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Canva Acquires the Affinity Suite of Professional Design Apps

Last week, Canva, which specializes in online design for the masses, and Serif, makers of the Affinity suite of professional-level design apps, announced that Canva has acquired Serif for approximately $380 million. We’ve mentioned Canva only once before, but it’s a privately held Australian firm with 3500 employees and $2 billion in revenue. In 2019, Canva also acquired stock photography sites Pixabay and Pexels. Canva had about 100 million active monthly users as of December 2022, while Serif says over 3 million designers use its tools.

The match is a good one. The Affinity suite provides significantly more layout power than Canva’s browser-based tools, but Canva offers cloud and collaboration capabilities that are missing from the Affinity apps. I have long maintained that collaboration tools will win out over other features in the mass market because most modern projects involve multiple people. That’s why I do all my writing in Google Docs instead of the more powerful Nisus Writer Pro or BBEdit.

Similarly, although I wrote glowingly about the Affinity suite in “Consider Switching from Creative Cloud to Affinity V2” (5 December 2022), nearly all my design work has moved to Canva. That’s because the Finger Lakes Runner Club’s communications team standardized on Canva in 2023 because of its collaborative capabilities (the free subscription for nonprofits helped, too). Up to that point, I had been producing flyers, calendars, and forms myself, with comments from others, but once a group took over those tasks, collaboration became king. Now, everything the club generates is in Canva, where anyone on the team can view, comment, and edit designs. We’ve settled on a working style where we trust others to make small changes on their own, but if someone has more radical suggestions, they show what they have in mind on a duplicate page. We’ve even occasionally used Canva’s built-in ordering options when they’re easier than printing locally.

Despite the fluidity of collaboration in Canva, I’ll admit to some annoyance with its design tools. For instance, it doesn’t support tab leaders, those evenly spaced dots that help you connect a right-aligned page number with its left-aligned Table of Contents entry—or, in our case, a right-aligned race date with a left-aligned race name in a calendar list. I also desperately miss arrows like those in Preview, which you can easily curve by dragging a mid-line control.

Nonetheless, Canva is a far more appropriate tool for the level of design the club needs and a better match for my design skills. With luck, Canva’s developers will extract a few of the more subtle features from the Affinity apps.

On the other side of the equation, the Affinity suite didn’t compete well with Adobe’s Creative Cloud in online collaboration. With Canva’s platform, collaborative capabilities are far more likely. Serif wrote:

Many of you would like to see a way to easily sync your Affinity documents and assets to all your devices, and also to be able to share and collaborate on your Affinity files. For us to build the infrastructure required for this was always going to be challenging, but it’s now certainly achievable via Canva’s platform.

Apart from a competitive feature set, what made the Affinity suite so attractive to some Creative Cloud users was the price. Where Adobe went all-in on the monthly subscription model—I was paying $54 per month when I switched to Affinity—Serif maintained traditional licensing with sales and discounts for major updates. Each of the three apps costs just $69.99, and a Universal License gets you all three apps for Mac, Windows, and iPadOS for just $164.99. Affinity currently has a sale that drops the per-app prices to $48.99 and the Universal License to $114.99.

The initial acquisition announcement wasn’t crystal clear about Canva’s plans regarding Serif’s perpetual license model. Canva relies on a subscription model that tries to entice users to move from a generous free account and pay $120 per user annually. Within a day, however, Canva and Serif issued four pledges to the Affinity community that promise to:

  • Offer affordably priced perpetual licenses forever
  • Expand and enhance the Affinity products
  • Provide Affinity for free to schools and nonprofits
  • Listen to and be led by the design community

In particular, Canva and Serif say that any future subscription model will be offered alongside the perpetual license, perhaps as a way of introducing the Affinity apps to Canva users or to take advantage of Canva as a collaborative platform.

Of course, there are no guarantees in an acquisition, but the FAQ that accompanied the acquisition announcement made all the right noises—the companies have similar cultures, there will be no layoffs, and so on. With luck, Canva will make good on all these promises and provide designers of all levels with an even more compelling alternative to Adobe’s Creative Cloud. Perhaps that, in turn, will spur Adobe to develop innovative new features and offer solutions to those for whom Creative Cloud is overkill.

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Comments About Canva Acquires the Affinity Suite of Professional Design Apps

Notable Replies

  1. 2 minor points: I bought Affinity Photo 2 and Publisher 2 last year. I didn’t know they were available free to non-profits (I run one), but the cost is not a deal-breaker, by any means, especially on sale. If I ever upgrade to a higher version, I’ll check that out. Secondly, just so you’re not surprised when you pay for it, don’t be surprised if you get a foreign transaction fee tacked on to your credit card if your bank charges them. Again, even less of a deal breaker, but a surprise, nevertheless!

  2. I really hope they don’t destroy Affinity, as often happens in these acquisitions….

  3. I’m with you! The Affinity Suite has been great for me since I came over from the Adobe suite.

  4. This is terrific news in my book.

    To clarify a possible misconception, Affinity Photo was never free for non-profits or students, they did generously offer six month free trials to students during the pandemic which was key in my student uptake of the suite.

    Now with Canva offering hopefully full versions of the suite for free as well as a set of their collaboration tools, I am thrilled. I have to maintain two variants of a module I teach, one is fully online and the students there use a set of licensed Affinity apps which I manage. The others are in person and they use the Adobe suite, it has meant two sets of lesson plans, two sets of tutorials, two variants of templates etc. None of these students are design majors, Affinity more than answers their needs. If it’s free the IT Dept won’t have an issue installing.

  5. I’ve been an Affinity user for years now, from the very first version of Designer, and they hold their own against their Adobe equivalents in most use cases, in my experience. I must admit that I had misgivings about the news of their acquisition by Canva, but both sides seem committed to doing right by customers, and frankly moving to a subscription model would be bonkers, as it would remove a key advantage over Creative Cloud. Speaking of which, I’m very glad to no longer be paying that monthly tithe to Adobe — for me, Creative Cloud brought more disruption than innovation, and I’m particularly irked that they folded the formerly separate (and cheaper) TypeKit fonts service into CC several years ago. I’m cautiously hopeful that Canva and Affinity provide more competition to Adobe in the long term. :crossed_fingers:

  6. Sorry if I implied that. Canva provides a free subscription for nonprofits, and among the pledges that Canva and Serif make is one that suggests Affinity will also become free to nonprofits in the future.

  7. I still run the perpetual version of Adobe Lightroom 6 and Photoshop CS6 – but I also have Affinity Photo. Photo is a good/great replace for Photoshop. I’m still waiting for them to develop a digital asset manager/RAW photo converter that is a replacement for Lightroom.

  8. I’m really not sure about this announcement. The body language, choice of language, and delivery in the video (the original unedited version is on YouTube) was worrying. There’s obviously a lot that wasn’t being said.

    Also, I had somewhat lost faith in Affinity for a couple of reasons:

    1. workflow breaking bugs have gone unaddressed for multiple years (see my posts on their support forum)

    2. they sell the same app three times with artificial limits on what can be created in which app

    (you can only create tables in Publisher, as it’s the only one to have that toolbar button, but once created you can edit a table in either of the other apps. this can be seen another way by inspecting the contents of each app package, where the vast majority of the files inside are the same, including a ~1GB library/framework file which seems to be their drawing engine)

  9. If your workload includes sending stuff out for CMYK color image setting, spot color, die cuts, etc., etc. it’s very likely you are in for a world of hurt, and a very, very, very expensive disaster, if you are not using Adobe. My experience is very different from yours.

  10. There’s no question that, particularly when it comes to actual print pieces for commercial production that you are better off sticking with Adobe, for now. You are entering a workflow with existing practices all built largely around their software, interfacing with individuals and companies, too easy to have things break.

    But creatively, there’s equally no question that the Affinity suite have made leaps and bounds in terms of features and likely meets a majority of users needs. If your production is small scale and largely in your own hands, I recommend it. If the team focus on a better and fault free export to Adobe formats then maybe this will change. I wonder if this Canva acquisition will shift that focus.

  11. Another thing to consider is Canva’s momentum. There’s no question that Adobe remains the standard for professional production standards, but it has been amazing to watch Canva capture the attention of college students. I do a lot of volunteer work at my alma mater, and Canva is everywhere on campus, while Adobe apps have almost disappeared, except for when they are required for coursework. Students really seem to have embraced Canva.

    Of course, I’m nervous about the long-term implications, but Affinity getting acquired by Canva leaves me in a more optimistic place than I can imagine with any other potential acquirer.

  12. Very true, Jose, the uptake with students is remarkable, being free helps! If they keep that price for students with Affinity it’ll spur uptake for sure.

    I think Adobe have been very difficult for colleges, at least in my experience. Comparing their approach during the pandemic (we had labs shut and students learning remotely having to dial in to run Adobe software on servers, frustrating, slow and unreliable). Adobe refused to grant us the ability to issue licenses temporarily to students given the closed labs, instead they gave a huge quote, not going to fly. Affinity? They issued free six month licenses, followed by a half-price sale. I took my chances with the Photo app and found it surprisingly good, the students did great with it. The College picked up fifty licenses and I manage those with my creative writing students. Depending on the student and their major I recommend the Affinity suite if possible for personal use and for after graduation. But this new development will have its own momentum I bet.

  13. IMHO Adobe tends to be very difficult with many, many businesses in general. One of the reasons Apple has prospered is because they developed competitive products, including Final Cut Pro for TV and film production. Apple also started giving FCP totally free for college students and professors. Not very long after, Adobe bought Avid, and not long after they dropped the price to $199 a year for a rather dumbed down academic subscription.

    And remember what Steve Jobs did to Adobe Flash?

  14. Adobe doesn’t own Avid and I don’t think they ever have.

  15. We’ve been tied to Adobe since InDesign v2 - must be 20 or more years.

    Affinity gives us a glimmer of hope we can move away but the sticking point is scripting. We’re deeply invested in automation and without extensive scripting support we simply can’t consider a change. They’re working on it - and I’ve had some constructive discussions with their scripting team - but it’s been over 5 years since it was requested and even basic scripting still seems at least a major version away.

    It would be nice to think Canva could give an injection of funds to help it along.

    If they play their cards right I see no reason why Canva/Affinity couldn’t do to Adobe what Adobe did to Quark. Adobe has certainly become as arrogant as Quark were.

  16. If they play their cards right I see no reason why Canva/Affinity couldn’t do to Adobe what Adobe did to Quark. Adobe has certainly become as arrogant as Quark were.

    IMHO Quark was just plain old stupid. Quark’s powers that be refused to develop Xpress for OS 10. They threw in all their development to Microsoft.

    At just around the same time, working closely with Steve Jobs, Adobe debuted Illustrator and InDesign for Mac. They quickly and easily murdered the crash ridden, slow moving Quark. No more crawling under your desk to restart your Mac multitude times a day.

  17. To be fair (and I hate Quark), at the time it was probably a reasonable bet - Apple were on the ropes and the future didn’t look good - but they definitely should have been smarter and covered both bases.

    InDesign v1 was horrible. We tried it, along with our parent company, and it was deemed unusable. V2 was the turning point, it wasn’t great but it worked well enough to start developing the backend structure to use it.

    I certainly remember the days of the 'three finger salute" to restart a hung machine. It wasn’t only Quark though, pretty much anything could crash OS9.

  18. And Quark was everywhere. I wonder if the Canva/Affinity team are studying that transition. Lessons there I am sure, part of which was the Photoshop juggernaut already on all those designers machines.

  19. I bought the Affinity suite, and find Photo a pretty good substitute for Photoshop. The support forums for Affinity products have often raised the issue of a DAM, but there doesn’t seem any interest in making one. I tried Neofinder and settled on using Photos as a DAM.
    I have now gone back to subscribing to LR, because of the sheer ease of local adjustments. If I was good enough in Photo (or PS for that matter) I could make masks and apply adjustments through them, but LR does all this for me automatically, letting me add whichever adjustments I want, where I want them without much effort at all. I’m pretty sure the folks at Affinity are clever enough to duplicate this, but I suspect there may be patents held by Adobe that would not let them do so.

  20. I guess ease depends at least in part upon familiarity. You can do local adjustments within the Develop persona of Affinity Photo using the overlay panel. Admittedly not that obvious to folks familiar with how Lightroom operates.

  21. I much prefer Adobe’s offerings, but mostly for the short-sighted stance that I don’t want to have to learn to be as productive using Affinity apps. But… Designer is missing some handy features from Illustrator. Photos is missing some important features like Smart Objects. And Publisher is so far from being even a competing product to InDesign that it’s barely worth launching.

    That being said, I have used Publisher, Designer and Photo to create print products in CMYK, spot color and yes, even one with a diecut. No problems at all with production of the final product. The only problem was what it took me to get it there (much more time than it would have using the more familiar to me Adobe products).

    The reality here is that Canva IS going to put the hurt on Adobe with this acquisition. And many sites are underestimating Canva’s use. It’s everywhere. Non-profits have nearly standardized on it from what I can see, and education is leaning toward it more and more. Small businesses who can’t afford professional graphic designers are also jumping on the Canva bandwagon.

    Since all of these groups aren’t deeply invested in Adobe’s ecosphere, the Affinity apps are going to create a new breed of “designers” who can offer the same results for less money (both in the cost of the apps, and the designer they don’t need to hire—don’t get me started on that subject, though).

    The bottom line is that a tool in the hands of an experienced and/or motivated user is going to yield great results—with or without Adobe’s name on it.

  22. I’ve did several personal book projects with Publisher because they weren’t time dependent and I wanted to give it a try. It took way longer than it would have with InDesign (based purely on past experience) but the books were fine. It was a frustrating process; the way they work are sufficiently similar as to make it somewhat familiar but sufficiently different to be annoying.

    I don’t use Designer at all and I find Affinity Photo fine for very basic edits (levels/curves/sharpening) but most of what I do is Capture One/Photoshop and time constraints keep me from going deeper in Photo.

    I’ve just opened an account with Canva. To be honest I had no idea how big it was.

  23. If you have a lot of experience with Adobe tools, I agree that it can be surprisingly frustrating to try to work with tools from Affinity or other vendors. I slowly have been moving more of my personal work to Affinity tools, though.

    It’s like being right-handed and trying to write a note or play guitar left-handed; you know all the basic ideas and can do some things, but it takes far longer and is much more painful to do even the basics.

    (For the record, I still get annoyed when I open up Adobe Illustrator and realize that it is not Aldus FreeHand. :laughing: )

  24. European user here… I have been doing all my design for print (CMYK) with Affinity Designer/Publisher for several years now and not run into any issues. We generally deliver everything in standardised PDF/X formats and the results are as expected; no complaints.

  25. My background is in magazine and advertising publishing. My resume includes what was the number 2 and number 4 largest paid US circulation magazines at the time. I also spent a few years with a major print post production house. All these companies that survived, as well as their competitors, used, and still use Adobe.

    And pick up a box or a standard packaged or packaging product, or a medication, and it’s highly likely they used Adobe stuff as well. After all these years Adobe still reigns supreme.

  26. What a perfect way to describe using Affinity products when you’re an Adobe user. I feel the same way.

    For me, I could easily 100% replace Illustrator with Affinity Designer. Affinity Photo is quite nice, and I could probably replace 70-80% of what I do in Photoshop with it. Affinity Publisher, on the other hand, is so far off from the capabilities in Adobe InDesign that it’s almost laughable to consider even attempting to use it for any serious work.

    But then there’s the missing Acrobat and Bridge apps that Affinity has no substitute for. Then, when you look beyond the apps. I use a LOT of Adobe’s fonts, and Firefly is quite a nice generative AI tool that I’m using more and more.

    Much like Apple and Microsoft, Adobe has built quite an ecosystem around their apps to keep you locked in. Ultimately, I’ll use whatever tool I need to in order to get the job done… but for the last 35 years (and the foreseeable future) that means using Adobe products.

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