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Stencil

Stencil Review

By: Anchor Labs Inc.

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Detailed Review

Stencil is an online image/graphics creation tool used by some over 150,000 users to develop and enhance their visual content faster and with ease. Speed and ease in creating and sharing images for social media are the highlights of the product. It offers over 37 custom size templates for your designs plus an option to define your own sizes.

Pros

  • A wide variety of graphics to choose from: Stencil’s library consists of over 2.2 million stock photos with no royalties and copyright issues, sourced from partnering stock photo sites and over 2 million icons.
  • It offers extensions for various browsers and WordPress whereby you can easily create graphics from online images or quotes in an instant.
  • Instant image resizing: One can easily and quickly resize any image to any of the 37+ custom sizes or user-defined custom sizes.
  • A 5*5 Facebook ad grid view can be used to arrange all the items/layers of your design symmetrically and adhere to the limit of words that can be used in an advertisement post.
  • You can directly share the graphics to various social media platforms or queue/schedule your post through your buffer account.
  • You can add graphics under each category into user-created collections/folders and also add graphics under ‘favorites’
  • You can preview your graphic in desktop and mobile view before saving or sharing it.
  • It lets you upload your images or fonts if you opt for paid plans. You can use these saved images and fonts to create your new graphics.

Cons

  • No templates for free version: Templates can only be used if you opt for one of the paid plans.
  • Limited no. of integrations: It has an integration with only one social media manager namely buffer. Addition of some marketing management tool or other social media managers is needed to attract users using these tools.
  • Some features are accessible only on paid plans: For example, your images or fonts can only be uploaded for paid plans.
  • No dedicated client is available: It does not offer mobile application based service although it targets social media users.
  • Options for animation and gif are not available: The Stencil team aims at perfecting its image creation endeavor and seems more focused on that at least for the time being.
  • No team plans: It lacks collaborative features offered by some other web-based graphics tools.
  • Tutorials and customer support are a couple of areas which can see improvement: Many similar graphics tools provide online chat support and small video tutorials. Both the features are missing in Stencil’s web application. It provides support in the form of documentation, i.e., FAQs categorized under various sections and email.

Introduction

Stencil is based in Canada and was founded in 2014 by a group of professionals. It started with the name ‘Share As Image’ and was later rebranded as ‘Stencil’ in April 2016. It is used by small businesses, marketers, and bloggers to create images and graphics on the go. 

It is modeled after similar web applications such as Canva, but its marquee feature is the ease and swiftness with which it allows to create and share images and graphics.

It also offers add-ons, plugins, and extensions for browsers – Chrome, FireFox, and Safari, and a plug-in for WordPress. It makes it very easy to add an image, text or icon to your Stencil design using the plug-in or add-on and instantly share it.

It is primarily meant for social media users and does not have collaboration features, or any key API or Integrations (except, Buffer) presently.

In the following sections of this article, we will look at some features of the Stencil Web application.

Features

The measure of merit for any image creating tool is heavily factorized by the strength of its library of graphics. Both the number of graphics and their accessibility – in terms of categorization or search options are equally important.

Judging by the above criteria, Stencil has tried its best to incorporate both the features of number and accessibility in its graphics library.

It categorizes graphics in categories accessible from the side panel of the editor. These categories are photos, icons, templates, and quotes.

Three of the categories mentioned above namely Photos, Icons and Quotes are subdivided into other sub-categories such as animals & nature, holidays, activity, food & drink, travel, etc., which goes to the focus on social media. There are generic options also such as business, education, technology, etc.

The first three options of sub-categories under each category are Featured, Favorites and Collections which allows easy access to user-defined favorites and collections. Featured options show all the featured graphics under the selected category.

The free version allows the user to create up to 10 collections and set 10 favorites across categories. One must upgrade to higher plans for higher or unlimited caps.

The templates section has 700+ featured templates categorized as Featured, Favorites, Collections, My templates, Social Media, Business, etc. The user can only access templates on paid versions as this feature is not available with the free version. Like with photos and icons, the user can create collections of templates and favorites. The favorites and user-defined collections are available in namesake categories. 

Unlike many peers, Stencil has set its user plan options based on limits of access to various features and not access to more features itself. It may in part be attributed to the lack of some functions like team collaboration, administration center, etc.

Although it is notable that some features like uploading of user images and fonts, and templates are not available with the free version.

Other notable features of the product are Facebook Ad grid and Instagram SMS.

Facebook Ad grid option can be accessed as an icon in the menu on the right of the canvas. It divides the entire canvas in a 5*5 grid which serves as a reference to assemble all the graphics elements and maintain symmetry. It adheres to the limits of text used in a Facebook Ad where you can’t have text in more than five grid sections or cells.

Instagram stresses to post images using its mobile application. In light of the fact, Stencil provides Instagram SMS service whereby it shares your picture via SMS to your mobile, and you can directly share it from there using the Instagram app.

Instagram SMS option is particularly helpful as the Stencil web application though accessible through Android, and iOs versions of the browsers may not provide the same experience as the desktop web app.

Stencil also allows the user to upload images which can then be used to make graphics using the Uploads option under the Account section in the right panel of the window.

The user can also upload logos or watermarks for their graphics using Logos&Watermarks option in the Account section mentioned above. But this feature to upload logos is only available with paid plans.

Now, we will discuss in brief some of the functions like editing, sharing and storing of images using Stencil in the following sections.

Adding and editing elements

Unlike some other web-based graphics tools, Stencil does not feature a separate home page and incorporates the dashboard and editor in a single window. The editor is the heart of an image maker or graphics editor, and it is the window where the design is created.

By default, the editor window will show a blank canvas of 1920*1080 px size, i.e., a facebook cover as seen in the image above. One can change the canvas size by clicking on the ‘Resize’ icon below the canvas. The resize feature will be elaborated later in this article.

Once the user has chosen the desired canvas, he/she can start adding and editing graphics to it. To change the background color, click on the canvas background and choose an appropriate color or type the hex code using the tools pop-up.

An editing tools pop-up will appear, every time the user selects any of the elements. It contains editing options like transparency, blur, color options, filters, font size, font type, etc. based on the kind of item selected.

Let's describe in brief the process of adding and manipulating various graphic elements to the Stencil’s canvas in brief. Let’s add items one by one starting with the background.

Adding and editing the background

Click anywhere on the canvas background and the editing tools pop-up for the background will appear. It has options to select the background color from the color spectrum bar and allows to set transparency manually. Once you have chosen the appropriate color, you get the opportunity to save it to your color palette for future use.

Other options in the tools pop-up for the background are to upload a background image or to make it transparent. Alternatively, the user can drag any of the photos or graphics from the available categories directly on the top half of the canvas to set it as a background as shown below.

The editor automatically appropriates the chosen picture to the size of the background. Again, you can click on the background image and change its properties from the pop-up. There are multiple options like applying filters (15 to be exact), setting blur, transparency, color overlay, etc. Other options include cropping, orientation and such.

Once the background is set, other layers of elements are added. In the following sections, we will see how to add photos, icons, text, and quotes.

Adding and editing photos and icons

Photos and images are integral to, and the principal component of any graphic design. To add pictures and icons in Stencil, the user has three options:

  • Go to the photos or icons section in the panel to the left of the window and select the desired photo or icon from the many sub-categories. Alternatively, the user may use the search bar to find an appropriate option.
  • Another method is to drag and drop them to the lower half of the canvas to set them as ‘resizable images’. Be careful not to drop them in the upper half as this will set them as background images.
  • There is also the option to duplicate an image or icon already placed on the canvas by choosing the duplication option in the edit properties pop-up.

After adding the image either as background or resizable image on the canvas, the user can change its properties like blur, transparency, color overlay, etc. and apply filters by clicking on it making required adjustments from the editing tools pop-up.

Below is a picture showing various options in the editing tools pop-up for a sample background image.

Adding text and quotes

Text is a useful graphics tool to add to the appeal of the graphics or to convey information in case of marketing literature or business and greeting cards.

To add text boxes to your Stencil canvas, click on the text icon in the menu on the right side of the canvas or double-click anywhere on the background. Now double-click inside the text box and enter the required text. One can click on the Facebook Ad grid icon in the right menu to add a 5*5 grid to the canvas. It will help position the text and other elements symmetrically and at the desired location.

To move or resize the text box on can use the drag-and-drop and stretch routine. While you move the text or a resizable image, you can see alignment lines to help you set the element in the desired alignment with other items on the canvas.

To change color, font and other properties, select the text box and choose appropriate options from the pop-up.

The various options to change text properties are font, size, text color, outline, background color, etc. as shown below. (Depending on the text the properties options may change).

One of the signature features of the Stencil web app is its Quotes feature. It is common to post quotes to one’s social media or blog posts. Stencil provides a simple way to add quotes to your designs from its library of over 100,000 quotes.

The various categories under which the quotes are classified include nature, humor, happiness, business, inspirational, leadership, and many more. The user needs to surf through the required categories to find the appropriate quote and click to add the text box with the quote pre-typed in a preset font.

The user can select the text box and edit in the same way as with other text boxes. A sample of variable properties for quotes is shown below.

 After the user is done adding and editing all the elements to the canvas, he/she may change the order of different element layers by selecting single elements one by one and choosing ‘Move forward’ or ‘Move back.’ options from editing tools pop-up.

Resize and Preview

After finishing making the graphic design, the user can resize it if need be by clicking on the resize icon below the canvas. The user can opt from over 37 size templates under various categories namely Posts, Ads, Headers and Custom. Using the Custom category, the user can define new custom sizes for his/her particular needs and save them for the future.

Once the size is set to the desired type, the last step is to share the image to social media. But it would be nice to have a preview first as the image may not look the same across all platforms and devices as you deem.

Stencil provides free previews of the image posts before sharing them. Once you have saved the image, you can proceed to share it to any of the social or market platforms by clicking on the ‘Preview and Share’ button on the bottom right of the window.

The platform also provides with the options of both Desktop and Mobile previews of your image before you opt to post it as can be seen in the picture above.

Sharing and storage

What is the use of an awesome graphics image if you can not save or share it. Sharing or distribution is the end purpose of using an image creator. The user can save the final image by clicking the Save button on the bottom-right part of the window.

The saved images get added to ‘Saved Images’ folder in the Account section of the panel on the right of the window and can be accessed from there whenever needed.

Alternatively, the user can opt to save the image as a template for future use by selecting ‘save as template’ option which appears by hovering over the small upwards arrow beside the Save button.

A point worth noting is saving as a template feature works only with the paid versions as templates can’t be accessed with the free version of the web app.

Stencil allows to download your pictures in jpg or png format, desired size, and in digital or print (300dpi)  quality. Images can be downloaded by using the ‘Download’ button next to the ‘Save’ button.

As mentioned before in the article, Stencil allows the user to make various collections/folders under various categories of graphics. To create a new collection, go to the required element section, select ‘My Collections’ option and select the ‘Create Collection’ button and name your newly created collection.

To add elements to ‘Favorites’ or one of your collections, surf as described earlier and click on the options icon on the top right corner and choose appropriate options.  

Once your image is saved, you can proceed to share it on social platforms by using the aforementioned ‘Preview and Share’ button. To share pictures on Instagram, Stencil sends you a SMS of the image which you can share using your Instagram mobile app.

For reference check the image in the previous section.

One crucial parameter to access an image editor is its API/Integrations. Integrations amongst various platforms allow users to efficiently avail the services of one to support the other or vice-versa. This cross sharing of resources among multiple software and web applications saves time and improves productivity.

An example would be an integration between a graphics tool and a website builder, whereby the user can easily create and import graphics from the graphics editor and use it to fill appropriate sections for the website in the making.

Quite frankly, Stencil is lack-luster on the integrations front. The only thing close to an integration it provides is that the user can schedule to post his/her image using their Buffer account.

There are other similar web-based image editors and graphics designers which have integrations across many social media management, marketing management, portfolio website builder and other services.

An acute lack of partnerships to share and use the created content is a significant drawback of the web application.

Browser Extensions

Browser add-ons, various in-app plug-ins are efficient tools to swiftly and effectively use multiple applications to serve a particular requirement. They allow the user to access the services of the add-on in question without leaving the page where its function is needed.

Stencil provides extensions and add-ons for major modern desktop browser namely Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. It also has a plug-in for WordPress for bloggers to add graphics to their blogs instantly.

Let’s describe the Chrome extension to see how swiftly the add-ons work.

You can add the Stencil extension either from the Chrome Web store or the product’s website by clicking on couple links.

The Stencil extension helps you highlight text from the browser, instantaneously add it to your Stencil canvas, create an image on the go and share it on social media or download it. Alternatively, it allows you to select images and add them to your canvas to add text and modify it for sharing or download.

It is as simple as right clicking the selected text or image and choosing appropriate options. It works similarly with other browser add-ons and the WordPress plug-in.

Customer Support

Help and customer support are also important parameters to rate any web-based service. Many modern web-based tools meant for a regular user nowadays provide video tutorials and live chat facility.

With Stencil, the user gets FAQs instead of live chat, and email support with a 24-hour deadline for a reply.

It pales in comparison to some of its peers in the industry who provide live chat facilities not only on the user web app but also to any visitor on the site. It may also help in getting new visitors to try the product.

You can access the FAQs through the air-bag icon on the bottom-left of the editor window. It allows a search option for your queries and a message option. In case you opt to message a question, a prompt with a message that you will receive a reply within 24 hours or sooner pops up on the screen.

We sent a query message and got the reply within 24 hours. Not so impressive for a service based on the idea of quickness and swift.

Conclusion

As you might infer from the discussion so far, Stencil focuses on quick and swift image creation service for social media users and bloggers. It has no features for creation of gifs, animation, videos or dedicated infographics.

On the other hand, it has browser extensions to instantly create an image if you happen to strike gold and find something worth sharing while browsing.

Considering the limitations mentioned above, lack of meaningful integrations with other platforms, and no collaborative or administrative control feature, it is not appealing to business users.

On the affordability scale, it ranks better with one free and two reasonably charged paid plans. Although other experienced web services also have comparable basic plans with animation and video support.

Lastly, we conclude that if you are in for a fast and swift ride to create images for your social media posts, you can give Stencil - the image creator a go. Although missing a couple of features in paid plans, the free version shall suffice an average user.

In case you are an avid social media user, you can choose to upgrade to higher plans with a higher limit on images per month and other features.

That’s all we have to say about Stencil, the image creator.

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