When good quality images are used to illustrate points, create mood and ambience and show off a product, Social media becomes so much more engaging and pleasant to look at. In this post, I compare the three best tools for creating social media images and content.
I created the social media cloud below in Adobe Photoshop CC, it’s a tool I like and have been using it for longer than I can remember.
Things to be aware of
There are certain constraints when creating images for social media platforms that you need to be aware of, firstly there’s image size in pixels. All the platforms have their own preferred sizes for various areas of their sites. You have a size for your profile photo/avatar, then you have a size for your profile header. Then, another size for posts, and yet more sizes when you start looking at mobile or responsive designs. After you’ve determined the maximum or ideal size of the image, you then have to be careful that you’re not going to fall foul of the storage or upload restrictions.
There are some great tools out there to help you in your quest to create the perfect images for your social media and websites. For the purposes of this post, I’m only going to focus on tools for creating static images for social media posts and headers. I know lots of great animated GIF tools are out there, and some truly awesome video editing software too. So I will write about them in another article.
The 3 best tools
What I consider the three best tools for this job are Adobe Photoshop CC, Adobe Spark and Canva Pro. None of them are free if you are serious about using them for business or a brand. Adobe Spark and Canva [A] both have free plans, but they are seriously limited in what they can do.
Adobe Photoshop CC
Created back in 1990, this is the daddy of all raster image editing software packages. Photoshop is so well known that it’s name has become a verb. Mostly due to it’s use in the fashion and glamour photography industry where it’s been used to remove (or PS) wrinkles, or even whole people. In fact I thing Photoshop is probably older than a large proportion of the readers of this blog post.
The interface was clunky and hard to understand for years, but more recently it’s started to get an overhaul. It still hard to understand some of the features. But, once you get it, it’s really, really powerful. There are so many things you can do in Photoshop that you can’t do in the other two packages here I’m going to skip over the majority of them – although there are a few which could tip you over the edge into the PS camp.
As you can see, the UI is very busy, but that’s to get all the features, this behemoth has, packed in there. The layer functions are superb, and I’ve yet to see anyone come up with a better layer system than Photoshop. Photoshop has features that that just aren’t in the other two (Spark and Canva Pro). Those are things like the Clone Stamp Tool, which is used a lot if you want to modify a photo. In fact most of the raster image edting functions are missing from Spark and Canva Pro.
The relatively new smart object functions in Photoshop are also unique here, and work superbly, they allow you to apply filters to just a single smart object. For example, I created above image by applying the “Field Blur” to the various social icons. That allowed me to deliberately take them out of focus to give an illusion of a depth of field.
Adobe Photoshop is available only as a subscription now and the cheapest subscription plan is Photography plan. Strangely the Photography plan (£9.98) includes Spark premium, but is slightly cheaper than the Spark plan (£10.10) on it’s own.
I have the Photography plan myself, and so have Spark already. That’s the main reason I haven’t switched over to Canva Pro. Until March 2015 I did have the All Apps Creative Cloud plan. Since I wasn’t using the majority of it, and Adobe had made such a mess of Dreamweaver I switched to the cheaper option.
Spark is younger than Canva by 4 years, and it does show. Adobe has a good product and it has some really great features but it’s got a way to go to catch Canva Pro.
Spark does have some great features though, and it has a really impressive range of image sizes it knows how to handle. When you change size it moves all the page elements around and the image still looks ready to go. Below are the same image, originally designed for Twitter, and then I just selected Pinterest as the post type and it switched it to portrait and moved the text automatically. I’ve made no adjustments.
Spark is a good product, but it’s not good enough to pay £10.10 per month on it. Especially, when you can have Canva Pro for as little as £8.99 per month (when billed yearly). If you want a laugh then here is the Spark plan page. https://spark.adobe.com/pricing
Canva Pro [A]
This has to be one of the simplest to use, fastest and most powerful image creation tools I’ve come across. I knocked up the example below in the free version. It took under 5 minutes. So, as you can see, the free version of Canva is pretty darn good. In Canva Pro you get the following features over and above the free version.
- 4M+ photos and elements
- 1000+ fonts
- the brand kit
- unlimited folders
- the ability to resize to any format
- create animations & gifs
- priority tech support
There are far more images and fonts than you’ll ever need. But you just know that the one you really need is not there unless you pay.
You can, of course, upload your own images and logos. To use the brand kit, you’ll need to upgrade to Canva Pro, and that gives you so much more.
I know it sounds like I’m giving you a sales pitch, but this really is a great product. It’s an essential tool for any business or brand that’s serious about “crushing it” on social media. You can also use it for your website, flyers, menus, brochures, leaflets and other promotional materials. There are some really useful templates for all kinds of things.
I don’t think the resize capability is quite as comprehensive as Adobe Spark’s, but it’s almost there. If someone, somewhere, published a regularly updated image size guide for all the various platforms, with safe areas marked out, it would be much better – (maybe that’s another post for me to do).
At £10.99 per month or £107.88 yearly, it’s the most expensive of the three. But honestly, it’s worth every penny.
I do find the free version useful sometimes, but all the little crowns everywhere (billable or pro features) do make it hard to find what you’re looking for on a budget.
I’m an affiliate for Canva Pro and some other products when I’m an affiliate for some product I mention on a page, I will always link to my affiliate disclosure page with this [A] link. I’m also a pending affiliate for Adobe, but don’t have my affiliate links yet.
You can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Canva Pro here. This is my affiliate link. However, if you feel I’m not worthy, you can go to my affiliate disclosure page where you’ll find a direct link too.
July 2020 Update
When I originally wrote this post back in November 2019 I was a relatively new Canva user. Canva has got even better, and I’ve got more used to the interface. I now produce almost all my web and social media images in Canva, and it’s saving so much time that the £10.99 per month cost for the pro version has saved me much more than that in time savings alone, every month.