Canva: Pro Design for the Rest of Us

When we browse the web, or flick through the latest updates on our favourite networks, the unstoppable flow of graphics which bombards our eyeballs is remarkable, and bewildering, in equal measure. We are seeking content, but our gaze falls just as frequently on adverts, profile pictures, banners and logos. These often feel like visual distractions, but quality graphics are unquestionably a key component of any marketing push.

Sadly, for many small business owners, and for individuals wishing to raise their personal profile, it is a component which is out of reach. For many businesses, high quality, professionally-devised branding seems like an extravagantly large investment in these times of financial hardship. Equally, graphic design is by no means a universally held skill. The complexity of most popular graphics apps is also a significant barrier to entry, meaning bootstrap branding may not be an option.

That’s where new online graphics editor Canva, currently in private beta, wants to intervene. Amongst its ingredients you will find a vast image library, numerous preset layouts, a range of commonly used print and online document sizes, and a plethora of professionally created, ready-to-go graphics. On the face of it, you might wonder why something like this hasn’t come to market before. The question is: does Canva reinforce this point, or does it actually illustrate why web-based graphics composition is still, largely, an untamed beast?

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For Starters

It would be hard to make a product that is more straightforward than Canva. As you login and meet your dashboard for the first time, the visual wall of nothingness which meets you is only broken up by the templates on offer, and Canva‘s design challenges (essentially gamified tutorials). And that’s just about perfect; no fuss access to graphics creation. Which, after all, is what you came to do.

Canva provides a classy environment for design.

Canva provides a classy environment for design.

The editing suite has an equally get-out-of-the way attitude, providing obvious routes to the essential parts of its toolkit. Unsurprisingly for a graphics-related web-app, it also looks classy and uncluttered.

Building a Look

There’s a plentiful supply of preset layouts on offer in Canva, and, as a result, you could easily be drawn into thinking that this is a cookie-cutter type of setup. In reality, however, a pretty comprehensive feature-set is on offer for the blending of text and images.

To get started, you need to make two choices. The first is the selection of a canvas — either a preset, as mentioned above, or one of a custom size. Then, you can either choose a Canva-crafted template, or you can immediately start freestyling.

Numerous preset layout are available to get you started.

Numerous preset layout are available to get you started.

Should you opt for the templated route, you’ll find a generously sized, high quality selection to choose from. Most of the templates are designed to be publishable immediately after the addition of some text, or an image. It’s remarkable, in fact, how quickly it’s possible to churn out a poster or Facebook cover photo that actually looks professionally produced.

The Editor

If you’d prefer to be unassisted, or you’d like to mould Canva‘s templates a little more to your style, there are plenty of tools at your disposal. As you work on a canvas, each and every element is draggable, resizeable and rotatable with the mouse — it’s an intuitive way of doing things.

Text is one such example of this ease of use. A visit to the slide-out toolbar on the left of the editing screen is the only chore involved with creating a new text box, and once you’ve placed it in the desired location, you can simply type in your message. As you do so, Canva offers a pop-up with all the usual formatting options (bold, italics, alignment, etc.), a text colour selector and an impressive list of fonts to choose from. Interestingly, along with standard text, Canva also serves up a number of pre-formatted text box templates ideally suited to logos, banners and headers. These are beautifully designed, and you can adjust the colours used in each of them to suit your branding.

Along with different text styles, you can also use  the pre-design text boxes.

Along with different text styles, you can also use the pre-design text boxes.

You can, of course, upload your own images for use in Canva, and use them either as integral parts of your design, or as a background. One neat little feature here is the assortment of background layouts available. The results, assuming the right sort of image is used, look superbly professional.

The real killer feature of Canva, however, is its in-built image and graphics library. Everything from hand-drawn icons to stock imagery can be found here, and a very respectable chunk of it is free to use. What’s more, the items which need to be paid for are all available at micro-stock prices (usually $1), and watermarked preview versions can be freely integrated into your design. Payment is only required when you come to publish your design, at which point, the watermarks are removed.

Premium images are watermarked but usable int the design process.

Premium images are watermarked, but usable in the design process.

All of the elements mentioned above can be layered in whichever order you choose, and each document you create can have multiple pages — ideal for presentations or visually intensive print designs.


The incredible smoothness of Canva‘s editing studio means that, in all likelihood, it won’t be long before you’re ready to publish.

No overabundance of export options, but they get the job done.

No overabundance of export options, but they get the job done.


The easiest method of sharing your artwork is to grab the unique link with which each Canva creation is provided. If you’d prefer to publish it online or in print, you can also export a Canva design as an image or a PDF, or you can send it directly to Facebook or Twitter.

In Total

Let’s face it: Canva doesn’t really provide anything terribly technologically progressive. This kind of web-based drag-and-drop designing has been around for some long time now, and while a lot of work will have gone into the making of this particular service, the fundamental idea is hardly remarkable.

The delivery, however, is remarkable. The editing suite provides a very carefully clipped toolkit, taking away everything but the really important functions of design. In addition, the controls are intuitive and even the little details, such as the pop-up option menus, are beautiful. The result is a workspace which is astonishingly user-friendly. Additionally, the library of resources provided, free of charge, has both the depth and quality to satisfy even the most discerning of brand promoters.

As far as I’m concerned, Canva is already magnificent, in spite of its beta stage of development. Give it a bit more time and exposure, and Canva could very well become an industry-disrupting household name.


Pro quality graphics creation for the rest of us. Brilliant usability and implementation all round.

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