We can argue that graphic design today is far more accessible than a decade ago, and part of the reason is the availability of various affordable, cloud-based tools and solutions, some are even available for totally free.
Among these tools, Canva is one of the most popular solutions available in the market. The Australian-based startup was introduced in 2012 by Melanie Perkins—previously owned Fusion Books, an online publishing startup—. During the first year alone, Canva achieved a major breakthrough by acquiring 750,000 unique users and today, it is used by more than 10 million active users in almost 180 countries.
What Actually is Canva
In layman’s terms, we can say that Canva is the cloud-based, online alternative for PhotoShop.
To be more technical, however, Canva is a freemium graphics and photo editor that is offered as a cloud-based SaaS (Software as a Service) product.
There are two main highlights of Canva compared to a more traditional solution like Adobe PhotoShop and/or Illustrator:
First, is that it’s 100% cloud-based so you don’t have to download and install anything. Second, you can use the core functions of Canva for totally FREE.
This, alone, makes Canva as an interesting alternative for those who only use graphics and photo editor tools occasionally, and didn’t want to make a hefty investment on Adobe products, which can cost hundreds of dollars.
A fun fact, however, since the popularity of Canva (and other SaaS alternatives like PowerPik or Pixlr), Adobe also launched its own cloud-based, more affordable service dubbed the Creative Cloud (CC)
Another interesting highlight of Canva is that it’s also available as a free smartphone app (with paid in-app options) both for iOS and Android, so it can be a great solution if you need to make a quick graphics editing on your mobile devices.
Canva Review: Interface
As mentioned, there are two different ‘versions’ of Canva: the web app, and the smartphone app (iOS and Android apps are similar to each other).
For the web app, simply go to Canva’s website and sign-up for your account (you can sign-up with a Facebook or Google account, then you are ready to go.
For the smartphone app(s), you’ll need to first download the app from the App Store (iOS) or Play Store (Android) for free, then you can also sign-up for a new account.
When you first start-up Canva (the web app), you will see various templates of different categories (Invitation, Logo, Business Card, Poster, etc.) This is another key highlight of Canva as a graphics design platform: it’s simplicity and ease of use.
Click on a template based on your needs, and this is the main layout of Canva, nothing else. There’s a sidebar on the left of the screen with the following functions:
- Switch between different Templates
- Add Photos from the library
- Add Elements like Charts, Lines or Frames
- Add Text with various fonts and headings/subheadings preset
- Add Videos from the library
- Switch between different Background from the library
- Upload files/videos/images from your device to use with Canva
- Use elements from third-party platforms like YouTube Videos
Image: Web App Interface (notice the sidebar on the left-hand side)
That’s it, and you can edit everything with just a drag-and-drop approach.
The simplicity of Canva-as mentioned— is one of its main qualities, so we can focus on the design itself and not the cluttered interface. Some, however, and especially graphics design purists, might dislike this simple interface and lack of tools.
The intuitive visual builder with a drag-and-drop approach should especially appeal to beginners—again, those who need a design on an immediate basis, but not regularly using a graphics design tool—.
For the smartphone app, the interface is actually quite similar. The sidebar on the left hand of the screen is replaced with a + sign on the bottom right hand of the screen. The “Elements” section is simplified and divided into three different buttons: “Logos”, “Illustration” and “Sticker”.
Image: Mobile app interface (the sidebar is now on the bottom of the design, can be collapsed with the “x” on the bottom right)
Canva Review: Features
Here, let us dig deeper into Canva’s core features. There are not too many of them, but all of them are important:
Arguably Canva’s templates (both in quality and quantity) are the main highlight of Canva as a photo editor solution. There are numerous templates to choose from that are really well-made. We’ll need to pay for the premium ones, but the free ones are typically sufficient for most basic usages.
After we’ve chosen a template category (i.e. Poster templates), we can then further choose between sub-categories. In the case of Poster templates, we can choose between Christmas Poster, Event Poster, Advertising, and others.
The templates are also fairly easy to customize, and we have the freedom to customize almost every element on the template. With creativity, we can easily create a totally unique design according to your needs, and even two totally different designs with the same template.
Stock Image, Videos, and Illustrations
Canva also included a library of images and videos, as well as “elements” like charts, illustrations, stickers, and many more.
All of these (even the free ones) are relatively high-quality and ready to use. Here is an example of how to use a stock image.
Simply single click on an image, and it will show up on your canvas.
Above, you can see the option to customize Filter, Adjust (Brightness, Saturation, Contrast, etc.), Crop, Flip, Duplicate, adjust Position, adjust Transparency, add Link (so when people click on the image it will link to a website), and Lock—when Lock is clicked, you can’t edit the image in any way, this is useful when you add another element on top of it so you won’t accidentally click between the two—.
While you don’t have too much freedom to customize the image (compared to Adobe products for example), arguably these options are sufficient for most needs nowadays if you are willing to spend some time to be creative/
Adding a video to your canvas is similar to adding images, but you get fewer customization options
As you can see, you only get the option to Crop, Trim, Duplicate, adjust Position, Transparency, and Lock.
The principle remains the same with other Elements, simply click on any element you want and it will appear on your canvas. Different elements will offer different customization options, but you already get the gists.
As you can see, adding and customizing all these elements from Canva’s stick library is very simple. If necessary, you can also upload images and videos from your device, and use a similar interface to customize it.
Users can choose the “Text” option on the sidebar, and choose between different fonts.
Different options for the fonts are presented visually like in the image below:
So, you can easily choose between all the different options, even if you are a complete beginner that’s not familiar with the concept of typography.
In our opinion, this is one of the most useful features of Canva. There are hundreds of different fonts to choose from, and the visual presentation is very helpful so that the user can choose between all these options rather easily.
You also get the option to adjust various elements of the text. Quite similar to various word processing apps, so you should be familiar with it.
You can change the color of the text by clicking on the A icon with rainbow-colored bar under it
Or click on a text box, then the color on the bottom right of the canvas for the mobile app interface.
Obviously, you can also format the text for italic, bold, underline, and change the size, similar to how a word processor would perform, as well as customizing the Spacing between characters.
All in all, we can say that choosing between hundreds of available fonts and customizing the texts according to your design preferences are very easy with Canva, and you also have a lot of freedom to personalize your design.
A rather useful feature in Canva’s interface is the ability to duplicate almost any elements (images, text box, stickers) with a single click on the Duplicate button.
For the mobile app, you can tap on this Copy button.
This is useful when you want to use the same design format (i.e. when you want to use texts with similar sizes), so you don’t have to do the same formatting again and again.
Share and Download
On the top right of your screen, there are Share, Download, and Publish buttons that you can use to finalize your design file. You can easily use these buttons to save the design file in various formats (as shown in the image above), share the file via email, or directly upload the design to social media networks (Facebook and Twitter) from the Canva app.
Canva Pro Plan
The Pro plan is relatively affordable ($12.95/month or $9.95 when paid annually), which will unlock additional features like:
- More than 4 million stock photos, elements, and videos
- 1000+ fonts and now you can upload your own fonts
- Brand Kit features, essentially creating your own brand guidelines (logo, color palettes, etc.) as a custom Canva template that you can use anytime.
- Resize to any format
- Animation and gifs builder
- Unlimited folders for easier organization
If you do plan to use Canva regularly, or even if you just want to snatch some premium templates and stock photos for one or two designs, the affordable price is fairly justified. It’s worth noting that Canva Pro is still significantly more affordable than, say, PhotoShop Creative Cloud, which will cost you $20.99/month.
With that being said, Canva Pro should suit professionals/companies with regular graphic design and photo editor needs (i.e. blogger and eCommerce businesses that regularly need new image content). However, the features included might not be sufficient for, let’s say, professional photographers, design agency, and game developers, for example, with more pressing needs for advanced features and more flexibility.
Canva Review: Pros and Cons
- Very accessible, the mobile app is small in size and won’t eat a lot of processing power/RAM
- Very simple and intuitive interface, even complete design beginners can use it immediately
- Hundreds of FREE templates
- Canva Pro is relatively affordable for $9.95/month (paid annually) or $12.95/month
- Both the web app and mobile app(s) are very stable and almost never crash
- Relatively small canvas size, especially if you use the mobile app on a small screen
- Can’t resize canvas on the free plan
- Can’t purchase a premium template without subscribing to the monthly Pro plan, so less flexible
Canva’s key highlight is definitely its simplicity and ease of use. The layout is very simple so users can directly focus on the design process and avoid unnecessary and often hindering steps.
Arguably, Canva with its simplicity provides less flexibility and customizability compared to, for example, Adobe products. With its core functions as a design tool, Canva is almost flawless: fast, reliable, and has all the core design functions that are very easy to use. However, experts and power-users might prefer more advanced and flexible tools offered by other apps.
As a mobile app, however, Canva can be a powerful solution even for experienced designers that want to design something on-the-go and immediately.
Intuitive and easy-to-use with a sleek interface, definitely worth a try and the FREE version will be useful for so many of us.