Lion Screenshot

Writers have got free online publishing tools like Medium and PressBooks. Photographers can use PicMonkey and Pixlr.

But what have graphic designers got?

Photoshop still sets the standard for graphic design, but it’s expensive, and there’s a high barrier to entry. But an Australian startup launching into private beta out of stealth today thinks it can offer something almost as good that’s totally online, and free.

Sydney-based Canva launches to users on its waiting list in the US and Australia today, letting people design Facebook banners, business cards, posters, infographics, and more, with drag-and-drop functionality and access to a stock image library made up of 1 million items.

The main premise of Canvas is that it provides all the basic elements you can ask for in designing composite graphics, including pre-sliced images, a font library, and various templates that make the design process very straightforward and easy to use. Designers can also share links to their works-in-process, allowing for online collaboration. They pay only for specific images or other design elements selected from the stock library – each item usually costs $1 or $2 – and they do so only when it comes time to publish, print, or share their graphic.

It seems like the sort of tool that could come in very useful for bloggers like us who are often stumped when it comes to finding appropriate images to illustrate posts about generic topics that don’t have obvious artwork options, such as stories about studies, reports, or funding rounds. Incessant Facebook profile tinkerers will also like it.

Canva is pretty easy to use, but my experience with the product suggests there is a learning curve and that beginners will feel very much confined to the templates and guidelines, which means it can be difficult to build anything outstanding early on.

Also, the stock images are of varying quality – many of them are, in the tradition of stock libraries, exceedingly cheesy, if not quite rivaling ShutterStock in terms of WTFness. And I wonder how effective the search function is: On searches for “newspaper” and “magazine,” I was served up photos of grinning models pretending to read, rather than actual pictures of newspapers or magazines.

Given these quibbles, it’s probably fair to note that Canva is still an alpha product, even though it has been in development for a year and in testing for the last six months.

I wrote about Canva’s fundraising process after visiting the startup’s Sydney headquarters in April. After getting an intro to Charles River Ventures’ Bill Tai at a conference, the Canva founders found themselves pitching investors at Tai’s kiteboarding event in Perth. One intro led to another, and the Australians soon found themselves with $3 million in funding from Silicon Valley investors without having to move any of their team to the US.

Canva, which will remain based in Sydney, is one example of an Australian startup that has found a way to get past the Series A problem that the local market faces. While there are plenty of seed funding options in Australia, the middle stages tend to be problematic due to a lack of capital in the area and a lack of support for the tech sector among institutional investors. So, it behooves companies like Canva to get creative in the way they seek out funding.

Perhaps the real answer for Aussie entrepreneurs is that they need to start attending more kiteboarding events.