May 2024


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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