Canva for beginners

Roana Bilia
Roana Bilia

Welcome to Canva for beginners! In this immersive end-to-end guide, you’ll quickly learn how to find your way around Canva, how to use and customize templates and how to personalize your designs with images of your own—as well as some basic design principles that you can rely on to create projects you can be proud of.

In this guide you'll learn to:

  1. Use templates
  2. Work with text
  3. Add images and graphics
  4. Customize colors
  5. Publish your design

Ready? Let’s get started.

Canva intro

The Canva editor is where all the magic happens. Here is a short video that will help you get familiarized with parts of the editor where you will create your designs.

Using templates

Creating stunning designs is simple with Canva—you don’t have to be a designer. Templates provide a shortcut to good design and serve as a starting point for your message. Whether you're wanting to level-up your social media feed or impress at your next work presentation, with over 50,000 templates, you'll find something in Canva that meets all your design needs.

In this unit, you will learn

  • How to customize a template
  • The importance of composition and style

How to customize a template

Canva’s template library lets you create a design in seconds. Every template is fully customizable so if a template isn’t quite right, you can change any element according to your needs. Simply choose a template. Next, add your own message, adjust the visuals, add some personal touches,  and there you have it, your own Canva design!

Here's a quick video showing you how easy it really is. 

The importance of composition and style

Composition is how all the elements of your design come together to form a whole. Good composition is when all of your text, images, graphics, and colors tie together cohesively to shape a design that effectively communicates your message. 

Styles are driven by the composition of your design—the images or shapes, the colors, and the text. It is important to select a style you think works best with your message. Minimalistic, elegant, geometric, corporate, or modern are just some of the styles you’ll have at your disposal.

Elegant styles have simple designs with a limited color palette, often serif and/or script typefaces coupled with a delicate vector or illustration.

01 - Say it with flowers
Elegant styles

Geometric styles are compositionally dominated by shapes, fonts are structured and fairly bold.

03 - Popup Store
Geometric styles

Minimal styles have a limited color palette, usually a muted style, strong compositional structure, few embellishments and contemporary typefaces.

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Minimal styles

Corporate styles are structured and easy to read, are often presentations or proposals with blocks of text, large headings, and graphs. The fonts are standardized serifs (Libre, Times etc).

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Corporate styles

Modern styles are on-trend style designs comprising of geometric text holders, freehand illustrations, large desaturated images, and white space.

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Modern style

Humorous styles are designs with quirky illustrations, fun and eye-catching compositions, and zesty color combinations. These are usually used for events and social posts.

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Humorous styles
QUICK QUIZ

Frank is creating a design to promote national donut day at his cafe and needs a template with a fun style and a loose composition. What template do you think would work best? 

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We think Frank should choose the first one as it aligns best with his message!

Working with text

Once you’ve chosen your template it’s time to change the text. The art and technique of arranging text is called typography. Canva has an extensive library of over 500 fronts to choose from, so you’ll be sure to find the perfect one for your project. But with so many fonts it can be tricky to decide, so if you prefer, we also have a selection of font combinations to make sure your designs have a balanced composition.
Making your written language look visually appealing and easy to read will guarantee that people can absorb your message.

IN THIS UNIT

You will learn

  • How to style text
  • How to differentiate between font styles
  • How to harness textual hierarchy
  • The effect of alignment
  • The less is more principle   

How to style text

Every template comes with pre-styled text. If you like the template but aren’t sure if the text fits your design, feel free to change it.  You can use the toolbar to apply different font styles—font combination to help you pick a balanced combination—change the size, emphasis, alignment, spacing, and transparency of the text in your design. Keep in mind that the styling options that appear will depend on the type of font you choose. Not all fonts are compatible with every feature. If a template has too much or too little text for what you need, change this by adding or removing a text box.
In this video, we show you how to navigate to the Text tab, style your text, and remove a text box.

Font styles

The style of your font is important because it helps to convey your message and impacts how your audience understands it. Many fonts have distinct moods or personalities—whether that's serious, casual, neutral, elegant, exotic, or graphic.

It’s important to think about your message and choose a font that fits. You want to make sure your font choice matches the mood you are setting through the concept and tone of your design.

Serif fonts have a small stroke called a serif attached to the main part of the letter. These are a good choice for more traditional projects such as magazines.

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Examples of Serif fonts, all available on Canva

Sans serif fonts don't have that extra stroke, hence the name, which is French for ‘without’ serif. These fonts are good for clean and modern projects and are much easier to read on computer screens.

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These Sans Serif fonts are part of Canva's font library

Script fonts derive from handwriting or calligraphy and are more fluid than other more traditional fonts. Their decorative style means they are best when used in small amounts for text in titles, headers, or more graphic-heavy projects.

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Add some flair to your design on Canva with these Script fonts
QUICK QUIZ

Which font style is used in the following designs?

A. Script            B. Serif           C. Sans Serif

Abstract Music Album Cover

 

It's Sans serif! 

How to harness textual hierarchy 

When you’re figuring out the layout of your design, think about what part you want viewers to look at first.

Textual hierarchy refers to the order in which text is read. Our eyes are naturally drawn to larger, more dominant elements. Important information (a company name, a headline, an occasion, or a special offer for example) is often larger, bolder, or different in some way. This will also gives your audience an entry point to start navigating your design.

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QUICK QUIZ

Priya is organizing the messaging in her design. Which design do you think uses hierarchy to communicate her message most effectively?

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We think the second one would be most effective! It lets the reader know the most important part of her message first. 

The effect of alignment

Designs need balance. A design that is well aligned or well distributed will look neat and uncluttered.

While most designs come with pre-aligned elements, aligning elements on your own can be a little tricky. Remember, the most important thing is to be consistent. Canva has alignment guides called snap lines, which appear when moving elements to guide you.

Neatly arranged elements will give your designs that finished feel.

  • Double check all your text elements are perfectly aligned both horizontally and vertically 
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  • Leave a margin. Move elements and text away from the edges of your design  
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  • Use equal spacing between your text and graphic elements
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The 'less is more' principle

Too many fonts can look messy. As with any design element, remember, less is more. Most projects benefit from a more restrained, thoughtful approach. We find that often one or two fonts is enough. If you feel like your design needs more contrast, try repeating the font with a different size or weight. Remember to experiment and find what looks best in your design… and if in doubt, keep it simple.

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QUICK QUIZ

Gabriela is creating a design to promote a charity concert at her university. How many fonts do you think it would be best for her to use?

A. As many as she likes! The more the merrier

B. Two fonts should do the trick

C. Four to six fonts will offer a balanced look and feel to her design

 

B. We recommend using two fonts. This will allow her design to look neat and organized. 

Adding images

A picture speaks a thousand words, as the saying goes. Images help your audience learn, and can explain difficult concepts, while also inspiring your audience and making your design more engaging.

In this unit, you will learn

  • How to find free photos
  • How to upload your own images
  • How to edit images
  • How to use graphics
  • The influence of images on emotions
  • How to effectively use images as backgrounds

How to find free photos

In Canva you can use the Images tab to browse through millions of high-quality stock photos, or if you’re looking for something specific, use the search bar. Free images and elements will always have a Free tag in the bottom corner of the thumbnail display.

Here's a quick clip showing you how you can find free photos for your designs. 

How to upload your own images

When you’re sharing or telling a personal story, using your own images will let your audience connect with your design on a deeper level. To upload an image, drag and drop a photo from your computer and put it straight into your design. You’ll find all of your uploaded images in the ‘Uploads’ tab or in your uploads folder.

In this video, you can see how truly simple it is to make your designs personal by uploading your own images. 

How to edit images

Few images are perfect for your design as they are. Maybe the image is the wrong size or the wrong color. Simple adjustments like cropping, resizing, and filtering can enhance their effects in your design.

Cropping removes parts of a photo and can help change the framing or focus of the image. Resizing an image will ensure that it sits perfectly in your design—remember that you can't make an image bigger without affecting the quality. Filters can change the tone of your image with little effort.
We've put together a little clip to show you how to resize, crop, and filter your images.

Select the photo you’d like to edit, to resize proportionally hold down on a corner of the photo and drag to resize. To crop, click Crop from the toolbar or double click the photo,  hold and drag the corners of the photo to fit the size and view you need, click Done or hit Enter to finish.

There you go! 

How to use graphics

Graphics add an element of fun and visual interest to your designs. Graphics are illustrations, icons, shapes, lines, that sit under the ‘Images’ tab on the Canva object panel. As with text, you can also style graphics in several different ways. You can customize the size, color, transparency, and placement of your graphics. Similarly, the styling options that appear will depend on the type of photo or illustration. Watch the video below to learn more about adding and styling graphics in your next design. 

How to use images as backgrounds

Professional or personal photos can be used in many different ways for the background of your design. They hold the theme and content of your design to make it more visually interesting. Drag and drop the image into your design to apply it as a background. Here's a short video showing you how you can add background images to your designs. 

When using images as backgrounds:

  • Take advantage of clear space: Use images with clear space to place your text, but remember that design is deliberate and you don’t want elements floating on the page.
Clear space
  • Use shapes: A way to avoid drowning your text in your background image is to use shapes. Placing shapes behind your text will ensure it is easy to read.
Use shapes
  • Adjust the transparency: Increasing the transparency of your background will decrease the noise (detail), making the elements in the foreground (such as text) easier to read.
Transparency
  • Apply a blur: The detail within an image can make it hard to read your text. Blurring is another effective technique to offset your text from your background.
Blur
06-Colors-text-small

Colors make designs come to life—they’re often the first things people notice when looking at your design. They attract attention, set a mood, and influence emotions or perceptions. Colors play a huge role in how your audience recognizes you, your design, and your message.

In this unit, you will learn

  • How to customize colors
  • Where to start choosing a color scheme
  • The emotions behind colors
  • How to keep colors simple

How to customize colors

If you’ve decided you want to work with a new color scheme you can change the color palette of a template. This means you can change the color of the text, background, illustrations, graphics, and more. You can watch the process step-by-step in the video below to learn more about customizing colors in your next project. 

Where to start choosing a color scheme

You’ve probably noticed that some colors can look beautiful together while others don’t. Choosing the right colors can help improve your designs. We use the color wheel as a tool for combining colors. The color wheel gives a set of tried and tested formulas which can help you choose a beautiful color palette. This will not only lift your design visually but helps you clearly communicate your ideas. 

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This is a color wheel
  • A complementary color scheme is made up of colors that sit opposite each other on the color wheel. These schemes offer a sense of balance and help avoid harsh contrast that can create eyestrain.
  • A monochromatic color scheme uses variations of one color. It’s hard to go wrong with colors from the same family that are guaranteed to match.
  • An analogous color scheme is made up of a group of colors close to each other on the color wheel. These schemes work well to communicate consistency and uniformity within your design.
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QUICK QUIZ

Masie and Marc are creating stationary for their wedding. Which color scheme do you think would work best for them?

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We think the first one would probably most suitable for them! The color scheme is harmonious and aligns with the message in their designs. 

The emotions behind color

Colors are all around you. Whether you realize it or not, they play a big role in your everyday life. They also define the overall mood of your design. You can use color to create a mood that may be hard to describe with words. Play with colors to help support the message of your design.

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Not everyone thinks about, or experiences color in the same way. The meaning and symbolism we associate with different colors is influenced a great deal by the cultural and societal groups we identify with.

Keeping colors simple

Too much of anything is never a good thing. A color scheme that has too many colors is difficult to manage and can often make your designs look a bit busy. On the other hand, having too few colors can make your design look boring. While this is not a hard and fast rule, limiting your design to a max of three colors can result in a more cohesive composition with a decent amount of variation and visual interest.

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QUICK QUIZ

John is creating a design for an upcoming event he is organizing. What colors should he use for the balloons?  

Colorful Hotair Balloon Party Facebook Post

A. Each section of every balloon should be a different color so his design can be as colorful as possible

B. Using two or three different colors across the design should be enough to give his design some pop

C. He should just leave the balloons black and white there's no need for any color

 

We chose B! Having a couple of colors will offer his design balance and prevent it from getting messy. 

Export

Ready to share your designs with the world? There are several ways to publish and share your Canva designs. Here’s a video to show you how.

QUICK QUIZ

Nadia is applying for some jobs using her new resume. What’s the best way for her to publish her design?

A. Download as a PDF

B. Publish to Instagram

C. Share it on her Facebook profile

 

We think downloading it as a PDF would be the most suitable option for Nadia! She can then easily email her resume off to all potential employers. 

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Certificate of Recognition

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