needing to resort to anything else.
You could even use Canva to create an entire brand identity — i.e., create a logo in Canva; define a color palette; and choose fonts for your brand from the extensive range provided within the platform.
In fact, ‘suggested’ brand identities are available from Canva — color palettes and typefaces.
But in practice, most businesses will need to configure Canva so that they can create designs that reflect an existing brand identity.
To this end, Canva provides you with the option to create a ‘brand kit.’
This lets you:
- add a brand logo
- define a color palette
- upload your own font.
On paid-for plans, you can create multiple brand kits.
Once your brand kit is in place, whenever you’re creating in Canva, you can apply / add any of these brand assets to your design.
If you have any other brand assets that you regularly use as part of your branding — for example photographs, backgrounds etc., these can be added to the ‘uploads’ section of Canva.
To be honest, I’d probably prefer if these elements could also be added to the brand kit (perhaps under a ‘brand assets’ heading or similar).
But otherwise the brand kit works very well and helps ensure all the materials you create with Canva are firmly on brand.
Try Canva Pro for free – for 45 days
For a limited time only, Canva are making a 45-day free trial of Canva Pro available to Style Factory readers. This gives you full access to all the Canva Pro features and assets for several weeks, and lets you export all your designs too. You can access this extended trial by clicking here.
(You can learn more about the Canva free trial here).
Organizing work and collaborating in Canva
Organizing your work in Canva is pretty straightforward. A simple folder structure lets you create folders that house your designs.
These folders can be shared with other team members, who can then edit any designs that they contain. This works in a similar way to Dropbox and other sharing services — you simply share a folder with a team member by entering their email address into the folder’s settings.
One thing you’ll need to note here is that to share a folder with a team member, you have to create a ‘team’ in Canva first.
By default, you can have 5 team members on a regular ‘Pro’ plan and 25 on an ‘Enterprise’ plan, with additional charges applying to add more team members.
(More on Canva pricing shortly!).
Can you back up a Canva project?
Although Canva uses a traditional files and folder based approach to organizing your design, it’s important to note that there isn’t really a way to back up your projects using the platform.
You can recover deleted files for a set period — after deleting a design, it’s kept in a trash folder for 30 days before being permanently deleted (if you delete a team, that team and its content can be recovered for up to 14 days).
While these grace periods are welcome, they’re no substitute for being able to back up your projects to a device and reimport them in the event of accidental deletion of a project (or loss of access to a Canva account).
Yes, you can export your files to PNGs, JPGs etc. — but these will flatten all the layers in your design, meaning that when you re-import them to Canva, they’re no longer editable.
Building a website with Canva
In addition to being able to create visual assets with Canva, you can use it to build websites too.
It has to be said however that only very simple websites can be created with the platform — you can build a one-page site ‘brochure’ site with Canva, but that’s about it. The sites that you can make with Canva look very professional and on-brand, but you can forget about incorporating things like a complex navigation structure or ecommerce into them.
Simply put, although you can create a simple online presence with Canva, it doesn’t give you the sort of professional website building features that site builders like Shopify and Squarespace provide.
The site designer might be appropriate for some users’ needs, however — if all you need is a basic resume site with some copy and a few pictures, it’ll do the job fine.
When you’ve created your site, you can either publish it to a free Canva site address (yoursitename.my.canva.site), purchase a new domain for it through Canva (using the desktop version only), or map it to a domain you already own.
Making products with Canva
Another interesting aspect of Canva is the fact that you can actually manufacture physical products using the platform.
To do this, you go to its ‘Print products’ section, where a wide range of items — everything from postcards to hoodies to business cards — can be designed and purchased.
In a lot of cases, I’d definitely view Canva’s product manufacturing option as a ‘nice to have’ feature rather than a core one, however.
First, all the products available are quite expensive, meaning that you can’t really make something, mark up on it, and sell it to somebody else. The cost price of a t-shirt is around $25, for example.
Second, the number you can order at once is capped — when testing the feature, any item I tried to manufacture was limited to 50 copies. This makes the option unsuitable for anyone wishing to mass produce items.
Apps and integrations
Like a lot of other SaaS (software as a service) products, Canva provides a range of apps and integrations that add functionality or help it integrate more neatly with other popular services.
At time of writing, 95 are currently available, which you’ll find in its ‘app directory,’ pictured below.
The apps on offer generally are to do with adding special effects to your images, or retouching them.
The integrations available generally help you import images or videos from other apps into Canva. For example, you can connect your Canva account to services like Google Photos, YouTube, Facebook and Google Maps and bring content in from them (which you can then incorporate into your designs).
A Microsoft Powerpoint app that lets you export your Canva projects easily into PPT format is also worth a mention.
Oddly however, I couldn’t find any Canva apps for the leading website builders, like WordPress, Wix, Squarespace and Shopify. These are all services that could possibly benefit from an integration with Canva, because it is so good for producing web graphics and blog banners.
Email marketing service Mailchimp is catered for, however.
If the apps on offer aren’t enough for you, you could always consider building your own — a developer’s platform for Canva provides access to the platform’s API and lets you create your own ‘content extensions’ that let you integrate Canva with other tools in various ways. (Obviously you’ll need the development skills to do this.)
Using Canva on mobile phones
As you’ll have noticed from the screenshots on this post, I’ve largely based this Canva review on the browser-based version of the app (for the record, the desktop versions for Mac OS and Windows are very similar to to this).
You can however also use Canva on a mobile device, thanks to iOS and Android apps that are available for the platform.
These actually score exceptionally highly on the Apple and Google Play app stores (4.9 and 4.8 respectively); these ratings are the highest I’ve seen for any mobile app for a SaaS product that we’ve reviewed.
And, having had a play around with the iOS version of Canva, I can see why the mobile apps are so popular with their users. The mobile version I tested was really easy to use, with an interface that was very similar in nature to the desktop version (albeit squashed down a bit!).
And we are not talking about a cut-down version of the platform here; you can do serious work with Canva on a smartphone.
That said, I’d still be inclined to use the browser or desktop-based version of Canva wherever possible: editing photos and videos on a phone is rather fiddly and I don’t enjoy doing that much!
But for people who are on the move and want to put together a slick-looking video for social media platforms really quickly, Canva’s mobile apps are an excellent option.
There are two ways to avail of customer support from Canva.
First, there’s the Canva help center, which contains a searchable archive of help resources and how-to guides.
There’s also email support. The form for this is easy to access — with some other online apps, you don’t get to see contact details until you’ve searched a help center for a solution to your problem first, but Canva makes the them very easy to find (googling ‘contact Canva support’ should sort you out pretty quickly).
In terms of turnaround times for support queries, these vary according to plan:
- Canva Pro – within 24 hours
- Enterprise – within 2 hours
- Print — within 24 hours
- Nonprofit and Education – within 48 hours
- Canva Free – 1 week
It’s a shame that phone or live support isn’t available, but the fact that users of the Canva free plan get support is commendable, and given the low pricing point of Canva, it’s fairly understandable that customer service is email-only.
And speaking of pricing…
Pricing and value for money
So far, we’ve looked at all the key features of Canva; but not its pricing. Let’s dive into that now.
Canva pricing plans
There are three versions of Canva to consider:
- Canva Free — $0 per month
- Canva Pro — $12.99 per month (for up to 5 users)
- Canva Enterprise — $30 per month (for up to 25 users)
If you pay on an annual basis, discounts of around 17% to 25% apply, depending on the number of user accounts you need.
Subject to a vetting process, additional discounts are provided to educational organizations; and non-profits can use Canva for free.
In terms of the differences between these three plans, the key things to watch out for are as follows:
- Seats — the number of users varies by plan, with the free plan providing just one user account.
- Templates — the paid-for plans give you considerably more templates than the free one. You get a whopping 610,000 templates to play with on the Canva ‘Pro’ and ‘Enterprise’ plans (but you still get access to a very generous 250,000 free templates on the $0 plan).
- Images and videos — the paid-for plans give you access to over 100+ million stock photos, videos and graphics; the free plan gives you a large range of photos and graphics (‘hundreds of thousands,’ according to Canva), but no videos.
- Brand kits – if you want to use your own brand colors and fonts easily in Canva, you’ll need to be on a paid-for plan. On the ‘Pro’ plan, you can create up to 100 Brand kits; on the ‘Enterprise’ plan, the limit is 300.
- Storage space — the free plan gives you 5GB of cloud storage; the ‘Pro’ plan provides 100GB; and on the ‘Enterprise’ plan, you get unlimited storage.
- Transparent backgrounds — if you want to output a design with a transparent background, you’ll need to be on a premium plan.
- User controls – only the ‘Enterprise’ plan provides controls over what can be uploaded to or edited in Canva.
- Support — as discussed above, response times are quicker if you’re on a pro version of Canva (with turnaround time for queries being considerably quicker on the ‘Enterprise’ plan).
(Our Canva Pro vs Free comparison spells some of these differences out in more detail).
Value for money
There’s no doubt about it: Canva offers you a lot of bang for your buck.
For a relatively small monthly fee, you can enjoy access to a wide range of design tools and visual assets that let you create extremely professional results, extremely quickly. Not just you of course — 5 seats are included on the $12.99 ‘Canva Pro’ account. By any stretch, this represents very good value (particularly for small business owners and solopreneurs on low budgets).
And, when you consider that this monthly fee of $12.99 is often less than what you’d pay for just one stock photo from Getty or iStock, but gives you access to millions of stock images and videos, this sense of value for for money becomes even more pronounced.
It’s also worth pointing out that in general, a lot of business apps that require a subscription typically come at much higher price point — the ecommerce apps we review, for example, typically range from $30 to $400 per month in price, and often come with much smaller seat counts. I’m struggling to think of any product that we’ve reviewed to date that offers quite so much functionality for such a low price.
Canva review conclusion
Overall, Canva is a really solid, easy-to-use app that is packed with features that make designing visual assets simple. Whilst not always a substitute for a professional graphic design tool or video editing application, it is considerably easier to use than such tools, and in many contexts will do the job just as well as them (and more cheaply, too).
The main downsides of Canva are the fact that it’s output formats are limited; there’s no way to back up projects; and support is email-only. Of those three flaws, the output formats issue is the most significant, as it limits your ability to start a design in Canva and have it finished off by a professional designer in another app. But given how cheap Canva is, it’s hard to feel too annoyed by these omissions.
I’ll leave you with a summary of the key pros and cons of Canva, and you’ll also find some information on some alternative tools below.
Our overall rating: 4.5 / 5
Key pros and cons of Canva
Pros of using Canva
- It’s extremely good value — for a very small monthly fee you and several other users get access to a host of design tools and millions of bundled graphics, photos and videos.
- The Canva features are extremely easy to use, even if you don’t have any graphic design skills.
- The free plan is very usable, and even comes with support.
- Its brand kit option and the way it lets you upload your own photos and typefaces make it easy to ensure brand consistency across designs produced in Canva.
- Thanks to its ‘teams’ features, it facilitates easy collaboration on designs.
- Its ‘Magic Resize tool’ makes it extremely easy to create lots of visual assets at once.
- Canva’s mobile app is extremely functional and is particularly good for creating ‘on-the-go’ visuals for social media marketing purposes.
- It provides an easy way to produced one-off printed items.
Cons of using Canva
- The formats you can output your visuals to are quite limited, with the lack of an ‘export to PSD’ option being a particular concern.
- Canva is an online graphic design tool — so if you don’t have Internet access, you won’t be able to work on any of your designs.
- There’s no obvious way to back up your projects.
- There’s no phone support.
- The range of apps and integrations provided is fairly limited.
- The free version, while generally very useful, doesn’t let you export images with transparent backgrounds.
Alternatives to Canva
There are quite a few alternatives to Canva available.
In terms of browser-based apps, key alternatives include Visme, Adobe Creative Cloud Express (formerly Adobe Spark) and VistaCreate (formerly Crello). These are similarly affordable graphic design tools that let non-professional designers create visual material easily. (We’ve yet to review all of them but we do have a Visme vs Canva comparison available.)
It’s tempting to think of desktop Adobe applications like Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere (and other tools you get in an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription) as direct alternatives to Canva. But they are actually quite different beasts. Whereas Canva comes with a built-in library of graphics, stock photos and videos, when using the Adobe apps, you often have to source assets ‘outside’ of them. But they are nonetheless great tools for putting visual assets together with, and at the end of the day, considerably more functional than Canva.
Now…over to you!
Got any thoughts on our Canva review? Our any questions you’d like to ask about the tool? Leave them in the comments section below.