Canva…a mostly free canvas

Name: Canva
Cost: Free (mostly)
Type: Internet tool (iPad app)
Rating: 4/5

canva logoI was recently in a faculty meeting with my amazing peers, and one professor shared how much she liked the “Minute Memo,” an infographic-style newsletter I created for students. At first I was going to admit that the Piktograph tool did much of the design work for me, but I just kept my mouth shut and let the praise give me a bit of a buzz. But, with that positive feedback, I got to thinking about whether there were other tools that might further up my credibility, either with peers or students. After a Google search, I came upon an option listed second in the search results: Canva. Canva can do more than infographics, and has many similar graphic design options as BeFunky. I didn’t want to like this tool when I first started because of the limited free graphics, but the ability to save the finished product as JPG, PNG, or PDF and not make the finished products public won me over. This review is a little longer than previous posts because I couldn’t help but really play around with it.

Canva workspace 1

These are the options you have, though some have similar templates. Clicking the + More… and you’ll find more unique options not seen in other tools, such as book covers, gift certificate, magazine, and resume. I choose the template based on the final size I want the graphic to be, rather than the use. I sometimes end up choosing a template that is way too big, so I will resize (reduce pixels) in Windows Photo Manager.

Goal: evaluate other design tools to see if it’s worth paying for Piktograph


  • iPad app available
  • It’s free….well, nothing is entirely free in this world, but they don’t require subscriptions. Premium images with watermarks cost $1, which is paid when you Publish.
  • Their blog and tutorials are called “Design School”….given how much I invest in graduate school tuition, I like the idea of going to school for free
  • There are many free templates to choose from.
  • Finished documents can be saved as PDFs or graphics. The quality is clear (as compared to little bit of blur that Piktograph has).
  • You can choose to not make the graphic public, which is generally a feature reserved for pay versions.
  • The documents/graphics you create can be copied. This is helpful for me since I make weekly infographics in newsletter form; I want the same style, but need to change the content.


  • It crashes (or freezes) Firefox. If your work was not automatically saved recently, it’s gone. Ouch!! If you want to save as you go, click on file and select Save.
  • There are hidden fees. If you choose a $1 template, then there are often other graphics in the template that you need to swap out or pay $1 each. Choose wisely. If it isn’t marked “free” then it isn’t free.
  • Search doesn’t provide filters to limit the results. Also, the free and pay versions are combined so you have to scroll all the way through when choosing a free graphic.
  • You can’t select and move multiple objects. When I wanted to move a graphic and its associated text, I had to select an move each individually, which is cumbersome if you have a graphic, heading, and two sections of text to be moved
  • When editing template text or free font styles, the tool was a bit quirky….if text is overlapping, you have to move the textboxes around in order to edit the template text.
  • Adding shapes and lines is not intuitive. You have to click “search” and then choose a category. Other tools like this one instead have an icon in the standard menu (along with text, layout, background).
  • Resizing provided shapes, lines, template text, and graphics can be limited; sometimes you can only resize horizontally or vertically, which makes it a challenge to fit the object into well-defined areas

Canva workspace 2

This is the workspace with the Image search option. I started with a blank document and added my own text and graphics. In this screen shot, you can see that I searched for binocular and found a variety of options; all but one here was $1.

Insider View: If relying on the graphics provided by Canva, keep in mind that you may need to adjust your message to sync up with the free images that are available. This is not ideal since there are limited options in some categories. You can try changing your search terms for better options (rather than “exclamation point,” I had to search “caution” for what I wanted). That said, since you can import images, try Pixabay for images…there are photo options, along with clip-art illustrations to choose from. I primarily rely on the images I import from Pixabay since sorting through the free/$1 graphics in a Canva search is tedious.

Final Thoughts: The primary issue with this tool is that you have to be VERY careful about the templates, graphics, text, and backgrounds you choose since all the $1s will add up for just one graphic if you haven’t selected all free versions. Granted it may be worth $$ for perfect final products, but since I create many graphics for my courses, free is a much better option for this professor’s budget.



canva sample 1

I started with a blank page (no template), uploaded a photo from Pixabay, and added text with the standard fonts. The “Restricted Topics” heading came from a template font style, but otherwise I could probably have designed this in PowerPoint.

canva sample 2

This is probably something I could create in PPT (and save as a JPG), as the graphic is from Pixabay and the font is comparable to what PPT offers. This isn’t a fault of Canva, but rather more evidence that I need to spend some time away from PowerPoint in order to be more creative.

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