Yes We Canva! series – Getting Started

I like things to look good.

Yeah, I know it’s superficial. I know it makes me sound shallow. But I can’t help it. I think style and substance can go hand-in-hand. Actually, I think they should. I always hated those movies where women (it was usually women) were dowdified to signify that they were smart.

Same goes with my business. I think in my early career I thought that if I tried to make my materials attractive, they would be taken less seriously. That I would be taken less seriously. As a result, my résumé was definitely on the….uninspired side. Same for my proposals. And anything else that could have benefited from a spruce up. Maybe I thought it would detract from the content, but I always shied away from any elements of design.

The irony was, all the companies and individuals I followed, admired and felt drawn to always had slick, stylish graphics on their site. If they sent me downloadable resources they always looked as good as the content within them. Slowly, I started to think that maybe I could do it too. So I tried.

And discovered I have the artistic ability of an ice cream scoop.

(I would say “So it was back to the drawing board” but, clearly, the drawing board wasn’t working.)

Then I discovered Canva.

*cue epiphany music*

First I used it for client work. I often have to produce content for flyers and sales brochures, so I started to use it as a visual aid; allowing me to fit in with their vision of the campaign. Then I began to use it on my business blog; creating infographics to add a little extra to the content, or to produce downloadable resources.

From that point on, there was no stopping me.

As of today, I use it for just about every element of my business you can imagine….


For the type of work I do, it’s incredibly useful, but I genuinely believe that most freelancers could benefit from its magic powers. With that in mind, I thought a three part series on Canva would be helpful, taking you through the basics of how to set it up and get designing, right through to the more advanced functions.

Today, we’re going to focus on using some of the basic functions, so let’s jump right in:

Getting started with Canva

First of all, you need to set yourself up with a Canva account. Just navigate to and you’ll see this screen:

canva set up1

You can choose to create an account using your email or through your Facebook or Google account. It’s up to you. If you decide to do it with your email, you’ll see this screen:

canva set up 2

If you go through Facebook or Google , you’ll be re-directed through those accounts.

When you’ve finished your registration, you’ll see this screen.

Canva setup3

At this point you can choose what you’re going to use your Canva account for. For the record, I chose work…but I don’t think it makes too much difference. Once you’ve made your selection you’ll come to the main home page and get a little popup asking you what you’d like to design first:

Canva setup4

Again, just pick any of these and you can start to have a play with all the design tools that Canva offers. Let’s pick Social Media Graphic. You’ll then be asked which type of social media graphic:

Canva setup5

We’ll pick Facebook graphic for today. If you’re wondering what the difference is between all of them from Canva’s perspective, it relates to the size (in pixels) of each of them. In fact, when you visit the normal Canva home screen, (which is where you’ll usually come to when you log in and looks like this…..)

Canva setup6

….you’ll see a whole range of designs for you to choose from, and they each have their size below them. This is pretty important if, for example, you’re designing a graphic to accompany a Facebook ad, because these have to be a particular size otherwise Facebook won’t allow them within your ad. Another example of when size matters is if you decide to use Canva to design slides for a presentation. PowerPoint uses widescreen, so you need to make sure you select the Presentation (16:9) option, otherwise your Canva slide will just be an image in the middle of your presentation slide on PowerPoint….whereas what you’ll want is for the Canva slide to fill the entire screen. Just a tip I picked up (through annoying, painful, time-consuming experience last year.)

Design time

Let’s get back to the example social media graphic so we can have a play around. Just to remind you, we selected the Facebook Post option – this is what the page will look like. You’ll have some little popup speech bubbles to tell you where some of the key functions are, but I usually prefer to explore by myself.

Canva setup7

You’ll see down the left hand side of the page there are some options for you. Let’s go through them one by one.

Canva layouts

Below the little dropdown menu which says Canva layouts, you’ll see a selection of ready-made templates or layouts. Pretty much all of these are customisable. You can change the colours, text, filters, layout and even the images in them. I’ll give you an example. In my Challenge 500 Facebook group, Fridays are officially Feel Good Fridays, where we all try to share something we’re doing or working on that has made us feel gooooood. I wanted to come up with an image to accompany this post on a Friday, so I selected this template……

Canva setup8

…..but turned it into this:

Canva setup9

If I’d wanted to, I could have changed the image entirely, and just scaled it into the same section of the template….but I kinda liked the photo as it was, so I simply changed the filter.

There are tons of Canva layouts for you to choose from, so you can really go to town. If, however, you’d like to design something yourself, that’s where the other items on the sidebar come into their own…


This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but it’s where you can search for images and icons. When you input your chosen search term, a range of images and icons will pop up (usually more images, i.e. photos, than icons.) For example, if I search for “computer”, this is what comes up:

canva set up 10

If you then want to use one of the results in your design, you just click on them, and they’ll appear on your blank canvas in the main design window. (I’ve selected one image and one icon, so you can see both in the screenshot above.) You can increase or decrease these in size, just by dragging on the little gridlines around each one.

You’ll see that the images have a little banner on them, which say either Free or $1 USD; if you want your graphic designing to be as cost-effective as possible, just make sure you only select the images or icons marked Free. Otherwise, when it comes time to download your design, a little screen will pop up requesting that you pay for the images you’ve selected (there’s also the option to buy “bundles” of the paid-for images.) From the point that you purchase and download your paid-for design you have 24 hours to make any edits – if you exceed that and want to edit, you’ll need to re-purchase those same elements.

All images can be filtered, flipped, cropped and adjusted for transparency.

Basically you can have your images exactly how you want them. All those options are along the top toolbar, above your design canvas.

Next on the list on your sidebar is Layouts, but we’ve already been through that one as it’s the default selection when you choose your design. So we’re going to skip to….


Elements has 9 different options to choose from, and the screen looks like this when you click on Elements in the sidebar:

canva set up 11

Of the 9 selections, I’ve never used the I love Canva selection, because it’s just little banners saying (you guessed it) I love Canva….which, although true, is a bit useless. The other 8 items are useful though, and include things like customisable graphs and charts (like the one I used in last week’s blog post, 10 Ideas For Finding New Clients):

canva graph example

It also has different grids, for example, if you wanted to put a selection of images together….maybe like this:

Canva setup12

You’ve also got images, icons, shapes, lines, free photos and frames – have a play around with these and see how they can enhance your designs.


I’ve got a confession to make:

I’m a bit of a font fiend.

I’ve always found the fonts available on Microsoft Word depressingly limited, so Canva is a breath of fresh air for script addicts like myself. Handwritten, blocky, fun, structured, clean….there’s a font here for everyone. There’s also a similar array of formatting choices – all the usual ones like bold, italic, left, right and centre alignment, as well as the text types – heading, subheading and body text (see screenshot below).

You can also change the colour of your text, adjust the text and line spacing, make the text more transparent and add hyperlinks. All these functions can be found in the top toolbar above your design canvas. All pretty handy stuff. The left hand side bar also has some ready-made text arrangements, in the form of headlines and signage. Here are a few examples:

canva set up 13


The next one down on your Canva sidebar of graphic design glory is Background. This is pretty self-explanatory – it allows you to choose the background for your design. There are tons to choose from (again – some are marked Free and others are $1 USD), from coloured to textured, some with printed backgrounds, others with an image as the backdrop:

Canva setup14

You’ll see from the screenshot above that I added some text – another handy feature is the ability to centre and align your text. This works particularly well when you’re producing documents (for example, a CV or a pricing proposal – which we go through in Part 2 of this series) – the alignment gridlines make it easy to see at a glance if all your text is balanced and aligned.


The final item on your sidebar is Uploads. This is where you can upload your own images and logos and keep them stored there. It’s super handy for resources you use all the time. For example, your business logo, or your profile picture. Again, just like the Canva images, just click on them to bring them over on to your design canvas.

canva set up 15

Again, just like the Canva images, you can filter, crop, flip, arrange (i.e. bring to front or send to back), adjust the transparency and add hyperlinks.

Pretty cool, huh?

Saving and downloading

Once you’ve finished your design, it’s easy-peasy to download it. First, I change the name of the file, by clicking on the Design Title beside the share button which is on the toolbar at the top (above your design canvas) and typing in whatever I want to call my design – in this example, I called it Canva options:

canva set up 16

Next, click Download (it’s the middle button in the top right hand corner of the top toolbar.) You’ll have 4 choices for what you want to save your design as – they’ll appear in a dropdown menu: JPG, PNG, PDF – Standard and PDF – Print. (The PDF – Print option is higher quality than the Standard option.)

Just choose the logical choice for your project. In this case, as it was a Facebook post graphic, I selected PNG.

Once you’ve clicked Download your design will start to download….unless you need to pay for any images, in which case you’ll have to input your card details. Once you’ve done that, you’ll see this screen:

Canva setup17

Once it’s done – your design is yours to use as you please!

Next time….

So today we looked at how to set up your Canva account and had a snoop round the basic design functions. In the next post in this Canva series, I’m going to take you through designing a CV and a client proposal on Canva…though if I have any other requests between now and then I might sneak on some extra tips too.

Questions or comments?

If you’ve got any burning Canva questions you’d like to ask me before Wednesday’s post on CV and proposal design in Canva, just leave a comment below or email me at If you enjoyed today’s post, don’t forget to share it on social media, you can use the hashtag #yeswecanva and connect with me on @Jo_SilverT or on the Silver Tongue Facebook page.

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Hallelujah! This article makes my day!

  • Mindy says:

    Thank you for this! I was confused about the 24 hour disclaimer and thought that maybe you had to pay $1/every 24 hours. I also was wondering if you had any input for how to get the watermark removed from online embeds? I am a Canva Work Paying customer. My slide show uses “free” images (little crown icon) but when I embed my work – the graphics have a watermark on them and I am not sure how to remove that? I did send Canva a form submit about this – but haven’t heard back. In any case, thanks again for a great, easy to follow explanation.

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