Although you can use Canva as a simple free photo editor, it’s mostly intended for transforming simple snaps into something else – like a poster, invitation, logo or social media post – making it a little more like desktop publishing software.
Canva has several membership tiers. The free level offers a generous selection of tools and templates for optimizing and transforming your pictures, but the majority are locked behind a paywall, and although fun, many of the designs have a business slant.
Before you can get started, you’ll need to create a Canva account using an email address, or sign in with your Facebook or Google account. It’s an extra step, but it means that your projects will be saved so you can return to them and continue working later.
After that, you’ll be asked what type of user you are (student, teacher, personal, business or non-profit). Canva says that this is to help recommend the right design types, though it probably also affects the premium promotions you see (with business owners being offered enterprise plans).
Canva is largely based around templates. Pick a category (such as social media, Instagram or poster) and you’ll be presented with a range of options to choose from, split into themes. You’ll notice that, even if you’ve selected ‘personal’, many of the templates have a business angle, but don’t let this put you off; you can edit the text and graphics to your heart’s content, so just pick something that appeals to you.
It’s not immediately apparent which templates are available to free members, and which are premium-only – you’ll need to move your mouse pointer over your preferred design and look out for the label ‘Free’ at the bottom right of the thumbnail. This is a shame, because similar tools like Fotor make the distinction much more obvious. Any features marked with a crown icon or dollar sign are also exclusive to premium account holders, so keep an eye out.
One of Canva’s best features is its impressive range of free stock photography (accessible via the ‘Photos’ button in the left-hand menu), but if you’d rather work with one of you own pictures, click ‘Uploads’ and either search for a picture or drag and drop it from your desktop. All uploaded images will be saved to your account so you can use them again later. There’s also an extensive range of ‘elements’ on offer, including simple shapes and clipart.
If you get stuck, help is available via the purple button at the bottom right. It’s good to see that support isn’t restricted to premium membership tiers. It’s also possible to get extra information on buttons and switches by hovering over them to reveal tooltips.
Canva is intuitive to use, and its social media templates are particularly impressive, but it's probably a better choice for small businesses that want to stand out from the crowd than individuals looking for a photo editor.
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