Canva Versus Book Brush

by | Feb 6, 2020

Table of Contents

By Nate Hoffelder

It’s 2020, and authors are expected to be jack-of-all-trades, even traditionally published authors. They’re expected to grow their own audience, organize their own book tours, and even run their own ads. They’re even expected to either design the ads or hire a designer, which can be expensive.

Hiring a designer can run into the thousands of dollars, and paying for an Adobe license can cost over $600 and that’s the annual price for a single user – the price goes up from there. Fortunately there are a number of online tools, both free and paid, that you can use to design your graphics.

Today I would like to talk about two of them, Canva and Book Brush. This post was originally supposed to be a review, but I don’t know that you can really compare the two given that they serve such very different purposes. One is an online Photoshop replacement, while the other is a niche tool specifically designed for making marketing materials for selling and promoting books. There is so little overlap that if I had to pick one over the other, I would have to choose based on what I needed to do today rather than which one is the better service.

Full Disclosure: I have received no compensation from Canva, nor have I paid for its premium service. With Book Brush, I was comped with a plus service plan in March 2019. I have not actually used that plan much because I am not really Book Brush’s intended audience.

I have, however, used both sites enough to talk about what they can do.



Canva is so capable that it might be better to discuss what it can’t do.

Basically, it is an online replacement for Adobe Photoshop that has certain limitations. You cannot, for example, upload a PSD file and work on it, nor can you download a project and work on it elsewhere.

What you can do is design something in Canva and then download an image file, a PDF (for print or for online use), or a video (this feature is still in beta). Canva also recently added websites as a design option, but I haven’t had a chance to use that yet.

So what can you make with it? At this point, you can make just about anything that can be defined by its width and height including multi-page PDF documents. Canva has many different stock sizes, including the usual social media graphics as well as standard web ad sizes and even designs intended to be printed such as business cards, bookmarks, flyers, and postcards.

I can’t possibly list all of Canva’s stock sizes, but even if I did I’d be missing about half its abilities because you can use it to make just about anything if you know the dimensions of what you want to make.

For example, I buy ads in program guides, and each ad has its own specific size. That’s not a problem for me because Canva makes it easy for me to design a graphic for one specific program guide. Then I copy the text and image from an old ad to the new one, rearrange them so they look good, and inside of ten minutes I have an ad ready to be submitted.

I started using Canva when I needed:

and I later branched out into using it to make:

  • flyers
  • blog graphics
  • infographics
  • business cards
  • bookmarks
  • signs
  • ads to run in program guides at conferences

I even use Canva to make the lead magnets for my mailing list. (These are typically 3-to-7 page PDFs.)

When I begin a new project in Canva, I generally look for a pre-made design that looks good. (There are usually dozens of options for any project you want to make.) I then customize it with my content, and tweak the design to make the colors pop and improve the layout.

Sometimes I will even discard the original design, and just keep my alterations, but either way, the result looks professional.

Book Brush

Where Canva tries to do everything, Book Brush gives you tools to accomplish specific goals.

These tools include:

  • Instant Mockups
  • Box Set Creator
  • Video Creator
  • Custom Creator

I do not have the skill to show off the video creator, but I can show you the other three.

Box Set Creator

One of its newer tools is the Box Set Creator. You can use this tool to make a graphic to use when selling your series as a box set on Amazon.

It is simple, intuitive, and relatively straightforward. Just provide your cover and images for the spines of the books, and then select which ones you want to assemble into a particular box set. If you don’t have spines, you can either make them from scratch or customize a stock design.

I used stock spines and a cover image from my dummy folder to make this box set image in about ten minutes. This was literally the second one I made, and I think it’s almost (I can do better) good enough to use for real.

Unfortunately, I don’t see a way to save a previously made box set image so I can come back and edit it later, but Book Brush does save both the cover and the spines, so it only takes a few minutes to remake a box set image.

Instant Mockup

This tool is really simple and incredibly useful. It lets you insert one of your book covers into pre-made stock photos. You can put your book’s cover on the screen of a tablet or smartphone, on a print book, or even (I’m not kidding) in a Polaroid. This represents about half of the mockups I downloaded. (The rest had white along one edge of the cover, or otherwise didn’t come out well.)

Here are several of the mockups I made.

Custom Creator

The Custom Creator lets you make a graphic you can use when promoting your book in an ad on:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • BookBub
  • Amazon

You can also use it to make a header image for:

  • your Facebook profile
  • your Twitter profile
  • a bookmark
  • business card
  • postcard-sized flyer

You can start with a pre-made template (just add your book cover and text) or you can start from scratch.

This is the one part of Book Brush that comes closest to being a direct competitor to Canva, albeit one with a strong focus on promoting your book. You even have the option of designing a graphic with custom dimensions.

Final Word

So which do I think you should use?

Ideally, both. These two sites serve such different purposes that there is very little overlap. They are really more complimentary than competitors, so I think you should use whichever one is better suited to the immediate task.

That said, learning how to use these tools can take time. It takes practice to make graphics that both look good and effectively promote your books, and if you don’t have time to really learn how to use both tools then you should focus on whichever one you find the most useful. For me, that’s Canva, but that is mainly because I need to make more general marketing materials rather than a graphic to sell a book.

But if you do decide to use both sites, you’re probably going to wonder which one is worth paying for, and I would have to say Book Brush. The thing is, I have used the free version of Canva for over three years now, and I haven’t found a good reason to pay its annual fee–$119.40.

With Book Brush, the opposite is true; the free version was so limited that I upgraded almost immediately.

Have you used the two sites? Which one do you prefer?
Photo: BigStockPhoto

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Elaine Dodge

    I use Canva and The mix works really well for me. I do all my graphics with both.

  2. MrBosski

    I only recommend Canva for small businesses/individuals who don’t have the resources to hire a designer and need something quick that they can do on their own. I would never recommend it for client work. Imagine paying a designer/design firm (since you have a boss?) to design something for you, and then coming across someone else publishing the same design because you used the same Canva template. Literal nightmares.

    • Nate

      I agree that graphics should be hired out; for example, I would never use a cover I made on Canva for anything other than a placeholder.

      Unfortunately, I’ve had trouble finding someone I wanted to work with that I could afford. This just ins’t something I cal delegate (plus, I make memes as a way of relaxing).

  3. Maggie Lynch

    I’ve also tried both. I found Canva’s templates to be difficult and not fit what I needed. Also, I don’t design my own book covers. I pay a professional to do that. For most one-off graphics I need to do I use Gimp. Though a bit clunky, it is free and provides me with the basics of graphic manipulation I need.

    When Book Brush came along I tried it right away and immediately upgraded. Because of it’s ease of use I could see the time-saving value. Their new conversion templates for book images are very easy to use. It also rivals another platform I’ve used for several years where you simply upload your book cover and it generates 30+ pictures, some with people and some not.

    In terms of advertising images, I tend to use the images used for my covers without the text. Book Brush can handle that with ease.

  4. Pauline Baird Jones

    I tried Canva some years back and found it frustrating and couldn’t get the look I wanted without a lot of time — something that is a premium for me. As an author, BookBrush is my go-to all the time. I use a mix of their photos, Depositphotos, and my husband’s photos to create graphics. I’ve also recently added PromoRepublic to the mix. It lets me easily schedule all the cool graphics. (I bought my own license for BookBrush on launch and have not been paid or otherwise compensated to rave about the program. lol)

  5. Susan Jennings

    I use both, the free version of Canva and the plus pLan with BookBrush. I would have a hard time picking one or the other but they work really well together. BookBrush is easy to use and perfect for books and I like that it is so specific.

  6. Maggie Smith

    I much prefer Canva for all Instagram and Facebook posts but Book Brush is also essential for putting uploading book covers and formatting them. If I’m reviewing a book on IG, I first upload the cover from Amazon as a Jpeg, then upload to book brush and select the “look” I want (generally that the sideways version that looks like a book with pages showing), then I uploade THAT image to canva to make a graphic.



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