Creating Visual Content with Canva

Published: April 15, 2015  by 

I love CanvaGood visuals are important to content marketing because we want content to be appealing to readers–not just search engines. I don’t always have time to sit down on Illustrator or Photoshop to create a blog image, so I wanted to review and explain how to use one of my favorite online image tools – Canva.

Canva is one of my personal favorites when it comes to creating graphics for content marketing because it is extremely user-friendly, and updates often (so often that this post might already be outdated by the time you read it).

Its functionality is primarily drag-and-drop and the free version has all the tools you need to create really cool images. Canva lets you upload your own images, but they also have a great stock photo library where you can purchase images for $1.00 each. It’s a steal – trust me.

Preset Dimensions

canva dimension options

One of the best features of Canva is that it has preset dimensions for popular image uses such as social media posts, email headers, marketing materials, blogging, events and ads. You can also insert your own dimensions if needed, which is helpful for designing custom blog headers.

Free Graphic Design Layouts

cana template options

Canva offers a number of pre-designed layouts for each of their preset dimensions. This is especially helpful if you don’t have a natural eye for graphic design, or if you need a quick image. You can find these templates in the “layout” section of the editing dashboard.

Search for Images

Canva Search Options

If you choose to create your own image, or alter one of their preselected layouts, Canva offers a considerable variety of graphics and images under their “Search” option. Usually this section includes one seasonal option on the top left, and then the rest are categorized by image type. Unfortunately, most of these images are not indexed well, and you have to manually search in order to find the free items you need.

My advice: If you need a basic image of a computer or phone icon, instead of typing in “computer” or “phone,” use the basic category of “technology” to get a wider variety of results. This seems to be the way they have the images indexed.

Grids & Frames

Grids and Frames

Grids and frames are drag-and-drop image layouts and work best if you are trying to create a collage. Once you drag your image into the grid, you can select your image and “filter” or “crop” it within the grid. They offer Instagram-like filters with customizable effect levels.

One negative thing I will say about using their drag-and-drop image frames/grids – it only lets you use one image in each placeholder. For example, if you wanted to have a picture of a landscape and then also add a landscaping company’s logo to the bottom left, it would try and “suck” the logo image into the background as well –which can be annoying and difficult to fix.

My advice: Don’t use grids or frames for images. Just upload your own images and size them to the page yourself.


Icons Logo

The “Icons” section is full of incredible options for basic images. I probably use this section the most because the selection is vast. Canva seems to update the “Icons” section daily and the images just keep getting better. This was the most useful when creating this infographic for one of our marketing clients, Timberline Landscaping. Each of the landscaping task icons were found in the “Icons” section. Even though I had to scroll furiously to get the entire set to load, it was absolutely worth it.

Colorado Landscaping Timeline

My advice: If you are looking through the icons or shapes section, it may stop loading at some point. However, I assure you there are more images hiding in there. Refresh the page and try the section again and keep scrolling.


Shapes Icon

The “Shapes” section is great for making text stand out on a busy image. My favorite way to do this is to select a solid shape and make it 75% transparent. This way, you can still see the image in the background, but your text isn’t muffled by the noise. Here’s a good example from CDR Global for how to use shapes to create a text box:

CDR Global FAQ social cards


Lines Logo

The “Lines” section has a good selection of lines and borders you can choose from, but I have admittedly experienced a few glitches with these features. When resizing the lines, some of them only allow for certain dimensions while others are fully customizable. This is one reason why I don’t generally create infographics with charts or graphs on Canva, but rather on Piktochart (blog coming soon!)

Text Boxes

Text Section

When you select “Text” in the side navigation, Canva offers three different initial sizes and fonts, and these are completely customizable. They offer more than 100 fonts and most fonts have Bold and Italic options. If you select “Add Text” and select the arrow on the right hand side, you’ll find a drop down with options such as Bold, Italic, uppercase, list (bullets), alignment, text spacing, transparency and order. Even though they only show sizes up to 144 pts, you can type in any value to select text size.

Canva also offers tons of pre-designed text boxes, but they aren’t terribly malleable. The font and text size aren’t editable and some of them don’t allow for the text to be changed at all. However, they can be really helpful if you don’t already know what you want.

My advice: Use the pre-designed text boxes and delete all the text from them. Then add your own text as a separate element and resize it as needed.


Backgrounds Section

There are 18 free background designs on Canva, and each can change colors. They are responsive, so depending on the size of your image, the background will change. For example, the polkadots in an Instagram post may be smaller than one used for a poster. I have had several instances where I downloaded the image and the background didn’t look the same as in the dashboard, so beware of the possible changes.

Hex Codes

If you want to change the color of your icons or backgrounds using hex codes, simply click the “+” icon when you are selecting a color. This will drop down and allow you to type in the color you need on the bottom left of that screen. Simple.

Easy Duplication

If you’re in the editing dashboard, you’ll notice a few buttons on the right hand side of the page. The “double page” icon allows you to duplicate your image and keep it all in the same document. This is a great feature if you are creating social cards you want to match in style and design. Using this feature, I partnered with my colleague Dan Holmes to create a series of Great Architects trading cards. You can download your duplicate images as a zip file with individual PNGs, or you can download them as one large PDF.

Editing Collaboration

Canva also allows you to collaborate on projects with other Canva users. Just select the “Share” button on the top right, and click the check box that says “share/email as an editable design.” Then, type in the email of the person you want to work on the project with you. All they have to do is log into Canva and click the link in their email inbox. One thing I would change about this feature would be to allow these “editable designs” to show up in the dashboard of the user you send it to. For example, when Dan Holmes shared the Great Architects Trading Cards with me, I had to click the email link every time I wanted to edit or access the files. It would have been much simpler to edit if it just came straight to my Canva home dashboard.

Download Your Image

Once you’re done with the design, you can download the image as a PNG or PDF. If you click the Share button on top, click the “options” dropdown and you can choose which “slides” of your image to download. This is especially helpful if you have duplicated your design and only want one of the images. It also allows you to publish with crop marks and bleed for printing.

Overall, Canva deserves a 4.5/5 stars. The few glitches I have experienced are no match for the incredible features they offer. They are continuing to develop and improve every day, so the issues I experienced may not be your issues in the near future. If you’re interested in some of the things I’ve made on Canva, check out my profile.

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