Canva is a little different to other image manipulation tools because it’s focused completing your entire design, be it a T-shirt, website, brochure or business card. Applications normally considered its competitors like Photoshop and Gimp are concerned more with editing a single image rather than a whole layout.
There’s a free and a paid service level, and while there’s plenty to like in the free version of Canva, a lot of features you’d consider standard if you have more experience with image manipulation are only available with the paid version ($164.90 per year for up to five users).
But Canva has an advantage in that many of the applications with more serious specs offer such deep control they can be a bit daunting by comparison. Canva is a straightforward, plain English layout utility that gives you a result directly proportional to the time and effort you put in. You might even be more comfortable using it if you’ve had a little exposure to the likes of Publisher or InDesign.
Canva includes many creative resources
Even if you select Canva’s free service, you have access to over 8,000 free design templates, a stock of standard fonts and hundreds of stock photos and purpose-built generic graphics in over 100 classes of product or creative goal. With these you can build everything from an Instagram story to a restaurant menu. It can be a double edged sword however, because Canva is so popular that a lot of customers before you have already used the most popular and effective designs, which might make it harder to stand out.
Paid users have far more choice with up to 100,000 templates, a much larger choice of typography and literally millions of stock graphics and pictures. Even if you’re a micro-business, less than two hundred dollars a year might be a small price to pay for a look you’re sure will be yours alone.
Another huge plus is something called a Brand Kit, a set of guidelines, tools and advice for establishing your visual personality and then applying it to your creative assets, rather than retooling individual designs as you go and losing track of what things are supposed to look like.
Newbie friendly feature set
Even among other applications with far more features and a much deeper presence in professional design, Canva is one of the easiest to learn and use. With a drag and drop interface that couldn’t make its methodology any more obvious, you’ll be on your way to your first publish- or print-ready project in minutes.
Register for a profile, choose your project style, pick a template and there’s your design, ready to commit to then and there if you like it. If you want to make tweaks or changes, elements of your template are customizable so you can let your imagination go wild – your final product doesn’t have to look anything like the template you started with.
Then, if you run into problems, there’s a help button in the corner of your browser window at all times that links to a comprehensive knowledge base, and anecdotal evidence among users suggests that if you log a query with Canva’s tech support team it rarely takes longer than 48 hours to get a response.
Advanced collaboration for teams
Microsoft has its Office 365 and Adobe has its Creative Cloud. Multiple team members working on the same project or file (often concurrently) and the cloud keeping track of version control isn’t a new idea. But you don’t often see it done so well in such an affordable, entry-level product.
You can give up to 20 users at a time full access (even with the free account) and the collaboration tools are as versatile as the way you usually work. Share a design or project from right in the interface as other users are logged in. Send a link by email. Establish a series of folders containing projects and dispatch their links to team members as well.
As the project leader you also have full control over who can view and edit designs – critical when sharing with colleagues and clients. And you can post comments directly on a design, tag specific users to draw their attention to a particular element and apply feedback or suggestions to a design as a whole.
But the collaboration tools might be handiest when it comes to establishing the visual guidelines in your brand kit. If you have several stakeholders who have to weigh in from any number of spheres from IP/legal to marketing partners (feasible even in a small operation), getting the pieces of your brand in place up front will save headaches down the track as you start to apply it to projects.
Canva works for designers and more
Canva is one of those rare tools that sits at the sweet spot of serving both non-designers and those with a little more flair. If you have more experience there are countless templates to choose from where the work has already been done for you, leaving you only to change the details.
From there, you’ll get as much out of it as the aptitude for the principles of layout you bring to it. Eventually you’ll hit the limits in the platform, but if you’re that serious (and skilled) you’ll probably already be using Photoshop or something similar anyway.