Canva is now the most sensible tool for making graphics for social media due to its much lower cost, much easier learning curve and the portable nature of it on mobile, when compared to Photoshop.
The price factor
I’ve personally been using Photoshop since around 2009 when it became a big part of my daily life as a website builder and the de facto social media expert at the company I was working at. Thankfully they were paying for it. Because back then it cost so much that the most common version of Photoshop in use was pirated. At over $800 for a license, it was out of the range of most people. Yet despite that, a surprising number of us seemed to know how to use it.
These days the price of Photoshop is still pretty high, but you can break down the payments to a monthly cost of $43.99 per month for the whole Adobe Creative Cloud which includes video editing software, layout software for print graphics, magazine layouts and even web design. But this is a rental agreement for the software. You don’t own it.
So, on price alone, something like Canva, which is free for the basics and comes in at $9.95 US a month, is a lot cheaper as a tool to produce web graphics. That said, Photoshop isn’t really a tool for designing web graphics, even though it can do that. Photoshop is a photo editing app. It’s designed for touching up, fixing and manipulating photos. But that’s not what most users are using it for. They’re using to produce web graphics, text and graphic overlays on photos and cropping images to different shapes.
The ability to layer an image and then add or take away elements is pretty handy too. And that’s the kind of things you can do with Canva. It’s not a photo editor, it’s a layout-maker. You take a photo you have, load it up on to a template or blank canvas, you can run a filter of two over it, but you can’t really edit the photo beyond that. But you can do all that layer stuff. You can overlay text, shapes, backgrounds, etc. If this is what you want your graphics software to do, then Canva is the clear winner based on the price difference alone.
The learning curve
Next up, there’s the learning curve involved with both tools to consider.
My own journey into Photoshop started with YouTube tutorials and a lot of Googling. Adding new shapes and custom stuff is not particularly intuitive. In fact, adding anything that isn’t included in the stock version of Photoshop feels like you’re hacking the system. And when it gets updated to a new version, of course, none of your custom stuff comes with you. When I think about it, most of the more advanced stuff you do on Photoshop requires a huge amount of time to learn and a lot of fiddling around to execute. And anything beyond the basics requires tutorials, reading blogs or, trial and error.
When it comes to Canva, there is not really much of a learning curve. You tell Canva what kind of graphic you want to make, it gives you a selection of templates and then you just replace the bits you want to replace by inserting your own colours, text and photography.
Almost anyone can drop in to Canva and be creating and downloading graphics within a few minutes. And this is why Photoshop has dropped from my daily driver to build graphics, to mostly a backup to do things that Canva can’t, like touching up photos or significantly changing contrast, exposure or brightness. Canva does some of this stuff, but not much of it. Which is fine, because, there is perhaps only 1 in about 30 graphics I make that need any intervention from Photoshop.
When it comes to learning how to use the tools, Photoshop takes quite a while. Canva almost requires no learning curve at all.
The mobile factor
So Canva is cheaper and easier to use. Turns out it’s also better to use on a mobile phone than Photoshop as well. The Photoshop Express app on a phone is a bit like using filters on Instagram. It doesn’t do much. You can brighten up a photo, make it black and white, crop it, apply some cool filters. But you can do all that with Instagram. And Instagram is free. You need a subscription with Adobe to use the full set of features of Photoshop Express, and while the basics are free, they are very, very basic. Pretty much everything they want you to pay for, you can approximate in Instagram. Then you just download the image for use in social media or, if you want to turn it in to a graphic with text and other features, then import your image in to the Canva app. After all, Photoshop is a phone editing app. Not a graphics app.
The free version of the Canva app is limited, like the desktop web version. But it does do graphic layout, much like the web version does. This, though, is at a scale that works on a phone screen. You’re not going to be creating a 400-slide presentation on your phone, whether it’s a paid or free version of the app.
When it comes down to it, there is no need for Photoshop Express on your phone when you’ve got Instagram or the myriad of other free photo touch-up apps. But if you’ve got the Canva app on your phone, you can spin up a great looking template to work with that new photo you just took and be off and running for free.
What will I be using?
While hardcore professionals are doing great things with Photoshop, the reality is that the average person looking to make graphics for their websites and social media profiles don’t need it. You can probably get away with never having to look at Photoshop. In fact, after some 10 years of Photoshop use myself, there’s a good chance that I may even dump it myself this year. If only I didn’t make such heavy use of Acrobat, Premiere and Audition in the Adobe Creative Cloud suite.