Canva Magic Media Review: AI Generated Images for Amateur Creators

Canva Magic Media Review: AI Generated Images for Amateur Creators

I’ve been using Canva for years to easily put together custom social media posts, high-quality presentations, infographics for data reports and even resumes. It’s one of my favorite online services of all time, so I was pretty excited to see what Canva had in store for its AI image generator, Magic Media.

Canva’s Magic Media AI image generator is one of the many AI-powered tools that Canva has introduced in the past year. When I jumped into my first project, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that you can actually use three different AI image generators in Canva: Dall-E 3 by OpenAI, Imagen by Google Cloud, and Canva’s own Magic Media. This review only pertains to Magic Media, but Canva gets an extra gold star because these other options are available as app integrations.

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Despite its strange name, Magic Media is a very practical and easy-to-use AI image generator. But it’s unlikely to be right for every project you have, and there are some pretty annoying limitations. If you use the free plan instead of paying for Canva Pro, you’ll be facing a lot more. Magic Media is certainly useful in certain cases, but I would warn you now not to look for professional-level image editing tools, fine-tuning features or any other extras.

Canva says that it doesn’t use your content to train its AI. It will sometimes ask you if you want to opt in, but it’s optional. For privacy-conscious Canva users, this is a huge plus over other data-hungry AI companies. (If you use one of the other AI image generator integrations, you agree to their privacy and data policies as well as Canva’s, so read carefully!)

How CNET reviews AI image generators
CNET takes a hands-on approach to reviewing AI image generators. Our goal is to determine how well it is compared to the competition and the most appropriate purpose. To do that, we provide AI prompts based on real-world use cases, such as rendering in certain styles, combining elements into one image and handling longer descriptions. We score image generators on a 10-point scale that considers factors such as how well the image matches the prompt, creativity of the result and speed of response. See how we test AI for more information.

Canva’s AI image generator base, Magic Media
When you start a new Canva project, you can easily access its AI image generator through many paths — the easiest is to click Magic Studio right when you’re logged in, or if you’re in a project file, just click Elements, then Generate image My own AI. This will automatically open the Magic Media app in your side menu, where you’ll see a prompt box, an Inspire Me icon, and a few different preset styles that you can choose to use. You can use the menu at the top of the page to generate videos and graphics. This menu is also where you can see the amount of credit you have.

With the free Canva plan, Magic Media gives you 50 image credits and 5 video credits to use. And you will go through this credit too quickly. During my testing, I found many things that count as using credit. Every time you run a prompt, you use credits. Sometimes I’ll lose extra credit for entering more than one image per batch, but other times I won’t, for no reason that I can deduce. Once you’ve used an image, it’s in your Uploads folder and you can use it in as many projects as you want without deducting credit each time.

The real issue with credits is that you may need to run multiple prompts with follow-up information to get the image you want. Unlike other AI generators, Magic Media is not a chatbot that you can send follow-up messages with additional adjustments. You need to run a new prompt, even if you just want a small tweak. So the 50 lifetime credits you get with the free plan won’t get you very far. Upgrading to Canva Pro gives you 500 reset image credits per month — which still feels like an unnecessary limitation, especially since you’re paying for more functionality and features.

Important note: Images generated by Magic Media do not have a visible watermark on them which proves the fact that they are AI generated. If you are going to use a Magic Media image, you may want to consider adding an at exposure an additional captions that explicitly state your use of AI.

How good is the image and how well does it match the prompt?
I played around and produced over 80 images with Magic Media. I engineered prompts, used some of the preset styles Canva offers and experimented with its beta AI video and graphics generation features. Here’s how.

When you enter the prompt, Canva generates four square images. Unless you tell Canva which style to use, either with a preset or in your prompts, Canva tends toward more whimsical, cartoon-like styles. People and animals tend to have exaggerated features, and it’s more minimalistic than detailed. And there’s a good reason why Canva doesn’t rely too much on photorealistic images: It’s not good at generating them. When I try to generate images of people, objects and settings, usually at least two of the images will look more like illustrations than photographs. And for livelier options, they range from the weird-looking to the downright creepy.

Instead of trying a live image, I recommend trying out some of the preset styles that Canva has to offer. Options like Anime, Retrowave and Concept Art add an artistic touch to your images, while I had fun creating sci-fi scenes in space with Dreamy and Moody. If fine art is more your thing, you can make your images look like they were made with watercolors or stained glass.

The downside of Canva’s AI images is that you can’t generate images in different shapes; they are always square. On the help page, Canva says that you can choose the size and aspect ratio of your choice, including landscape or portrait, but I can’t find how. I’m trying to request a specific shape in my prompt, like a rectangle or a circle, and the closest I can get is a square image with a circle frame and grayed out corners. You may be able to resize and expand images with other AI tools, Resize and Magic Switch, but they are paywalled. The best solution for the free plan I found was to manually enter the width and height of the pixels to get a rectangular shape, but even then, I lost some images.

Magic Media also includes an AI-powered video generator using the Gen-2 model from Runway. You get five video generation credits with the free and unlimited plan with Pro. These videos are short, more like GIFs than TikToks. This includes a rainbow watermark in the lower left corner that shows the use of AI in its creation. Videos take longer to display, between 2 and 3 minutes. The GIF I made of a panda eating bamboo is pretty cute (if maybe it’s missing two claws?)

I also tested how well Magic Media works using the Canva mobile app. It’s easy and pretty much the same as creating AI-generated images on your desktop using the Canva website. I also use this program to create graphics, which are individual images and characters with no background. They are cartoonish and exactly what I wanted. If you only need certain characters or elements, the graphics option might give you better results than a regular AI image generator — there’s less room for errors and weird AI quirks.

How attractive is the image?
While Canva’s AI images may not be perfect, they’re a lot of fun. Canva leans towards a whimsical and cartoon-like quality, with bright colors and characters with exaggerated features. Canva certainly doesn’t default to stock photos like regular images, although it can generate them if you direct them that way with your prompts.

Even fairly disastrous images (looking at you, photorealistic images) are still fun to laugh at and point out the weirdness. Overall, the Canva AI images are very attractive, if not exactly correct or usable. Playing around with different prompts and images is fun, but I can imagine getting frustrated if you want a certain image and can’t get it right.

Can you refine the results?
There is no easy way to refine your images with Magic Media, which is the most frustrating part of the design process. For example, with Dall-E 3, you can send a follow-up message to the chatbot with additional details about what you want to change in the image it just generated. But with Canva, you have to enter a completely new prompt. And if you use the free plan, that means losing extra credit.

If one image is better than the others but still not what you imagined, you can click the three dots in the upper right corner of the picture and ask Canva to generate three new images like it. It will count as one of your credits even if you don’t add its on your project. Because of this, this feature is more of a “least you can do” kind of thing rather than a substantive alternative.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is a huge differentiator from its competitors. Also, throughout my testing, Canva produced many images that were almost right. If I could select an image and ask it to fix one thing that was bothering me, it would make a huge difference and make the tool more useful to me. Hopefully in future, Canva will expand the “generate more like this” feature so we can request certain changes without having to enter a new prompt.

How fast do images arrive?
Generative AI is not free, which means image generation services need to determine how much to invest in their image creation speed.

Canva’s response time for creating images is quite fast; it takes between 10 and 30 seconds for Canva to generate a batch of images. And if you’re impatient like me, a progress bar showing how long it takes is a nice touch. Videos take longer, between 2 and 3 minutes.

How to decide if Canva’s AI image generator is for you
As a longtime Canva cheerleader, I was disappointed with Canva’s AI image generation tools, especially compared to other industry leaders like OpenAI and Adobe. I thought through my testing that Canva’s existing tools could help me create the images I wanted without using Magic Media. It will certainly take longer, but the extra time will ensure I have a usable result instead of a useless AI image that I need to edit regardless.

Canva’s AI image generator is a mirror of Canva itself. It’s fun and unique, and it makes it less intimidating to try more complex design processes like creating AI-generated images. However, Magic Media has serious drawbacks that limit its usefulness, especially for users who want specific results or use the free plan. Canva struggles with photorealistic images and creating non-square images. You can’t easily fine-tune images and prompts, which can frustrate even novice Canva users, let alone power users and professional designers. And while you’re sorting through all the images to find the right one, free plan users will be eating up a lot of their credits.

The magic of Canva is that anyone can create professional-looking content with easy-to-use tools without having to master design theory and image editing software. But Canva’s built-in AI image generator feels amateurish compared to its other tools, even for this amateur designer.

CNET uses an AI engine to help create a handful of stories. AI product reviews like these, just like CNET’s other live reviews, are written by our in-house human team of experts. For more information, see CNET’s AI policy and how we test AI.

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