A Tale of Two Platforms: Canva vs. Adobe Illustrator

There’s a conversation among the marketing world that true designers don’t use Canva, the web-based design program. Others say it’s an effective tool to use in most cases, but Adobe Illustrator is the way to go. There are still others who say Illustrator isn’t for them so they’re ride-or-die Canva. We broke the two programs down to help better understand this debate, Canva vs Adobe Illustrator.

Customization

Canva

Canva is template-based. It offers thousands of different templates for typical business situations and holidays in several sizes like social media posts, presentation slides, flyers, brochures and more. The drag-and-drop interface allows you to customize the templates with your brand’s fonts, colors and images. 

Because of this, you don’t have to come up with something from scratch, making it perfect for a novice designer or small business owner who wants to look professional. However, there are some downfalls when it comes to customizability as nothing you create is truly original or one-of-a-kind.

Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator (along with the rest of the Adobe Creative Suite, such as InDesign, Photoshop) allows you to start with a blank canvas and build what you want. It may be intimidating for a design newbie, but it’s great news because you now have the flexibility to make your designs completely custom, without the restraints of a template. Icons, logos, patterns, illustrations—they can all have your own unique spin, literally leaving you with endless possibilities.

However, with such power comes a great learning curve ahead of you.

Usability

Canva

As with any platform, it takes a little bit to get accustomed to the different tools. Canva is designed with usability in mind and doesn’t take long to get used to the templates and effects. There are several helpful resources out there to help you get the most out of working with Canva, including its help section, but you don’t need to take a course or complete formal training to create graphics using the platform.

Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator isn’t as straightforward. When you log in for the first time, you might be reminded of Paint for your 95 Windows computer in your parent’s basement. But that’s where the similarities end. While you can take a stab at the program and play with all the tool panels, you will probably find yourself searching for how-to videos just to figure out the basics.

Efficiency

Canva

There are few things that make Canva really efficient for small businesses or sole proprietors, specifically in how you’re able to access your designs, photos, fonts and other brand assets. Since the entire platform is web-based, everything you need is contained remotely on your account, rather than locally on your computer. This means it’s super easy to reference, repurpose or edit designs on the go. There’s even a mobile app that allows you to edit or download designs in your account from your phone or tablet.

Adobe Illustrator

Like Canva, you can save and reference your brand elements across Adobe software with the Library feature. However, Adobe doesn’t offer in-app or cloud-based file management for most of its applications. Generally speaking, efficiency within Illustrator is determined by how comfortable you are working with the software as there are very few shortcuts.

Web and Print Quality

Canva

The download settings in Canva are simplified and limited to just the essential file types. This is just fine for social media graphics, worksheets, eBooks, presentation decks and things like that, but if you’re using Canva to design something for print, you’re probably better off somewhere else. 

Canva documents are created and exported in RGB format, but when you send a document to print, it gets translated in CMYK format. Without the ability to specify the exact CMYK color code within Canva, the printer is likely to produce a color that doesn’t quite match your brand standards. 

For small projects, this isn’t something to really worry about, but for professional print projects like posters, banners, business cards, letterhead and logos, even subtle differences have the potential to produce inaccurate results.

Canva also exports images at 96 DPI, which is slightly better than web quality at 72 DPI. Text is rasterized, even in a PDF, which exports at 300 DPI. This means that if you ever need to scale your design up, even just a little bit, it could be pixelated or blurry. 

Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator is vector-based, which means you can scale the dimensions of your design infinitely without losing any quality. You also have complete control over your color management, so any exports can designate four-color CMYK or individual PMS colors for complete accuracy.

Budget

Canva

Another great thing about Canva is the price. The free account allows you to do nearly everything you need, with some limitations on image libraries and certain effects. The upgraded account, Canva Pro, is $12.95/month or if paid annually, just $9.95/month.

Adobe Illustrator

There isn’t a free option for Adobe Illustrator, but there is a free trial period. You can access the single app through Adobe Creative Cloud for $20.99/month (or the entire Suite for $52.99/month). With that subscription, you also have unlimited access to Adobe Fonts. 


With the facts laid out, it’s easy to see they both have a place in the industry. There are certain things, like logos and banners, that shouldn’t be made in Canva. Other things like social media graphics and quick gifs don’t necessarily need to be made in Illustrator. We use them both at Rooted Web, along with many other design and production tools, to ensure we give our clients the very best results every time. Let our marketing team show you what a successful marketing strategy can look like when you work with Rooted Web!

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Samantha Prost

Samantha Prost is a digital content writer with five years of experience who uses her upbeat and creative energy to write fresh, fun and custom content for our clients.

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