Canva vs. Figma: Which SaaS Platform is Better for Graphic Design?

When it comes to DIY graphic design, many people flock to browser-based SaaS tool Canva. But there’s a recent pretender to Canva’s design throne – Figma.

But which is better? It’s a good question – yet as we’ll discover, they aren’t directly interchangeable with each other.

Our short answer is that they address two potentially very different design needs. Want our long answer? Read on…

What is Canva?

Get up to speed with Canva here: Why Pay For A Graphic Designer When You Can Use Canva?

What is Figma?

Figma is a web-based design tool, focused around user interface design and prototyping with an emphasis on real-time collaboration and team interaction. Figma is frequently used by UI/UX designers, though many professional UX designers prefer a tool called Sketch instead.

Figma vs. Canva: The Comparison

At first glance, Figma’s “collaborative design tool” and Canva’s “collaborative graphic design” USPs sound remarkably similar. But once you scratch the surface, they’re really not.

Initial Differences & Similarities

Different Brush Strokes for Different Design Folks

First off, let’s address the rather sizeable elephant in the room. Figma and Canva deal with two very different flavours of design. Figma is more for designing digital interfaces – such as websites, apps, creating interface wireframes, and designing user flows.

Canva, however, is more angled towards “traditional” marketing graphic design allowing users to easily create print and digital assets like social media graphics, posters, video thumbnails, and much more.

So in short, Figma is for user interface and user experience design, and Canva is more for day-to-day print or web marketing design.

But There is a Little Interchangeability…

However, that’s not to say that Figma can’t be used for creative graphic design, and Canva can’t be used for UX design and wireframing – far from it! It’s just that both are very much designed and developed with those individual purposes in mind. Therefore, using one tool for the other kind of deliverable may make a job harder than it needs to be.

However, Samuel Cho points out that Figma’s free version does have a few graphic design advantages over Canva. His point about exporting images in different sizes is particularly interesting.

But if you’re a beginner, Canva’s interface is far simpler and much more intuitive than Figma – a factor we’ll discuss in detail shortly.

Can They Be Used Together in Harmony?

There’s nothing to say that you can’t use Canva and Figma together to produce a single deliverable. If you need to design an interface but you want to incorporate attractive graphical elements to get a clearer idea of the finished product, there’s nothing to stop you from importing assets designed in Canva into Figma.

The inverse is true too – if you’re advertising a new app launch or creating a presentation about how a new website is going to work, Figma files can be exported as commonly used image files and annotated in Canva to give an extra explanatory punch.

Both Are Free Routes to DIY Design

Both Figma and Canva are excellent tools with generous free offerings. So whether you’re looking for a graphic design tool or a wireframing platform (or something in between) one tool or the other will have you covered.

They are both offered as “freemium” software, meaning that the basic tool is available for free but you can open up a wider range of functionality at a cost.

Canva Benefits Over Figma

Ease of Use

If you’re a beginner to any kind of design, Canva absolutely comes out on top in terms of ease of use. It’s remarkably intuitive – if you have a basic knowledge of tools like Microsoft Paint, then chances are that you’ll find Canva easy to use straight “out of the box”.

Figma however is a little more complex. If you’re completely new to design software, then you may need to do a bit of homework before you can create anything particularly spellbinding. Figma’s complexity isn’t all bad though, it does allow for much more detail-oriented design where there’s not a pixel out of place.

In-Built Graphics

Canva comes with numerous assets and templates that you can use to your heart’s content: stock photos, vector graphics, fonts, layouts and animations are all available in the free version. However, there are some limitations to the assets and templates you have access to in the free version – partly to make life easier for users, but partly to make their paid options more of a tempting prospect.

In terms of stock assets, Figma gives you more of a blank slate. If you want to add a vector graphic here or a stock photo there, you’ll have to source them yourself.

Figma Benefits Over Canva

Built for Collaboration

Aside from its design features, Figma is primarily built for real-time design collaboration. In their introductory video Figma acknowledge that passing a design around for collaboration and approval can be messy. Getting prompt input can be significantly slowed down when different people use different software, different setups, and have access to different assets.

Figma levels the playing field by making real-time collaboration available through a single, browser-based collaborative portal. Its comments also reportedly link with Slack to keep everyone on the same page. Real-time collaboration is possible in Canva, but it’s a fairly recent addition – previously, collaboration had to be done one user at a time.

Figma’s All About Plugins & Add-Ons

Figma’s Community is built on plugins. Figma users have access to a wide array of interesting plugins including chart creators, font pickers, design resources from the likes of Unsplash, and accessibility plugins too.

On the other hand, Canva is catching up but at the time of writing it’s still much more limited.

Freehand Drawing is Possible

Need the freedom to draw your own shapes and illustrations? Need pixel-perfect control over your design? Figma has freehand pen and curve tools that let you create your own shapes with a mouse or graphics tablet. Canva on the other hand, doesn’t provide that luxury.

In Canva, if you wanted a particular shape or wiggle, you’d have to take a pre-created curve or line and manipulate it to do what you want, which isn’t always the easiest.

The Final Verdict: Canva or Figma

So, which is better? Rather annoyingly, we aren’t going to come down on one side or another. Our answer would be “it depends what you’re designing”. Canva is better for quick, simple marketing assets, whereas Figma is more geared towards UX design and wireframing.

However, there’s a secondary answer to this question too, and it’s in the form of a counter-question – “which tool do you get on best with?” When it comes to software, we all have our favourites. For example, some people prefer macOS’s interface, whereas others gel better with Windows. It’s all about what other tools you’re used to using and which interfaces better suit your internal logic. So we recommend giving both tools a try!

If you’re looking to create graphic design assets but have more experience with UI/UX tools, Figma may be a safer bet for you. However if you’re more familiar with more common-or-garden graphic design tools, you’ll probably get on better with Canva. If you’re totally new to design of any kind, then Canva is undoubtedly much more beginner friendly.

How do OLCO Design Feel About DIY Design Tools?

OLCO Design and teams like us have years of experience in graphic design – and visual communication as a whole – and have built businesses around this extensive knowledge. There’s a surprising amount of theory that goes into design – colour theory, typography, the rule of thirds – and that’s barely scratching the surface. Any kind of communication requires an understanding of psychology, and how we perceive the world around us. It’s this rich, deep knowledge of visual communication that makes a graphic design agency’s involvement such a great investment.

But with that established, our opinion on DIY design tools may surprise you. We understand that sometimes it’s easier to create a quick social media announcement in-house on Canva than it is to brief a designer, regardless of their turnaround time. Sometimes it’s easier for a team to collaborate on a general prototype through Figma and then ask a UX expert to turn that into a high-fidelity UI design. Sometimes it’s easier to put a general idea together in Canva or Figma for briefing purposes – to illustrate what you like or need from a deliverable so a professional designer can hit the ground running.

DIY tools and using the services of a professional designer are not mutually exclusive. We believe that graphic designers and tools like Canva can (and should) coexist. We see that it’s natural for businesses to want to have a go themselves before calling in the professionals. If that suits them, that’s great! But if they start to feel out of their depth in the design department – and especially if they are looking to redesign core brand identity assets – then we’re here to help.

Moving on from DIY? Book a no-obligation discovery call with the OLCO Design team today!

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