There seems to be no end to the debates surrounding AI-generated imagery, and even as the World Economic Forum expressed concern over its use in elections, startups are forging ahead with new AI tools for creators.
“Controversy continues to surround the world of AI-generated imagery, and even as AI-generated images used in elections became a source of concern this week at the World Economic Forum, startups continue to plow the new furrow of AI tools for creators.”
One such startup is Recraft, a professional-grade AI graphic design generator that recently secured a $12 million Series A round led by Khosla Ventures and former GitHub CEO Nat Friedman. Other participants include RTP Global, Abstract VC, Basis Set Ventures, Elad Gil, and several angel investors.
While there are already numerous Generative AI design tools available, such as Jasper, Adobe Sensei, and Let’s Enhance, Recraft sets itself apart by being a “foundational” tool. This means that it has its own Foundation Model, a pre-trained deep learning algorithm that generates consistent design elements like icons and images. These elements can then be customized to fit a specific brand’s style guidelines. According to Recraft, they have amassed over 300,000 users since launching just eight months ago.
However, Recraft is not just a tool for creating comical images of canine cowboys or other similar content. Along with “raster images,” it can also generate vector images, which are infinitely scalable and commonly used in professional graphic design fields. This sets it apart from other platforms where image quality may be limited.
The founder of Recraft, Anna Veronika Dorogush, is no stranger to the technical side of things. As the creator of CatBoost, an open-source library for gradient boosting on decision trees, she knows a thing or two about complex algorithms. She also has experience as the former head of machine learning systems at the search engine Yandex in Moscow. Dorogush and her team of 13 are now based in London.
“She told me over a call that the fundraising would power its attempts to build its own foundational model: ‘You have to provide a lot of control over the outputs to users… over the style so, that you can get consistent images, and control over things like brand colors or level of detail, and also the ability to iterate on the resulting image.'”
Recraft is primarily geared towards professionals who need not only image generation but also style control. Dorogush describes this as a unique aspect of their platform: “We are also providing style control: the ability to create your own style and then generate images in your own style… This is important if you want to create a brand and grow it, create marketing materials, creating consistent adverts.”
One potential concern for artists is the potential for their style to be used without their consent. However, Recraft addresses this by stating in their terms that any images uploaded by artists as a reference (with the intention of generating new images) will not be used to train their model.
“‘We do state in our terms that if an artist uploads something to the system as a sterile reference… we are not using those to train our model,’ says Dorogush.”
Dorogush also clarifies that Recraft adds generic styles to images uploaded by artists, meaning the artist has control over the style used: “You provide the style to the model. So you have a style reference. And then you generate images using this style of reference. So it is the action of the user to provide the style.”
The rise of AI tools for design is not limited to Recraft. Last year, Berlin-based Kittl raised a $11.6 million Series A for its design platform that enables users to quickly turn ideas into graphic products. Kittl’s CEO Nicolas Heymann sees platforms like Recraft as part of a growing market for alternative design tools: “I think if Recraft are able to produce design assets successfully… then they definitely may take [some market] share of those icon libraries.”
However, Dorogush believes there is room for more than one player in this space and recognizes Kittl’s unique focus on merchandise design. “We do have a unique technology for building style consistent imagery, and that is our main focus… while Kittl focuses on merchandise, and I have huge respect for them. They are a great company.”
“Of course, Recraft isn’t the only startup playing in this space… but it would appear investors are hyped by the possibility of avoiding the controversy some AI and design imaging platforms have attracted, in favor of backing these business-focused AI tools.”
In a statement, Nikita Shamgunov, Partner at Khosla Ventures commented: “We are seeing rapid and significant transformation of the design space driven by generative AI. But to date, many of the generative AI design solutions have been targeting consumers, rather than professionals that require high degrees of control. Recraft delivers on professional workflows such as vector images, style controls and end-to-end content production, all powered by in-house built foundation models.”