Canva is a very well-known design app that made it possible for hundreds of thousands of users to create nice looking graphic content without hiring a designer.
As much as it’s a very intuitive and easy app to use, there’s always some learning curve for newbies. This is why I’m launching my Canva for Beginners blog series. In these posts, I’m going to show you all the tips, tricks and best practices that you must know in order to bring the maximum out of this simple but mighty design app.
In this first episode, I answer one of the most common questions that Canva newbies asked from me: “should I upgrade to the paid Canva Pro subscription?”
At first sight, there’s not much difference between the free and paid version, but on the long run – and especially if you use Canva in your business – you’ll see useful features that you can only access in the paid edition. Do these tiny but mighty features worth your money?
And if yes, are there any smart workarounds to get the same functionality with the free version?
Hang on! I’m going to answer all of these questions.
FREE CANVA VS CANVA PRO
The first problem I ran into with the free Canva app was the very limited options for file organization.
The free Canva subscription only gives you 2 folders to organize your templates. In addition, you can’t organize your uploaded photos into folders.
In the Canva Pro paid subscription, you can create unlimited number of folders both for your design templates and for your uploaded design assets.
If you are just dipping your toes in water with Canva, this won’t be an issue for you. You won’t have too many design files to organize anyway. However, if you plan to use Canva in your business and you create many different types of graphics, you’ll soon get a totally cluttered dashboard:
Another problem is that you only have 1 GB storage with a free Canva account (compared to 100GB with Canva Pro). If you uploaded lots of photos for your projects, this limit can become an issue.
WORKAROUND 1: CREATE AN EASILY RECOGNIZABLE FIRST PAGE FOR YOUR TEMPLATES.
I just recently discovered this super easy trick.
Basically, the first image in every template you create refers to the intended use of that template. You’ll still have a lot of files on your dashboard but you’ll be able to find your files quicker. You can play around with color coding this first page, or using a short title.
On the above screenshot, you can see the difference. Red refers to holiday promotional templates, green refers to blog related graphics, blue refers to workbooks, etc.
WORKAROUND 2: USE THOSE 2 FOLDERS IN A STRATEGIC WAY
The way you are using that 2 folders that the free Canva account provides you is very important. You have to consider what matters for your business the most.
Here are some strategic ideas on how to use these 2 folders:
One folder for current projects, one for archives
One folder for digital projects, one for printed
One folder for your own projects, one for those you plan to share with your team
One folder for work in progress projects and one for finished ones
One folder for projects for your clients, one for your own marketing
One folder for outside marketing projects (e.g. social media templates), one for inside marketing projects (e.g. presentations)
You see, there are many different ways, that two folders can help you structure your Canva workspace and help you find what you need quicker.
WORKAROUND 3: ONLY HAVE IN CANVA WHAT YOU REALLY NEED
This workaround solves two Canva limitations: not having enough space and not having folders for uploaded assets in the free version.
The more projects you create in Canva, the more uploaded assets you’ll have in your uploads section. After a while, it will take several minutes of scrolling to get back to the assets related to your older projects.
But the question is: do you really go back to those assets?
I don’t think so.
The best way to keep your free Canva account organized and lean is to keep only what you currently use. This includes:
Custom made graphic elements you use for your brand all the time
Photos and graphics related to your current projects
Whenever you finish a project, you can make a cleanup, get rid of the files you won’t need later to free up space and keep the uploads section lightweight. Do this:
Evaluate: ask yourself “are these assets evergreen?” If not, if you just needed that cute cat photo for one Insta Story post, then don’t keep it in Canva’s Uploads section. If the photo is evergreen (a picture of you that you use often, your logo, etc.) keep it there.
Download: when you finished a Canva design project, download the files you created and save them on your computer in neatly organized folders. I know, you can directly share a social media image you made from Canva to Instagram, but it’s better to have these files on your computer.
Archive: if you used photos in your design that you had to upload to Canva (they were not part of Canva’s free assets), make sure to archive them. I use many photos from Social Squares and the Style Stock Society. Whenever I get a new photo from their site, I don’t let it just linger in my Mac’s downloads folder. I archive it to a nicely organized and categorized stock photo folder.
Delete: delete every photo from your Canva’s uploads section that you don’t plan to use in the close future.
WORKAROUND 4: KEEP TWO ACCOUNTS
Another way to keep your free Canva account organized is to have two free Canva accounts:
An organized account with all the templates and assets you are currently using
An experimental account where you try out new design concepts, templates, social media ideas and keep more assets
The paid Canva Pro subscription gives you lots of extra, built-in assets. Mainly:
Extra stock photos
Extra graphics (shapes, icons)
Extra templates to choose from
Now, this might sound as something that worth the investment. Canva saves you time, because you don’t have to search for these elements separately. They are all built-in the Canva platform.
However, if you have more time on your hand and your budget is tight, this research is exactly what you must do.
- Find stock photos on sites like Unsplash or Pexels (here’s my ultimate stock photo resource list)
- Find affordable graphics (shapes, icons) on sites like Etsy or Creative Market. You don’t need a lot of these, it’s best to buy 1-2 sets that covers most of your usage needs. Look for PNG files on transparent background. This way you only have to pay for the assets once, not monthly.
- Create your own templates or buy designer templates: instead of using the built-in templates that Canva Pro provides you, you can create your own ones. If you don’t feel confident creating them, buy a set on Creative Market that works for you. Again, this way you only pay once.
- Extra fonts: more on this below
In your free Canva account you have a limited number of fonts you can use in your design. With Canva Pro you get access to more and you can also upload your own fonts. This is especially good if you have an established brand identity that you want to stay consistent with.
If you want to stay with the free Canva account, try to choose fonts that fir your brand. They have a wide enough selection to give you options.
Alternatively, if you haven’t established your brand identity yet, and you know that you’ll use the free Canva version for a long period of time, try to use fonts for your brand that are included in their free selection.
Add the fonts in a different app. Adding fonts to a design is pretty simple, and many free apps let you do it.
I don’t really recommend this method though. It adds an unnecessary extra step in your workflow.
SHARING YOUR WORK
Canva Pro makes sharing your creations super easy and bullet-proof with one added feature.
While the free Canva version lets you share your design for viewing or editing, Canva Pro also makes it possible to share your work as a template.
Why is this important?
If you share your work for editing, and someone edits it by mistake, you can’t get back your original state. But if you share your work as a template, and someone starts to use that template, the original file won’t be affected.
This is especially good if you sell Canva templates. No more customers who forget to make a copy for themselves before editing. No more complaints from other customers that your templates had been changed. No more master file fixing.
Before this feature was introduced with the Canva 2.0 launch, template sellers didn’t have other option than to follow this process:
Create your design
Make a copy. Name the 2 files as “original” and “copy”
Start selling the copy and add as many notifications and warnings as possible about the importance of “copying the file to one’s own account before starting editing”.
I had many problems with this. No matter how many tutorials, emails, notifications I sent to customers, there was always someone who edited the master file and I had to go back to fix it. My designs required constant maintenance. So really consider this workaround an use it only if you share your files with trusted team members.
Canva Pro gives you the option to download your files in animated GIF format. You have two options: to use animated GIF stickers in your design or to use the Canva Animator function the auto-creates an animated version from your static design.
I honestly never used this feature. I found that the auto-animated version of my templates didn’t always look good or didn’t add to the design. Animation for animation’s sake doesn’t worth the extra bucks in my opinion.
If the animation you get really adds to your message that’s a different story. But Canva Pro’s Animator isn’t smart enough (yet) to recognize the main message in your design.
If you really want to create animated graphics, it’s better to go right into your social media apps, e.g. Instagram and utilize all the awesome features that they have there. Record a video of yourself, add your text with the main message, add animated GIFs, etc. All of this is free, no need to pay for Canva Pro.
Canva Pro lets you create a brand board where you can upload your logo (in as many versions as you wish), your brand colors and brand fonts.
This makes designing very easy because your most important assets are always in reach.
Create a brand board document separately and save your color palette, logos and most used assets in one, easily reachable folder.
Canva Pro lets you resize your design in one click. You only have to make one template (e.g. for Facebook), then just use the smart resize function to get the rest of your social media templates.
I personally don’t find this function very important, mainly because a template that works on Facebook not necessarily work on Instagram, Twitter, etc. And if I really want to use the same layout on other social media profiles, I can resize it within minutes myself.
Invest some time at the beginning and create templates for all the social media profiles that you plan to use. Make sure that you stay consistent with the design.
CANVA PRO: WHO IS IT FOR?
After seeing all these workarounds, you’re right to ask: if everything can be solved with the free account, then who should really pay for Canva Pro?
CANVA PRO IS BEST FOR TEAMS:
The template sharing option, and the brand board function let your team collaborate easier and more efficiently.
CANVA PRO IS BEST FOR CANVA TEMPLATE SELLERS:
The template sharing option made it possible to create Canva templates for sale. Without this pro feature you’ll have a hard time as a Canva template seller because you’ll need to spend a lot of time on fixing and troubleshooting your master files.
CANVA PRO IS BEST FOR HIGH-END BRANDS:
If visual consistency is important for your company and you want to have the same versatility with Canva as with other more sophisticated apps, Canva Pro would be a good investment. It lets you add your own brand fonts, colors and even give you access to more graphic assets.
WHICH CANVA VERSION ARE YOU USING?
Now it’s your turn! I’m eager to know which Canva version you are using. Are you ok with the free version or are you a satisfied Canva Pro user?
Also, I’d like to know what is the Canva feature that’s the most difficult for you to use. I’ll plan to answer all these in my upcoming Canva for Beginners posts.