Should I use Free or Paid Canva?

free or paid canva


Canva is an extraordinary tool when used well. It’s easy to use, the dashboard is well organised, and templates are incredibly easy to make and use, so that creating multiple social media graphics based on a singular layout is a cinch. But, should you use the free or paid Canva?

That IS the question. The paid option offers some juicy benefits…

Well, like so many things, it depends entirely on your circumstances. And I’m here to tell you, that in 99% of cases for solopreneurs (which is pretty much aaaaaaall my readership) that you don’t need the paid version. Seriously. If you desire some of the features that Canva For Work has, then in most cases for you solopreneurs, there are much better alternatives.

Firstly, let’s look at the free version of Canva. I’m sure you’ve noticed there are some great templates for most applications (e.g. Facebook posts, business cards, presentations, and oodles more). And if you’ve taken part in my free Canva challenge, you’ll know a lot about the tech stuff, and how to get Canva to do what you want (pssst: the free Canva challenge is on RIGHT NOW, and you’re welcome to join in). But here’s a couple of extra features that you may not know about that are available in the free version.

Features of free Canva that you may not be aware of

  • 3 brand colours – Yep, even in the free version, stick in your three most commonly used brand colours, and you’ll save HOURS of your time because you won’t have to go into the colour picker every time and type in your hex codes. Go to the home page (the one that says “Create a design” at the top), and on the left-hand side, about a third of the way down your screen, it says “Your brand”. Click on that, and then you’ll see your three colour squares. Click on each one, and add in your hex codes. Now every time you add an element that you can change the colour on, your three brand colours will be displayed first on your colour selector.
  • Up to 10 team members. You DON’T need CFW (Canva For Work) if you have a VA, or work as part of a joint venture with one or two other people. Click on “Create a Team”, and email them an invite. Easy done. Now you can all collaborate and add in stuff.
  • Use the ‘paid’ templates for free. This is a great hack I came across a while ago. When you choose a size for your graphic (such as a presentation), you might see a template that looks great but has the unwanted “$” symbol on it and so you sadly go off to find something else. Don’t panic – the only reason those templates are paid is that they contain paid elements, such as quality photos or vectors. So open up the template, see what the paid element is (denoted with the watermark grid and Canva logo), delete and replace it with something else that’s free, et voila ! Download it for free without breaking any rules or doing anything underhanded.


Yes, there are most certainly times when paying for Canva For Work is warranted. However, some of the features they offer can easily be done with other programs or apps, and in some cases, those other programs or apps can do things a whole heap better. But quickly, let’s look at what you get with Canva For Work.

Features of paid Canva For Work

  • load your own fonts – one of the biggest reasons most people choose CFW, and a very valid one if you frequently use all your fonts with lots of different copy. However, if it’s just your wordmark or URL that you want in a particular fancy font, and you’re happy using a text font for everything else, then I would recommend using something like to create your wordmark in your own fonts on a transparent background, and download it as a .png. Then you can upload it as an image into Canva, and you can easily add it to ANY graphic you make, for free, with no hassle.
  • multiple and extended brand palettes – if you have a couple of different businesses or projects, and you need more than one palette, then this might be a good reason to use CFW. Or else, put up with having to add your hex codes each time for each graphic. If you set up a template (i.e. one image at the top of a document that you copy down and alter each time you need a new thing), then you can save yourself some of this hassle, because Canva keeps all of that document’s colours in the colour selection box. You can have up to 30 pages in one document, so you can get 30 graphics out of one template, ad using the same colour palette.
  • save with transparent background as .png. This is SO not a reason to get CFW. If you’re wanting to create a wordmark, or a proper logo, or any kind of symbol or image cutout with a transparent background, then there are way, way, way better programs to do this with. My personal preference is for image editing, including getting rid of backgrounds on existing images, or Gravit Designer for creating vector-based graphics with or without transparent backgrounds. Both of these will also let you use your own fonts.
  • magic resize for designs to easily cover different social media platforms. This would be a handy feature if you were making several graphics a day and working across multiple social media platforms. However, most of us as solopreneurs might stick to one or two platforms, and if you’re judicious in your placement of text and always keep it towards the middle of the graphic, then it doesn’t matter so much if the platform’s preferred orientation is vertical, horizontal, or square – you should still be able to read the text. The small amount of extra effort to do this doesn’t justify the monthly expense of CFW just so you can use one click and save a few minutes.
  • unlimited folders to organise your designs. Again, a feature best suited to organisations that have large amounts of graphics. I find having two folders in the free Canva for current designs, as well as keeping the finished and downloaded ones organised in files on my own computer is quite adequate.
  • extra free photos, illustrations and templates. There are MASSIVE amounts of free public domain images available on the web. You don’t need to pay for any of this kind of stuff. Pixabay,, Pexels, Stockio, Unsplash, and are just a few off the top of my head – there are squillions more.
  • organise your own uploaded photos into folders. Again, this may be handy if you upload a tonne of images. But you can also go through your existing uploaded images and delete the ones you don’t want to cut down the overwhelm. You can also copy an image between graphics, i.e. open the graphic with the image you want, select it, then Ctrl C to copy; go back to your new canvas, and press Ctrl V to paste.
  • up to 30 team members. Solopreneur? As I said earlier, you can have up to 10 team members for free. You don’t need this.


Here are the important questions to ask:

How do I decide – free or paid Canva?

  • how often do you use it?
  • are there more than 10 other people you’ll need to access it on a regular basis? (You can always share a link if you need to share occasionally
  • how many social media platforms do you use regularly? and do you specifically need your graphics in different layouts, or can you get away with simply centring the text so that the one graphic is adaptable to different situations?
  • how complex is your branding, and do you have more than one brand that you need to create graphics for?


Only YOU can answer these questions for yourself and your circumstances. But if you decide that a paid graphics program is what you desperately need because it allows you the flexibility, then you need to consider other paid options as well.

While I agree that Canva is great (it truly is! for so many reasons), it’s still very much focused on creating graphics (images + text + shapes). That means that it’s not good at other things, such as image editing. If you need free image-editing, then Pixlr or BeFunky are perfect. And I can’t go past Gravit Designer for creating and editing vectors for free.

So if you wish to combine any or all of those things, there are a few paid options. Several of the free programs noted above have paid versions with some excellent add-on capabilities. However, my best advice of all is to bite the bullet and step up your game – and go for Adobe Creative Cloud (yes, hang out with the big guns). It includes Lightroom CC, and Photoshop CC, and the basic version is $14.29/month (charged annually, = $171.48). Although it’s slightly more than the $12.95/month for Canva For Work, you will get waaaaay more functionality out of it, when you’re ready to step up.


If you still don’t know what Canva’s all about (or you’ve dipped your toe in the water but you still need to find the courage to dive in), join my free 5-day Canva challenge, and I guarantee you’ll learn a heap about this great free tool! You can sign up here – (And even if you miss this round, you’ll be on board ready to go for the next one – I run this challenge several times a year, and it includes a private Facebook group for instant feedback on what you’ve made! SO get over there now.)

See you there!

Julie X

Picmonkey is gone – what do I use now?

what's the alternative now picmonkey is gone

I want a transparent background, but I can’t use PicMonkey anymore.

Because it’s no longer free.

There’s nothing surer on the internet than constant change (and usually in the pursuit of the dollar). We all struggle to keep up. Remember Periscope? Whatever happened to that? And Snapchat – seems after an initial blast, Snapchat has quietened down too and I’m wondering if it’s on the way out as well!? Facebook’s algorithms are constantly changing and I NEVER know what’s going to be in my newsfeed or how I can best reach my audience there. And since Facebook took over Instagram, I get stuff in my feed that’s a week old. Pinterest is chock full of sponsored posts too.

There’s nothing surer on the internet than constant change (and usually in the pursuit of the dollar). We all struggle to keep up. Remember Periscope? Whatever happened to that? And Snapchat – seems after an initial blast, Snapchat has quietened down too and I’m wondering if it’s on the way out as well!? Facebook’s algorithms are constantly changing and I NEVER know what’s going to be in my newsfeed or how I can best reach my audience there. And since Facebook took over Instagram, I get stuff in my feed that’s a week old. Pinterest is chock full of sponsored posts too.

Now PicMonkey has gone by the wayside as well.

In the last couple of weeks, PicMonkey announced that it’s no longer a free platform – not even a tiered one, like it used to be. The only way you can use it is to pay (which is pretty sad, because I used to love how you could combine PicMonkey with Canva and do just about any kind of graphic you wanted!). My good friend Karyn Sealby is using the paid version and still loves it – she says there have been numerous big improvements in functionality lately that she says have made it even better.

If you’re on the paid version of PicMonkey, I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

But where does that leave us, who just want to use a few of the basic tools, such as being able to use your own fonts, and create shapes with a transparent background?

Well, now that PicMonkey is gone, we head right on over to Gravit Designer, that’s where.

It’s a step up from free PicMonkey – besides all the image-editing stuff, being able to create things with a transparent background, and able to use your own fonts, you can also create your own vector shapes as well, AND download them as .svg files too! If you’re not sure what that means, it simply means you can create shapes that never lose their crispness, no matter what size they are – which is PERFECT for logo design, and pattern design too.

How good is that?

And they’ve promised that “We will always keep it as a professional yet free design tool”, so that’s excellent news for us! You can use it online, or you can download a desktop version as well.

While Gravit Designer is a bit more complex than PicMonkey, they also have a simpler version called Klex – which at first glance looks a LOT like Canva. And while there are things that Canva can do that it can’t (and I must admit, I find some things in Klex a bit “buggy”), there are also lots of things that it can do better than Canva as well – for instance, flexibility in its vector illustrations, and font alternatives.

However, if you’re feeling OK about the tech side of things (and honestly, you don’t have to be a tech whizz or anything), I’d go for Designer. It can do just about everything you’d want – crop, import your own fonts, create vector illustrations, and a whole lot more. It’s got lots of alignment tools (snap functionality, grids, auto alignment), and image editing.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be doing some Facebook lives on tips and tricks for Gravit Designer – so I hope you can join me! Every Friday at 10.30am AEDT and you’ll get the low-down. It’s quite new to me too, so you can join in as I discover what it can and can’t do – and as always I’ll be getting inventive, so if there’s something it can’t do, I’ll figure out a way around it.

Just you wait and see 😉

You can find me on Facebook at See you there for Friday morning Facebook Lives!

Julie x

What makes a great opt-in? Hint: it’s not “Subscribe Now”

what makes a great opt-in


I’ve *just* come back from the Artful Business Conference – hooley dooley!!! SO. FREAKING. GOOD. I could tell you a zillion things about it: how aaah-maaaaaz-ing was Ricci-Jane Adams, how beautiful it was to see my friend Karyn Sealby up on stage because I know where she’s come from business-wise, how hilarious and smart was Kate Toon, how utterly thought-provoking was Peter Tullin and his ideas on the future of business, collaborations, and what audiences want (they want experiences, not just products), how totally on the money were all the workshops (practical video tips from Dawn, how to pitch and be the perfect podcast guest from Katie, how to disrupt the status quo bigtime in your hometown…. hahaha, thanks Peter – watch out Wagga!)

But I’ll save all of that for another blogpost shortly.

One thing that was touched on over the weekend was creating the perfect opt-in that will attract the exact people you need on your list.

And you need a list. 

Because your audience can forget to visit your website, they can forget to visit your FB page (which has virtually no reach these days anyway, thanks FB [not]), and they’ll probably lose your business card – but you can keep turning up in their inbox regularly and reminding them of how you can help.

It’s NOT a numbers game.

It’s about nurturing those relationships once they’ve joined you (because of your deliciously juicy opt-in). Having a highly-engaged small list is way better than having a list of thousands that delete your emails as soon as they turn up in your inbox. What’s the point of that? F’rinstance – I recently bought some bedlinen from a major retailer online; they automatically put me on their email list. They subsequently sent me THREE emails in the space of a week, all trying to sell me more stuff. Guess what I did on the third one?

Yup. Unsubscribe. That was pretty silly, no!? They could have sent me a discount voucher, they could have sent me home decorating tips, they could have sent me all manner of useful information and kept me engaged; but no. They sent me more pushy salesly stuff. Yuk.

But I digress. This is about creating a value-packed opt-in to get THE RIGHT people onto your mailing list in the first place.


Here’s my best tips:

1. Understand who your audience is.
If you don’t know WHO you’re talking to, then you’ll have no idea HOW to talk to them, or WHAT you need to be talking about. Figure out who they are first, what they want/need, and how you can help them.

2. Solve ONE problem.
Broad + general + covering all bases = VAGUE. Nobody finds that useful.
Solve their one burning problem.

For my opt-in, if you don’t know where to start with your branding and it’s all too overwhelming, I set out the basic foundations of what you need to do, so you can go through them step by step (if you’d like a copy of the Build Your Brand ebook, you can grab it here).

3. Keep it simple.
I know you want to help them with everything (because that’s one of my biggest issues too! I want to give you guys EVERYTHING that’s in my head because I know how much it will help you).

But in fact, too much information creates overwhelm, and overwhelm means that people simply abandon all that carefully crafted knowledge. No one actually wins there.

Be succinct. Create something that’s simple to apply or do.

4. Make sure it’s on target with everything else you have to offer.
While of course you’ve got lots of knowledge in different areas, don’t offer them apples when your business is all about oranges.

Think about how they got to your page in the first place. You, for instance, likely came to my site because you were interested in figuring out how to brand your small business, and read a couple of my blog posts. The flow is then that my opt-in offers you more information about branding for small business. If I offered an opt-in on how to set up an auto-responder series in Mailchimp, while it’s still small-business related, it would be quite disconnected from the main focus of my website, and I doubt many people would opt in.

5. Make sure it’s clear how your opt-in will benefit those who sign up.
Vague labels like “Sign up for my newsletter” aren’t going to cut it. The conversation in your audience’s head goes something like “What-the-hey for? What will I learn? What useful stuff will you give me that I can’t get elsewhere? Are you going to teach me stuff I need to know, or are you just going to be pushy and sell me stuff all the time? My inbox is already too crowded – why should I stick around?”.

Tell them exactly the sorts of things that will help them get where they want to go. For instance, “Get small business tips and tricks”, or “Get free photos weekly” or a one-off specific thing like “Learn 20 ways to build better relationships”.

6. Keep your headline simple.
Be specific and succinct about what you’re offering – if you have to take a paragraph to explain what your opt-in is, then it’s (a) obviously too complex and doesn’t solve the ONE problem (see points 2 & 3 above); and (b) ain’t nobody got time to read that. These things need to behave like billboards – grab your audience’s attention before they drive past.

If the headline grabs them, then you give them a brief summary of what’s covered under that (dot points are good; or a single, descriptive sentence).

7. Make your opt-in button stand out on the page.
Don’t buy into that rubbish about “red buttons convert better” – they don’t. What DOES convert the best is the button that contrasts with the rest of the page – so if your brand colours are predominantly red and orange, then make your button blue or green (and of course, make sure the colour still fits with your overall branding!). As Seth Godin says, “Show me where to click”.

8. After you’ve got them, keep them.
After you’ve gone to all this trouble, make sure you nurture them. Give them useful stuff. Entertain them. Intrigue them. Respond to them when they write to you (and they will).

Make them feel like they’re part of something.
Make them feel like they’re part of your tribe.
Love them hard. Give them stuff.
Make them feel like they’re part of something. (repeat)


That’s it.

Follow those 8 points and you’ll be able to build your tribe much more easily. However, keep in mind that even if you do those things to the best of your ability, they’re not bulletproof. They’re simply pointers, and you’ll still be spending time refining and tweaking your beautiful opt-in.

But that’s OK! The long game is the only game in small business. Build relationships, and your audience will sing your praises. And that’s good for business.




Thanks 🙂
Hope I’ve made you think about your opt-in and now your imagination’s working overtime!
Have you got any questions about opt-ins? Pop a comment below, and I’ll point you in the right direction.

Julie xx

What even IS ‘branding’?

What the hey is ‘branding’?

I get asked this question a LOT, so thought I’d do a quick video to explain. No, it’s not just your logo.



Basically, branding comes down to being consistent in what you put out into the world, curating your customer’s experience of you.

In the video, I mention Nike and Adidas as fabulous examples of branding, and how they differentiate themselves – because, as we know, they actually sell the same stuff. But they target their markets very differently – Nike is about heroic striving; Adidas is a bit more down to earth and ‘real’.

What do you think – does your customer’s experience of you stack up? Or are there things you can improve?
Let me know in the comments below – what one thing are you planning to fix in your branding next?

(Oh, and if you’d like to grab the free workbook Build Your Brand, you can grab it here.)

How to make a GREAT YouTube channel banner


You know that EVERY interaction with your audience adds to their impression of you – whether it’s your sparkly, amazing website design, your luscious business card that everyone oohs and aahs over, or your YouTube channel banner.

In fact, I was just listening to Tash Corbin today talking about where to start with branding/rebranding your business, and she suggested to start with the things that get the most interaction from your audience, i.e. your Facebook page, and your Youtube channel – because really, unless you’re the Huffington Post, your social media is where all the interaction is happening and your site is not.

So, here’s today’s tutorial on how to put together a great banner for your YouTube on Canva. There are a couple of SUPER important things to remember about your banner for Youtube, especially the size and placement of your text – and so I go through how to use Canva’s guides and snap tools to help you (and I explain why NOT to use any of Canva’s templates for this too!).






As mentioned in my last post, I’ve got a Canva Masterclass happening VERY soon – it starts on Thursday, 16th March. If you’re launching anything anytime soon (a new product or service) or even if you just want to raise your social media profile, I suggest you check it out.

You can learn next-level Canva skills and create a whole social media campaign from the ground up, with tonnes of individual attention in a small group setting – find out more here.

See you there!
Julie X


How to create a beautiful social media template in Canva

Well!! I must say I didn’t plan to be away from my blog this long; I’ve been incredibly busy with clients (yay!), having holidays at the beach (yay!), planning out my business for this year (just you wait 😉 ), and then getting the kids organised to get back into school (phew!). So thanks y’all for sticking with me. I PROMISE I’ll be back to blogging on a regular basis, with lots of great tips for small business, and with particular emphasis on building your brand beautifully, of course.

This year, I’ve got tons of stuff lined up; I’ll be digging into branding, design principles, marketing, and more, and looking at quite specific things such as website layout, customer touchpoints, social media, packaging, and your workspace. Look out 2017!


Right now, I’ve got something a bit spesh for you; I’ll be doing a series of tutorials on how to make some really gorgeous things in Canva, that you can easily adapt to your own business.

Canva’s great and I love it for all sorts of reasons, but I hear lots of people getting frustrated with it – on the tech side, not being able to figure out how to do something in particular (yes, it does have limitations, but there’s always ways around everything), and also on the design side, when their graphics end up looking messy and confused and nothing like they imagined. I go into a bit of both and show you how to consistently get good results in this series of tutorials I’m publishing throughout the month, because the tech and the design work hand in hand to produce beautiful things.

Here’s the first. Enjoy.



How easy was that!?

I hope it also sparked your imagination and you realised just how much you can actually do in Canva with a little practice. It’s great for social media posts, creating ebooks, blog images, posters, invitations, and a whole heap of other things too.

If you’re interested in learning more, I’ve got a MASTERCLASS happening very soon – it starts on Thursday, 2nd March. If you’re launching anything anytime soon, I suggest you check it out. Learn next-level Canva skills and create a whole social media campaign from the ground up, with tons of individual attention in a small group setting – find out more here.

See you there!
Julie X