Using graphic design apps to create visual content for your business?
Mobile apps provide a great way to make fast and easy images.
But not so fast, Sparky…
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but some of those apps prohibit commercial use of images created with them.
And not only that (caveat emptor), this may be a change from what they’ve said before, and kept well-hidden.
I wanted to alert you since I’ve recommended some of these apps in the past.
Disclosure: Some links on this page are affiliate links, which means I may get a referral fee if you purchase a paid upgrade. You pay no more, and I appreciate your support.
What Is Personal, Non-Commercial Use of an App?
It seems to be trendy to call your app “for personal, non-commercial use only.” But what exactly does that mean? Can you use these apps to make visual content for your blog or social media accounts, where you’re not directly promoting something for sale?
It’s hard to say. When I asked Over, they didn’t have a real answer for me (read on). But I don’t want to find out by being served papers!
I would suggest that, at the least, you don’t use apps with this disclaimer to create designs for clients, or to make or decorate any type of digital or physical product.
If you wish to do so, you could get in touch with their support team to ask permission.
It does seem that most apps allow you to use them for promotional efforts, which makes sense, since they’re basically designed for social media visuals.
Most specifically prohibit their use for items for sale. A few limit the number of items you can sell. Some require you to purchase an expensive extended license.
Not all apps have checked the licenses of the fonts and art that they make available for your (personal, non-commercial) use! This is where the problems come in, and why you may be responsible for personally contacting type foundries and artists to make sure you can use them in the way you wish.
I’m here to sound the warning. You decide what you want to do about it.
Can I use Canva for Commercial Use?
Updated May 29, 2019. A reader has pointed out yet another update to Canva’s confusing licenses.
As of this moment in time (subject to change in 10 minutes), Canva says:
All free photos on Canva can be used for free for commercial and noncommercial use.*
*Note: Check the image source. If the image comes from Pixabay please refer to the Pixabay License; if the image comes from Pexels, please refer to the Pexels License.
If a photo contains an identifiable person, place, logo or trademark, please ensure you check the image source or contact us if you’re unsure. We can’t guarantee that any free images have the appropriate releases for commercial use. source
The update below was provided by a reader less than 2 months ago! I crossed out the part that is apparently no longer valid, according to the terms from web page linked above.
Here’s the reply they gave me on my question if I could use my design I made with their free elements to print and sell postcards:
“Thanks for reaching out to us.
Whether or not you may sell items featuring your design depends on the elements you used in your design. If your design only uses elements which you uploaded and created yourself, then you may print it on items for resale, such as postcards and t-shirts.
If your design uses only free elements from our library, they are subject to the terms of our licenses. If your design uses any paid elements from our image library, you need to purchase the images under the Extended License to use it on products for resale.
You may print your design on items like postcards and t-shirts for promotional or other personal purposes, as long as those items are not sold.
The same terms apply if you have both free and paid elements in your design.“
Short answer? There isn’t one. Canva may change their license at any time. Double check!
However, if you paid for an image, you’ll need to buy an Extended License to use it on products for resale. This is a quite common stipulation in image licensing.
If free images are public domain or CC0, all copyrights have been waived. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that the person who labeled it CC0 is the creator of the piece.
Can I use Canva for client work?
If you’re purchasing elements you’ve used in your creation – design effects or photos – you’re actually purchasing a license to use that element.
There are different types of licenses, but beware of purchasing them on behalf of another party – such as a client. You should check with Canva, if you’d like to use this app for client work.
If you license the Stock Media as a Brand Owner, the licenses granted under the licenses provided below will be granted to you and the applicable Brand, for use by you and other Users who have been authorized under the Brand, solely in connection with the Brand.
In addition, per their license terms in the section below, it’s unclear whether you’re allowed to create images that you sell to a client. They say:
Unless the activity or use is a Permitted Use, you cannot do it.
Can I use Canva for social media posts?
You can use free elements for promotional purposes – meaning you are not selling a digital or physical product, but are promoting your business or product as outlined below.
- invitations, advertising and promotional projects, including printed materials, product packaging, presentations, film and video presentations, commercials, catalogues, brochures, promotional greeting cards and promotional postcards (ie. not for resale or license) up to 2,000 prints;
- school or university projects;
- social media post or profile image;
- decorative background on a personal computer or mobile device;
- entertainment applications, such as books and book covers, magazines, newspapers, editorials, newsletters, and video, broadcast and theatrical presentations up to 2,000 prints;
- online or electronic publications, including web pages, blogs, ebooks and videos, limited to a maximum of 480,000 total pixels (for example: 600px x 800px) per Stock Media file where un-edited;
- prints, posters (i.e. a hardcopy) and other reproductions for personal or promotional purposes, but not for resale, license or other distribution;
- any other uses approved in writing by Canva.
Over App for Commercial Use: 2019 Update
It’s ironic, because Over was the app that got me digging into the meaning of personal, non-commercial use, and instigated this blog post! But they’ve changed their terms to be much more palatable. They currently read:
Our Services are provided for your personal and commercial use except when our Service Content is used to create end products for sale where the lifetime sales of the end product for sale exceeds 400 units.
I’ve been informed they handle all of the licensing of fonts and graphics in-house, so that we can use them without worrying about copyright issues.
And never, never, NEVER use images found on Google for commercial use without explicit permission – even if you found it within the Over app, or if it’s marked on Google as commercial use. I suggest you not trust that designation, and get verification from the website, or written permission, to use images you found on Google.
Over is a full-featured app that includes fabulous pre-made calligraphy and other art elements that you can pop right over any background. Use a solid color, your own photo, or search for free, public domain photos right in the app.
You’ll need to upgrade to a PRO account for all features, including dozens of fresh design templates weekly and hundreds of exclusive type and art overlays.
Over gives me the ability to edit type and photos like a real designer! But if you’re not a designer, you can easily use the templates in the PRO version.
I love the editing features, but just popping type over a plain background works amazingly well! See the center column below.
Typorama commercial use
I really liked Typorama, but quit using it when they said personal, non-commercial use only. It seemed to specifically prohibit using it to create client work.
It’s very similar to WordSwag, but with a lot more bells and whistles that WordSwag users have requested in their App Store reviews.
The previous terms:
Our Services are provided for your personal, non-commercial use only. …
Typorama application lets you create typographic designs using various text styles that include fonts from different designers and foundries and you are not allowed to use your creations commercially, not allowed to sell your creations in any physical or digital format…
I’m happy that, as of 2019, their terms have changed IF you are using a later version of the app:
If you hold any versions v2.0.5 and up, you’re allowed to use your designs for personal, as well as commercial purposes, meaning you can use your designs you make using the app to promote your brand or business online, or print them and use or sell them as physical products. If you hold any version lower than 2.0.5, you’re not allowed to use the app commercially. If you’ve already started this act, you agree that you’re responsible for getting the required licenses for the fonts and images that are included in the creations you’re using for this purposes. If you do not have the commercial use licenses related with the service content you used within Typorama app, you agree that you are acting on your own risk and agree not to account Typorama responsible for any damages. In addition, please check if you’ve used any images or watermarks you’ve added in the app through your own photo libraries to avoid any copyright issues as Typorama can only assure the commercial use of service content (images, fonts and artwork and overlays) it offers in the app itself only.
WordSwag commercial use
WordSwag uses fonts and images from a variety of sources which all have different terms. Commercial/marketing purposes should be okay, but as far as selling a design for profit (as a poster, image, t-shirt, etc.) that might not be okay depending on the exact fonts and images used.
So the safest route would be to stay away from actually selling the designs.
If you want to use WordSwag to make images for clients, you should check with the font foundries. If you’re using WordSwag’s image search through Pixabay, you can find the Pixabay terms here (the CC0 license is pretty accommodating).
AND the big news with WordSwag is that it’s now available for Android! So go crazy 😉
PicMonkey commercial use
This browser-based app has a lot of fun overlays, similar to the Over mobile app. And you CAN use these in commercial works, per the support team.
Below is the response I got from PicMonkey Support:
In short, yes, you can use images edited with PicMonkey for commercial use so long as it is a derivative work.
For example, you can use an overlay or font as part of your design, but you can’t sell just the overlay or font.
More info can be found here: http://www.picmonkey.com/legal
If you’d like a little more clarification on your particular project please feel free to send along an example. Let us know if you have questions.
Contact the Monkey here if you have specific questions or a sample to get advice on.
Adobe Spark Post commercial use
I figured something from Adobe would be suitable for commercial purposes!
There are separate Terms for third-party content, such as fonts. You can read those here.
If you incorporate photos purchased from Adobe Stock or anywhere else, you would need to purchase an extended license to use them on items for sale.
You may purchase an extended license for most Adobe Stock photos, vectors, and illustrations. Extended licenses provide unlimited impressions/print runs, and the ability to create derivative products for resale, such as coffee mugs, t-shirts, etc.
Read more about Adobe Stock image licenses here.
There are also links to the Terms within the mobile app.
To access the apps on the web: Adobe Spark.
This desktop version of Post will sync your creations between mobile and desktop (iOS only for now).
Post includes a “magic resize” to optimize your creations for various social platforms, as well as type animation. Nice!
Pablo by Buffer
Yeah, I really got on Buffer’s case when Pablo debuted, because they suggested adding type to any image you found on the web.
Of course, that ain’t legal. But they’ve now done a fabulous job coaxing people to “do the right thing” as regards copyright.
Their terms are here. Excerpt:
Any image that you create within Pablo belongs to you and may be freely downloaded and/or shared. Assets within your Pablo creation are still subject to copyright law.
Read the rest too, if you use the app.
Stencil for commercial use
This browser-based app makes it easy to create visual content with a browser extension. Or, go to the site and use their “CC0” images. Co-founder Adam says:
Stencil is actually designed for business use (personal is cool too though!) All the assets provided in Stencil are for commercial or personal use with no attribution required whatsoever. The photos are all licensed under Creative Commons “CC0” specifically, meaning the final images you create can be used however you want — especially to create content for clients, social media, blogs, ads, email marketing, etc.
You can check out Stencil for free, and then there’s a small fee (currently $15 paid monthly).
Snappa for commercial use
This browser-based design app is similar to Stencil, so I thought you might want to check them both out before deciding if you want to spring for a paid version.
Snappa’s terms currently state:
You are authorized to download and share unlimited copies of your designs for your personal or commercial use, provided that you maintain the copyright and other notices contained in that content.
STOP Using These Design Apps for Business
Rhonna Designs app
Rhonna has been very transparent in warning users that her app is for personal use only. You can buy a commercial license if you desire. Kudos to Rhonna for being upfront about it!
Find the app here: Rhonna Designs app
Here’s another that I had no idea was for “personal, private, noncommercial use” only.
UPDATE: A new paragraph has been added after the bit I quoted above. Perhaps you can use Flipagram commercially after all, if you have rights to use all images, sounds, etc. This would mean NOT using the app’s music clips. Consult a lawyer if you have any questions. This paragraph seems to contradict the previous.
Commercial Use. You may not use the Flipagram App for commercial purposes unless you are the copyright holder or you have obtained all necessary rights and licenses to use for commercial purposes all images, musical works, sound recording, narration, and other material that make up your User Content.
These terms can change without notice, and furthermore I am not a lawyer and cannot provide legal advice.
You should check the terms of any apps you use, or plan to use, for your business on a regular basis – and double-check if you wish to sell images to clients, or create a product with the images on it.
Ensure that your app allows the use you desire. Even the apps mentioned here prohibit or limit some uses, so proceed carefully.
If you’ve never thought about it, I urge you to do so now. And do let us know what you find in a comment!
Need to Replace Your Favorite iPhone App?
I’d love to hear from graphic design app creators on their app’s terms. I’d be happy to include your license clarifications in this article.
To my readers, please be safe. Ensure you’re using those graphic design apps legally!