Stencil is a new competitor for Canva — a fast and easy way to make graphics for your social media posts or your blog.
I’m not a designer. I own and know my way around Photoshop (which, let’s face it, is much better than any of the online graphics tools if you’re a designer), but when I need an excellent original graphic I ask Jay to do it for me. However, there are times when I need a quick illustration for a blog or a social media post. Our social media girl Brittany makes lots of those quick graphics, too. So we love online graphics tools that make the process quick.
Stencil is the newest entry in the category, and it has some noticeable strengths. I tried out the free version, which allows you to create 10 images a month, and to save 10 in total.
The user interface is much the same as other online graphics tools. You can choose from a few free backgrounds, or you can upload your own. If you choose a paid plan, there are 700,000+ backgrounds to choose from, and you can see fro the screenshot below that they’re high quality. If you like to use stock photos — and you’re okay with general nice pictures rather than requiring images of something specific — this could actually be a cost-effective alternative to stock photo site subscriptions.
There are also templates, and you can see a few in the screenshot below, but none of these come with the free version.
Once you’ve got your background in place, you can add text. There are really two ways to do it. One is to choose a quote from the handful of nice choices in the free plan, click the button, and have the text nicely placed. Go in and edit the words to say what you had in mind and you’ll have well executed typography in seconds.
Here’s an image I made with the quote function:
You can also just add text with the “Add text” button on the right of the screen.
Either way, you can choose your font and text color, plus the outline and background color for your text box. You can control the size and placement of the textbook easily. You’ll also see nice tools for font size and line height — a big frustration for me with Canva and similar tools. The screen shot above shows that there’s a very nice range of tools for handling text, and they actually work. I see this as a strength for Stencil.
You can also check with the Facebook Ad Grid right in Stencil and see whether you have too much text. In the example below, we’re fine, but we could also pull the text up so that it fits in one row of the grid and improve it in a second. I love being able to fix the issue right in the grid.
Just a quick note — this particular rule is going to change soon. Stencil seems committed to continual improvement, so they’ll probably update.
You can add an icon from Stencil’s selection, or upload a graphic of your choice — I’ve put in our Tool Tryout Tuesday image.This is a good time to show you the kind of helpful messages Stencil provides:
There are also video tutorials and a support form. I had no trouble uploading my graphic and dragging and dropping it into place.
But there are also logo and watermark tools which are not available in the free version.
Save, download, and you’re all set. You can save only 10 projects total in the free version, though you can make 10 a month. Basically, Stencil isn’t providing storage for your images. I will probably save a few to use as templates.
Using the free version, I found myself frequently being told that I couldn’t do something without upgrading. The upgrade pricing is modest… but not necessarily as modest as the pricing chart implies. The Pro plan lets you make 50 images a month and keep 100 in storage, plus 25 instagrams SMS, for $9.00 a month if you pay for a year. On a monthly basis, it’s $15.00 a month. The Unlimited plan is $24.00 a month if you pay on a monthly basis… and not literally unlimited when it comes to Instagram.
Is this worthwhile for business use? If you write your own blog or someone on your staff does so, sure. But is that the best use of your time? If you’re not a web content or design firm, it might not be. Think about professional blogging as part of an integrated digital marketing strategy. You’ll probably get better ROI.
Rosie points out that you also have less risk of copyright issues if you have original artwork. “Online graphics tools are cost effective compared with a designer — if you have someone on your team who can use them,” she says, “But you get what you pay for. Whether it’s worth using the tools isn’t just based on the cost of Stencil compared with having a designer on staff. It depends how much you pay the person on your team who uses it, whether the results are good enough for your needs, and whether your team member understands copyright as it applies to your web presence.”
Compare with some other online tools: