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

The new Canva app for iPhone – is it worth the effort?



The new Canva app for iPhone was released a few weeks back – so have you all tried it yet? Probably not -it’s only available on iOS at the moment. That shortcoming aside, it appears to have most of the same features that are available on the full-blown version.

It’s great in many ways – you log into your on account so you can access to everything that you’ve already made. It’s still the same kind of easy-to-use thing you expect from Canva, and it comes with a variety of preloaded formats, so you can choose the right size and go.

Like most app versions of a full desktop program, it has its shortcomings too. A biggie is that there’s not the full range of pre-formatted sizes (although it does include the most popular), and you can’t create a new canvas with your own custom dimensions. Another big thing is that I can’t use any of my own photos that I’ve uploaded to Canva before (although I can upload new ones from my phone’s camera, or search through Canva’s imagebank). And I also can’t layer up photos to create my own overlays, or even have more than one photo in a canvas. You can’t use any of the backgrounds either – so only text, elements, and layouts. The image on screen won’t shift when you tilt your phone sideways, so you can’t make it larger that way. You CAN zoom in with the two-finger spread though.

On the plus side, there’s an expanded range of preset filters (and some different ones too) that pop up when you tap on an image that you’re using. However, I couldn’t seem to change the intensity of the filter, or access advanced image settings (even though the option showed on my screen. But I’ve got an iPhone4 – maybe I just need a new phone?).

Lastly (on my phone at least), it appears a bit temperamental and it’s thrown me out twice without warning.

I don’t have a paid account, so there are some Canva For Work things I can’t test, but I do wonder about. Can I still create an image with a transparent background? What about the one-touch resizing to suit every occasion? Is any of the functionality that’s missing on the free version above, available on the paid version (especially being able to access your own uploads)? And I would imagine that you can’t use your own fonts either (because they’re all stored on your computer, aren’t they?).

So yep, not quite the full quid. Overall though, it’s a handy thing to have on the go if you need something quick for Instagram or Facebook, but I wouldn’t be relying on it for producing all your graphics.


I would LOVE to hear your experiences with it! Have you had any glitchy moments, or has it been smooth sailing? Do you use it as your image editor of choice on your phone? Or have you figured out some greats hacks and workarounds on its shortcomings? Let me know!

Julie x

How-to use the Adobe colour picker to choose a colour palette

adobe colour picker

Helloooo! Here’s a fresh video for you today – it’s one of my favourite colour-picking tools that I share with my clients. There are lots of colour picking programs around, but I like sharing the Adobe colour picker because it’s easy to use and has some useful features – you can extract colour from your favourite image, you can tweak sample points, and you can save your palettes. (You can also share your favourite palettes with the Adobe community, and you can also explore other people’s palettes too.)


Julie x


Best 5 tips for branding: Part 1 – Graphic design essentials

5 best branding tips- graphic design essentials


YESSSSS a brand new series for you – and a short one so that you can get back to doing what you do best! Five posts on the five things I think are absolutely essential for branding your business, whether you’re selling a physical product or selling a service. Get these five things sorted, and you’ll be a very long way in front of your competitors. First one’s on Graphic Design Essentials.


Basic graphic design mistakes are something I see ALL. THE. FREAKING. TIME.  And it’s really the main reason that made me want to get started in branding (soooo many ugly Etsy shops!). Because before your customers even get to your lovingly crafted words and inspect your lovingly crafted goods, that mess just stops them in their tracks. They’re too spoilt for choice, and something prettier’s only a click away.

I KNOW technology’s made it easy for us to DIY everything (yes, Google’s my friend too). But in this age of DIY everything in five minutes, there is a huge amount of excellent knowledge that’s lost in translation, with inevitably poor results. And bad-looking websites with terrible layouts and awkward graphics make me sad.
(OK, getting off my ranty high horse now.)


Now that I’ve said that, I would also like to say that these simple fixes are super duper easy. You don’t have be a graphic design guru to get these things right; heck, you don’t have to have any kind of design training – anyone can do them, with even the most basic of image editing programs.



Please. Make sure things are lined up. A header on the left and a thumbnail pic in the middle and a quote that’s kinda halfway across the page and random assortment of different sized pics doesn’t convey “free-spirited and creative” – it conveys “disorganised, messy, and unprofessional”. Yes. You’ve seen those websites too. And you’ve cringed a little bit, haven’t you.

It’s all about creating flow.

It has to be easy for your audience to absorb your message – if it’s all over the place, it just makes things that little bit harder for your audience. If things are supposed to be centred (like your name in your website header), make sure they’re actually centred. Don’t do it by eye; use whatever snap tool or guide functionality you have in your image editing software.

Likewise, make sure that when you use images in a straight line, that they’re all the same size (i.e. if they’re in a column, make sure they’re all the same width; if they’re running horizontally across the page in a row, make sure they’re the same height).

Text needs to be aligned properly too. If you’re writing a document and you want to put in sub-headings, make sure they’re all aligned with each other – whether that’s left or centred doesn’t matter so much, as long as you’re consistent through the whole document.

When you’re working with a space that is going to present only a small amount of information (such as a website header, a business card, or a social media graphic like an ad for Facebook or a pin for Pinterest, make sure it’s all aligned together.


tips for branding - alignment is important





Make the important things stand out more. When it’s text, and you’ve created variety through size, colour, italics and bold, think about what your eye is drawn to the most, and use that for your most important headings. Newspapers are experts at creating hierarchy within text – check out how they arrange their articles for headline, subheading, author byline, and article text.


5 best branding tips1- graphic design-fonts


Also: “Show me where to click.” I love Seth Godin, and this little gem from him’s been stuck in my head for quite a while now.

You can use contrast to create hierarchy too – if your brand colours are mostly black and white with a pop of red, DON’T fall for the next-to-useless ‘make your BUY buttons red’ rubbish; you need to make them contrast so that they stand out, so make those buttons bright blue or green or yellow, so they pop!




Don’t try and jam everything into the smallest amount of space possible. Your audience won’t know where to look. Too much choice = confusion and as I said before, there’s bound to be something prettier that’s just a click away.

Let things breathe. Surround them with enough space so that it’s easy to look at, and easy to read. Your products, your images, and yes, this goes for text too.

When you’re photographing your products, make sure it’s obvious what it is that you’re selling, and don’t crowd your shot with props. When you’re placing images on your website, ensure they’ve got a bit of blank space around them so that they’re easy to focus on without distraction. And break up a big slab of text with headings, and/or important snippets – solid slabs of text are for academics, not for your sales page, or for your “About” page.


5 best branding tips1- graphic design-text1

A BIG slab of solid text.
Boring, right!? Did you even read past the first line?

Let’s try it again –

5 best branding tips1- graphic design-text2


Now doesn’t that look a whole heap better? Think about it. You scanned the second article, didn’t you? And then you got intrigued by the fabulous house, and read a bit more. Ha! The text is absolutely no different; it’s all to do with layout.


OK, go fix up your websites!! Go on, I’ll wait 🙂

(And come back here and tell me when you’re done, ‘k? I’d LOVE to have a look!)

See you next week with the next tip.
(Update: You can find all the tips here)


Julie x

Beautiful product photography for your online shop: styling & props

product photography dos and donts

Product Photography

When you buy things online, exactly what is it that compels you to press that “BUY” button? Especially when you can’t pick stuff up, turn it over in your hands, feel its weight, feel its texture? There are of course a number of reasons, but online, a big part of that ‘thing’ is the product’s IMAGES.

When you’re a maker, it should go without saying that your product image should be well lit with no harsh shadows; horizons and other alignment is straight, and there is ample space around the product so that the picture doesn’t look too cramped. There are tons of tutes out there on how to get all the technical stuff right; I’ve written about it over here, and I also particularly like this one from Jess over on Handmadeology, or this excellent one on the Etsy blog.


photography tips

easy peasy infinity ground


A good camera won’t instantly make you a brilliant photographer.


You’ve got to have a good understanding of what you’re doing and have a clear idea of the result you’re after in order to get consistent results from your camera. Conversely, even if you’re only working with your smartphone, you’re still capable of achieving some very good results.


Please don’t ever think that taking one snap and uploading it direct is a thing.


Before you get even close to uploading your pics to your shop, you need to figure out a few things about your image style.

Start by thinking about your business personality.

Consider what the lighting is like in those images. Is it strong and clear, soft and romantic, or somewhere in the middle? What’s the composition like – are they full and busy, or serene and uncluttered?

Most of the time, a lot of props and/or a complicated background are a bad idea. They confuse the image, and the viewer doesn’t know where to look. Also, if your style is modern and minimal, you’ll probably want to keep things simple on a plain background.

Always always always keep your business personality in mind as you go through the different aspects of product photography below.

Composition. The first thing to remember about your photograph is that it’s in a frame, and therefore it’s a composition (remember that word from high school art classes?). So, you need to think about how to purposefully compose your photo. As noted above, don’t make your item too large in the shot (it looks cramped and uncomfortable) or too small (it looks lost), and keep props to a minimum.

When you’re cropping, keep in mind your pictures don’t have to be the standard height to width ratio! You can crop them to square, or shorter or thinner – whatever suits your object. Cropping also allows you to easily get rid of extraneous detail at the edges (like the edge of the verandah, that lens cap you left on the bench…), as well as allowing you to rotate the image to straighten up slightly crooked horizons. (YES. Please make sure your horizons are straight!)


Props. The most important rule is always Less is More.

photography - whats for sale

Seriously, what’s for sale here?
(Hint: it’s the shirt. But you looked at everything else first, didn’t you?)

So what’s wrong? Let’s see…. Think about what draws your attention first – it’s the white teacup, because it contrasts with the busy florals. The pink bangle stands out for the same reason. And not only is the shirt is only partially shown,  but the background floral is just as busy as the pattern on the shirt, and therefore it just gets lost.


Now you’ve got that, we can move on 😉

Props can play a wonderfully supporting role in your image. You might need to hang your earrings from something, or you might want to spice up your simple block of handmade soap with some fresh herbs or a flower, or put your kids toys next to a floor rug.

Whatever you do and however you set up your shot, look through the camera lens critically and ask yourself, “Does this look too busy? Is it obvious what the thing for sale is?” If it’s too busy, keep on taking things out until you’ve got the absolute minimum props (…just like your mum told you about wearing jewellery when you were young, “Take one more thing off”).

The trick is to make everything in your photo look like you’ve thought about it.

When choosing props, always go back to how you described your brand personality to decide what mood you’d like to convey. If it’s bold and sassy, you might try adding a touch of black or red; if it’s super soft and feminine, you might try adding in some tiny flowers, and use pastel backgrounds.


Editing. In my experience, most images require editing of some description. I ALWAYS adjust contrast and brightness; the aim is to have bright, clear images where it’s easy to see colour and detail.

If low light is a problem for you, digital editing is great for adjusting brightness and contrast, and correcting colour. (However, nothing can fix a blurry photo, so use a tripod or stand for your camera if shake is a problem for you.)

You can also change the colour balance to get rid of colour casts (like when your pic looks too blue or orange), and use the rubber stamp tool to get rid of minor blemishes (such as that bit of fluff you didn’t notice when you were shooting!). I use Photoshop, but if you don’t have it, there are lots of free web-based photo-editing programs out there, such as PicMonkey or GIMP.


Adjusting lighting to suit your style. While I don’t encourage you to alter the colours of your images so that it misrepresents what you have for sale, you can still tweak things to suit your brand style.

For instance, if your style is warm and beachy, you might make your pictures a touch brighter than normal, and tweak the colour slightly to bring up the yellow and orange hues. If your style is mystical, you might want to make your photos slightly darker with higher contrast. Or, if your style is shabby chic and romantic, you might like to soften the contrast, and brighten the image.

Once you’ve figured out your image style, stick with it. As I said earlier, most importantly your images should be in focus, well lit, and not cramped. Tweaking your images should be just that – tweaking – and certainly nothing that’s going to misrepresent your product.


Mixing it up. OK, so now I’ve got you all clicking along happily, feeling comfortable and confident, it’s time to mix it up again by adding in a bit of variety.


This is purposeful variety that fits with your brand, and is designed to add the personal touch. Including real people in your photos can be a big help – for instance, if you sell beachwear, have a couple of shots of happy people wearing your creations at the beach. If you sell jewellery, have a couple of pieces displayed on the body. On your shop’s main page, a couple of people pics amongst 20 or so other product shots will not only demonstrate what these things look like on the body, but because people relate to people, will also add some friendliness/approachability to your shop.

Of course, not every product is suitable for this – you can’t wear graphic design, or furniture. You could however include images of people using your products… or not! Do some research and check out other shops in your niche and see how they style their pics. Which images do you like? Why? How can you extract elements of that and put your own spin on it?


Improving your photography takes a little bit of knowledge, some good hard thinking, and practice practice practice – you’ll ONLY get better with the doing!

Whatever you do, I’d love to see some befores and afters!! If you’ve been around a while and would like to show off your pic from a couple of years back, and your (vastly improved) one from more recently, drop me a link.  If you’d like have a think about some of the points above this afternoon, do some planning, and have a go at it tomorrow, let me know how it went.  If you’re still feeling stuck and you can’t think of any other ways you might make them better, drop me a comment below with a link to your shop/website.

Wishing you snap-happy goodness,
Julie x