Promoting your brand can sometimes feel like walking into a party where you know no-one. If you want to make a good impression as soon as you get through the door – you’re going to need to dress well and get their attention. Visual appeal is a big plus, and the best way to improve your appearance quickly is to have someone else do it for you, by having them pick out the best looks.
Luckily for those new to design, there are a number of online tools that are making it easy to create visual appeal for your brand through simple graphic design software curated with free to use images, fonts and templates. To help you out, we’ve set up a battle royale; we’ll be going three rounds looking at two successful tools that will help your brand dress well: Canva and Stencil.
Round 1: Usability
For all three design tools, getting started is as simple as setting up a free account – throw in your name and email and you’ll be ready to go. Starting up our first tool, Canva, users will be greeted by a slick 23 second video tutorial on how to get started by searching the image library, inserting text and downloading your finished creation. After the video is finished, you’ll find a crisp and clean interface that is easy to navigate; the only way to get lost is in the myriad of fonts, templates and visual elements.
For those looking for more than a basic crash course, there are also a number of tutorials which canvas using backgrounds, branding and layout to name a few. But what makes these tutorials stand out is their design focus – they aren’t merely about how to use the program, but how to harness your own creativity, and they do this through getting the user to take part in interactive design tasks.
The design canvas isn’t restricted to just desktops either. If you are looking to design on the go – access is available to the canva suite via mobile devices as well (Ipad and IPhone – no android unfortunately).
The final thing we’ll touch on here is that Canva is optimized for the user – so if you are using canva for work, you’ll be able to create a ‘team’, making it easier to share designs and folders, and you can also setup and store your style guide under ‘Your Brand’.
Previously known as Share As Image, Stencil stepped onto the scene this year as a fully-fledged online graphic design studio.
Starting up Stencil, the layout shares similarities with Canva, and is clean and easy to navigate; however, Stencil lacks the ability to select design sizes (e.g. Facebook ads, posts etc) straight off the bat. To scale your design to the size you want it, it’s a little less obvious than Canva. To do this, you’ll need to select a background or template and click the ‘resize canvas’ tool, but unlike Canva, you don’t receive a visual representation of what that size will look like until it is actually selected.
While Stencil may be a bit slow off the mark, it does provide one noticeable leg up on Canva – an inbuilt 20% Facebook Ads text checker to make sure your material gets approved quickly.
Stencil does have a number of help videos available to assist beginners, but it gets bogged down in explaining functionality to the user by way of short video clips that don’t get the user’s taking part and getting their creative juices flowing.
Round Winner: Canva
Round 2: Content
Touting an arsenal of design types for social media, power point presentations, posters, posts and more, Canva really does come off as a well-rounded design suite that has any project covered.
Once you’ve got your canvas selected, you’ll be able to choose from over 8,000 templates and literally millions of photos – however, if you are using Canva for free, premium photos and templates will set you back $1 for a single 24-hour use. And if you don’t like what you see, you can always upload your own images as well.
Additionally, it takes only a simple click and drag to customize designs further with grids, frames, shapes, lines, illustrations, icons and charts as well as a vast array of text elements to suit just about any purpose.
When you first start up Stencil, you are offered three free images – but first you’ll need to share stencil on Facebook or Twitter, or follow them on Twitter.
Sadly, the restrictions on images are reinforced by a rather ominous countdown at the top of the workspace telling you have ’10 images left this month’.
Don’t get me wrong, Stencil has a fantastic database of 800,000 royalty free photos, but unless you up your game to a $9 per month plan, you’ll have to get by with a relatively smaller number of photos; the same goes for their library of 200,000 royalty free icons. Also, the templates are a bit of a tease; while they look great, none appear to be available unless you sign up to the $9 plan.
Text options are again less glamorous than those in canva – you won’t find many cool text elements but you will get a great range of fonts and the ability to change the size and colour. Thankfully there is a bit more creative license available for images with filters and colour editing available. But what makes Stencil stand out from Canva is the addition of a ‘Quotes’ library which contains over 100,00 quotes that will help keep your brand in tune with some of the greatest thought leaders – and there doesn’t appear to be a cap on these.
Round Winner: Canva
Round 3: Price
For most, using Canva without the additional paid content will be enough to satisfy your needs. Looking to quickly put together a sharp, eye catching visual to put on social media? Canva's free content will leave you with more than enough material on your palette to get the job done, and will let you create as many designs as 1GB of storage can hold. However, if you are looking to step up your design game further, an annual subscription of $9.95/month ‘Canva for Work’ will allow you to resize designs and upload custom fonts and colour palettes for your brand in addition to other tools geared towards improving team organisation and sharing in the workspace. And if you aren’t happy, Canva will let you pull out after 30 days.
If that’s not enough, the yet to be unleashed ‘Canva Enterprise’ promises everything in the work plan, plus enforced brand standards, team administrative controls and advanced analytics that are best suited for teams with more than 50 members – we’ll have to wait for the jury to come back with a decision on this one when it’s released. Additionally, Canva provides free non-profit subscriptions for NFP’s with a team base of 10 members or less, but you’ll need to apply and provide proof first.
Stencil’s zero dollar a month option, touted as being ‘For really Simple Projects’, will let users create up to 10 images per month, but as mentioned, there is a cap on using backgrounds and icons. Stepping up to the ‘Pro’ plan for an annual subscription of $9/month will see you creating up to 50 images per month with access to 800,000+ background photos, 200,000+ Icons and graphics as well as 50+ templates. The final frontier is the ‘unlimited’ plan which delivers all the pro features while also letting you create unlimited images and keep unlimited favourites. If you decide Stencil isn’t for you, monthly plans can be cancelled at any time, and yearly plans come with a 7-day money back guarantee.
Round Winner: Canva
Having battled it out across usability, content and price, we’re going to have to give this title to Canva. From design focused tutorials that go beyond merely explaining the product to an extremely effective interface and easily accessible design content, Canva has the upper edge and is our choice for helping non designers to dress their brand well.