Canva: easy and free graphic design software
I've been writing recently about how anyone running their own business needs to be a bit of a writer. More and more, they need to be a bit of a designer too. Posters and leaflets for marketing. Graphics for your website and blog. Quotes and pictures for Twitter and Instagram.
You could hire a designer. But what if you could create the designs you needed faster than you could email your designer asking them to do it?
Canva is a web-based tool that makes it incredibly easy for anyone to create beautiful graphics. It's free to get started though you can pay for extra resources.
Canva combines a library of photos, backgrounds, shapes, fonts, layouts and templates with a simple editor. It's missing most of the features found in a standard graphics package - and that's a good thing. It just has what you need to make your designs look professional. Like dynamic guides to help you centre and align things, and line-height controls so your text doesn't look gappy.
How to use Canva
- Choose your layout: Twitter graphic, Pinterest graphic, presentation, poster... There are templates for all the common social media platforms, plus lots of other layouts.
- Choose a prebuilt design, or build your own. Drag backgrounds, lines, shapes and text onto your canvas.
- Use the pop-up guides to help you align and centre your design.
- Change colours and fonts, and tweak sizing and spacing so your design looks how you want.
- Export your finished design in a range of formats for print or web.
Many of the elements in Canva are free, including a good selection of stock photos. You can also upload your own images at no cost. (Check out Pixabay for a fantastic range of free stock photos.)
There's a wider range available if you are happy to pay, and with images at $1 a shot the pricing is competitive. You pay at the point of download for any premium features you've used.
Canva for Work makes your whole team into competent designers
Canva for Work is great for protecting any investment you've made in professional design work. I've been trialling it for a month or so, and I wish I'd had access to this when I was working in a big company. It was so hard to get everyone creating graphics in line with the corporate brand.
The paid Work plan lets you set up a brand kit for your team. You create a library of colours, fonts, logos, and templates. That makes it faster for everyone to create designs that share a common look. (On the free plan, you can duplicate your previous designs to save time in a similar way.)
It isn't fool-proof. As with PowerPoint, there's nothing to stop the visually tone deaf from butchering your templates. But working with the brand kit is so quick that I think it would definitely help a team to stay on brand.
Getting even more from Canva
For ideas and inspiration, take a look at the Stream, showcasing other people's designs. Canva also has a Design School with a blog and tutorials. The lessons are pitched at non-designers - not dumbed down, just presented in plain English. They cover all the basic design skills, as well as showing you how to put what you've learned into practice in Canva.
Okay, what's the downside with this awesome free tool?
There has to be a catch, right?
Not really. For banging out graphics for my website and blog, I can't find anything much to complain about. I like Canva so much that I use it weekly, even though I have Affinity Designer as well. If I was going to be picky, here's what I'd complain about.
- The formatting features are maybe a bit too stripped back for some. The tool I miss is blend mode for overlays - there's no multiply, only a basic opacity setting. This is a deal breaker for Canva as my 'only' graphics tool, as I use multiply on all my blog post covers. If I've lost you there, compare these: my Pinterest board covers (Canva) use 50% opacity on the coloured overlays. My blog post covers like the one on this post (Affinity Designer) use multiply to achieve a see-through effect. See how different it looks?
- There's a limited choice of lines styles, and no 'hand drawn' effects at all. This feels odd, as I use hand drawn effects a lot, and the handwriting font selection is quite good.
- Canva doesn't support styles like you get in Keynote or PowerPoint. That's the feature where you assign a style like 'Heading 1' to all your heading text. When you later decide you want headings to be pink instead of blue, you change the style once, not the text many times. There's also no way to select several items and change font or colour all at once. For larger Canva designs like a presentation, changing your mind once you've created a lot of pages is going to be a bit of a nightmare. I'll be sticking with conventional presentation software for the moment.
- Some of the navigation isn't that intuitive. Text and layouts have their own menu icons, but other elements like shapes and photos are under Search. I had to dig into the help just to find out how to add a rectangle.
Enough pickiness. Should I get a Canva account?
- It's ridiculously easy to use. If you've used presentation software, you'll pick it up in no time.
- The great choice of images, backgrounds and fonts make creating cool images for your website, blog and social media accounts super easy.
- The free tutorials and design inspiration and prebuilt layouts make it possible for ANYONE to produce nice designs, without it taking ages.
- It's free!
Okay, I'm sold. Where do I get it?
Go to Canva.com for free sign up and a large free design elements library. Additional design elements from $1. Canva for Work is $12.95 per person paid monthly, $9.95 per person per month paid annually.
Do you use Canva? What do you think? Have you found something even better? Let me know in the comments.