Goals · how to · Pay It Forward · Pictures · Writing

Writer Wednesday: How to Use Canva

For authors and publishers, finding a good site to make your own promo posters is a must. Making posters can be a time consuming task for authors, taking hours upon hours, especially when making multiple posters or those for a series, so the site they use has to be simple, effective, and ease to navigate.

My go-to site has been PicMonkey until now, however, I always had a few issues with the site – it never let you save your project, so you couldn’t go back to make changes, and it never gave you handy templates or a grid to find the centre of your poster. The new BETA version does this, but it only began recently, and by then I’d already found Canva. Now, it’s my preferred site.

For those curious, this is a step-by-step guide from my own experiences. So, if there’s anything wrong, it’s all my fault. Canva has a free version, as well as a paid, upgrade, version. I use the free version and that’s what I’ll be showing you. Also, Canva 2.0 only got introduced a week ago and I haven’t been able to give it a try yet, so this How To is for the 1.0 version.



  1. Open Canva, sign up and move through the options, buttons and changes with me. It can be a practice run, made up of crappy images or made-up text, but it really is the best way to follow along and see what I’m talking about. By trying it, you’ll get a better feel for what you’re doing. Canva will auto-save after each change, so you don’t have to worry about losing your progress if anything goes wrong. But, if you’re nervous, simply click File and Save to make sure as we go along.

  2. Use the Chrome browser. I usually use an Opera browser for all my internet needs, but Canva isn’t properly set up for Opera so won’t work effectively there. Here’s what Canva tells you in the Help section about supported browsers:

“For the best experience using Canva, we recommend using the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer or Edge. Mobile versions of these browsers are not supported.”



This is your Home Page, where all your designs will be stored. They’re automatically labelled as the name of the design, but on this page, you can rename them to your own title, as well as delete or make copies of them using the drop down arrow menu in the top right corner of each project.

This is also where you’ll be able to choose from “all your designs”, “shared with you”, “create a team”, “your brand”, and “find templates”. While all the tabs are basically self-explanatory, the “Your brand” is an area that makes suggestions based on your previous uses, for example, colours, templates and themes that you’ve used before. However, Your Brand is a paid feature, so I can’t show you an example of that.

All Your Designs

Shared With You

(I sent this to myself, from a second account, to test the feature)

Create a Team

Find Templates


How to open a template: choose an option from the home page “create a design” section (or choose More… to see other options), then click the design you want and your template will open automatically into a new tab. Each template tells you the size it will be, either in px, mm or in. Choose the one most fitted to your needs and, if you’re not sure, there are options for set sizes like Instagram and Facebook will give you a recognisable size to work from.

How to create a blank template: on the home page, choose “use custom dimensions” and insert your choice of size (px, mm, in). You can Google conversions if you’re not sure what size you prefer, or you can base the size of your need on the measurements of an existing template that needs to be adjusted. You cannot resize a template or a design in the free version.

How to save a completed design: use the “download” button on the top right of the screen, and choose your format (png, jpg, pdf). Your download will auto-save to your computer “download” folder in your preferred format. (Canva will auto-save as you’re working; but you can choose the File, Save option to make sure if you’re nervous.)

How to share your design: click the “share” option while your design is open. There are multiple options for sharing with a link, through an e-mail address, or straight to a social media site or by embedding it.



The most important thing to know about Canva is that it looks daunting, but it’s actually simple to use and navigate. Everything is clearly labelled, there are information buttons all over the place, and the paid features are clearly marked. There is nothing hidden about using Canva.

To start, I’ll walk you through the Tabs, which appear once you’ve selected a template. Then through all the buttons that are associated with each tab, until you feel like you know your way around. Only then will we start creating.

Choose a Template

Choose a template on the home page. You’ll see a few options at the top of the page, but you can click on the “More…” option to see more templates for other sizes (which show you their dimensions if you hover over them) or you can create your own using “Use custom dimensions” where you can use the drop down menu to determine px, mm, in. Here’s a broad view of the templates on offer through the More… page:

Once you’ve decided on your choice, you can start making your design. Here, I’ve chosen the “Instagram Post” option, which is 1080px x 1080px. To choose it, just click on the image provided and it will open in a new tab.

As you can see from this screenshot, you have the choice of making your image public, ordering prints, downloading the result and sharing the image to social media sites, by using the buttons in the top right corner. On the left, that’s where you make the changes to your design.

The images on the left are templates – you can see from the bottom right of the images which ones are free and which ones you have to pay for. You can also “add a new page” which is a great option for when you want to make a PDF or make copies of the same image. I’ll show you how I did that later.


Using the “upload” button, I’ve added a couple of images from my computer. You can also upload from Facebook or use the images that Canva offers. Progress bars will appear on each image to show you how far they’ve loaded. The image can’t be accessed until the progress bar disappears. If you get an error message and image is unclickable, that’s an internet connection issue and you can try to upload that image again, once all the others have finished. I do find that, sometimes, when uploading multiple images, at least one will fail due to the connection being overloaded or cut.

You can work while the images are being uploaded, switching tabs, editing text etc. The Uploads title in the bar section will turn into a circle with flowing green water that rises as your uploads complete, to let you know how it’s getting on. This is great if you want to get busy while your images upload.

Once they’ve loaded, just click the image and drag it into the template. Alternatively, you can have a blank template and drag your image into the white space. You can resize your image to the full scale of the template, or move your image into the space until it auto-inserts itself. There is a sweet spot for doing this, and it will take a few tries before you find it.

If your template comes with a frame-template (such as the template I’ve chosen does) you can remove the existing image without replacing it with your own. Simply click the image, then choose the “rubbish bin” symbol at the top right corner. You’ll be given the option to “delete image” or “delete element” aka the frame-template. This is great to know before you start.

Here’s a quick view of what all the buttons do.

Transparency speaks for itself – you can fade your text/image.

Arrange – this is great if you want to layers or manipulate how your text/image sits in the poster. You can move things back or forward, depending on how you want it to look. For example, if you want an image/design to overlay your text you can do that, or you can move it behind the text.

Delete – delete image allows you to delete the current picture in the frame-template, but delete element will remove that frame-template entirely, if you decide you don’t like it or if you want to start from scratch.



Going left to right, let me talk you through what each section does:

Layouts – This is where you choose a template, if you want to. If you don’t, you can easily choose a simple template and delete all the elements to start afresh. We’ll come back to explore this area more later, where I show you how to “build” your own elements into an image.

Elements – This is where you find all that useful stuff you might want to add to your picture. Squiggly lines? Check. Shape blocks? Check. Pictures, frames, lines, details, or grids. It’s all here.

Text – This is where you can choose a text layout, if you’re not sure how you want your text to look. This is great inspiration for grouping text together, or to help you get the set you want, without having to do all the work yourself. I’ll show you how to “group” text later.

Background – Here, you find options for adding a “background” to your image. This is great for layering, and I’ll show you how to use it later.

Uploads – This is where you’ll find all the images you’ve uploaded, where you can search the images Canva provide, and where you can organise them into or out of your design.


Because the Elements tab offers so many options, here’s a closer look at what it involves:

The grids tab is great for making Character Cards or collages, for advertising a series. The frames tab is better for when you want to make posters with multiple images or overlays, in circles or odd shapes. Take a look at the Canva offered templates to see how they utilise these features.

I admit that I use the white square a lot when there’s an aspect of a photo that I need to hide from my poster – e.g. text on clothing or background features that don’t fit your theme. You can change the colour of ALL of these shapes to anything you want. You can also change the colour of ALL of the lines, too.

These three tabs I have never used. Only because they don’t fit anything I need or want for my posters. One day, I might need them and, if so, I know where to find them.



The best way to learn is to do. So that’s how we’ll start. I’ll walk you through how to choose a template, how to create a simple poster, and then save it, step-by-step from start to finish. Then I’ll walk you through how to add all the little touches, embellishments and fancy stuff. Through all of that I’ll show you how to use all the tabs and additional features.


Add Text

To add an image to my template, click the one you want, drag it into the blue/field template and it will automatically center-align the image.

To edit the text of a template, simply double-click the existing text and re-write it with your own. Or, you can choose the Text tab, and choose a template to edit, or click “add” and edit that.

Canva supply their own fonts. If you want to use your own, you’ll have to upgrade to the paid version. However, I find the fonts that Canva supply to be diverse for my needs. If you want to use another font but don’t want to upgrade, simply download your design without text and add that special font using another program like PicMonkey.


Add Effects

As well as adjusting your text and image here, you can add effects to your image. Simply click the image and a whole new set of buttons will appear.

It can feel daunting, at first, considering how many buttons and options there are, but I find that the top row offer the best adjustments for your image, and once you know your way about, it becomes second-nature.

My favourite effect is “Cali” which offers a softer version of your image. Or, you can add an overlay image by using the side buttons. What I love is that Canva shows you what your image will look like with that effect.


How to Group Text

To start off, let’s group some text. As you can see from my image, I used the template as provided. This means one image, one frame, and one text. Click on your text, then click the “copy” button to create a second option. Then edit that text to something new. For this design, I’ll make it my name. Now, click outside the box and drag until it highlights ALL of the elements. A new button “group” will appear. Click that and we’re good to go.

Now, all of that text – The Bright Side Brigade, and Elaine White – are linked to that white square. By clicking the corner circle, you can resize that entire selection to whatever size you like. See below. A handy addition to Canva is that it will automatically show you when you’ve reached the centre of your image, by displaying non-intrusive lines that disappear once you release your resize/selection.


As you can see, changing the size can completely change the look of your design. Say that I’m super happy with how it looks, I can click the download button to save it. It will auto-save to your Computer “download” folder.

Now that I’ve done that, I want to make a new poster. I can go back to the beginning and start a new design. For now, I’m going to keep this one and delete the text “group” and change the image to keep it simple.

As you can see, I’ve simply changed the image, and chosen a new text template “Certificate” – now I can start customising it. By changing the text words, resizing so that the text takes up more space, I can create a whole new poster. But I’m not going to stop there. I’ve changed the top font to something more my style, now I want to add a background.

I go to the background tab and choose one that I like. This time, I’ll choose one that is a purple dimple (Second down in my screenshot)

Now, I want this purple dimple to be black. So, I click on my image and drag it down so that I can see what’s behind it. Then I click the purple dimple and choose the light grey option (the one just above white) from the colour chart.

Then I just have to move my image back and make a small adjustment so that you can see the background through the image. This means adjusting the transparency to 65%. But, that’s not all I want to do. Now, I want to add some sort of design, to make it a bit more elegant. I’ve chosen to search for a “flower” element. Canva is very transparent about what elements you pay for and which are free. I’m going to scroll through the results to find a free option.

Now, I’ve chosen my flower, adjusted the size and resized my font to allow it all to fit nicely.

I love the design, so I download it. But, I want to make a new poster for a new series, while saving THIS one for later, in case I want to come back and reuse it for another book, or in case I have a title change. But, at the same time, I want to keep some elements of this design.

The easiest way to keep this design while being able to use it for another project is to make a copy. Go to File, click “make a copy” and an identical design will open in a new tab. Voila!

Here, for the new design, I’m going to delete EVERYTHING, and start from scratch.


For this design, I want to make a collage of images, but I also want to make it for my 6 book series: Decadent. So, I’m going to want SIX identical designs, with only the title changed. First, I want a layout that I like, so I click “Element” and choose “Frame”:

I’m going to pick a split design, because I want one image and one place for text in each picture. So, I click the design I want, and it appears in my blank template. I only have to resize it to fit the full template space and then I’m ready to add my elements. First, an image and some text.

Now, I’ve got quite a few images already left over from my old project and I don’t need them here, so I’m going to delete them – this will NOT make them disappear from my other design, nor will it mean that I can’t adjust that design again later without uploading the image first. All images already IN your designs remain there and on the server, but if you delete them from your design and change your mind long after the “undo” button is no longer an option, then you will need to add it back in again.

To delete an image, simply go to your Uploads tab, and hover over the image. You’ll see a little i icon in the bottom corner. Click that and then choose “trash”. All done. Now it’s time to upload new images for the new poster design.


By clicking the Text tab, and then “add subheading” I can add unformatted text and choose the font from the list provided. I’ll use this text for my quote. But I’m going to use a vector for my title/author name. To do this, I simply created the text in a blank white template, saved it, and used LunaPic to make the background transparent. I’ll add this transparent vector to my design just as if it was any other image, in the uploads section.

A transparent vector CANNOT by treated like any other image on Canva. It can’t be inserted into a frame-template, and you’ll get a warning message that it can’t be used like another image every time you click on it. It’s a small annoyance but one that is worth remembering.


I’ve chosen a frame-template that is square, with a square cut out, so when I choose a background image that will appear as a square frame. I’m going to choose a background image that is like marble, and pick a colour from the actual image so that they match/contrast.

Once I’ve put it all together, I want to make a copy, so that all six for my series will be the same. Instead of making six different files for all six books of my series, I want to keep them in one place. So, I’ll go for the other “copy” option that Canva offers: making a second page.

To do this, there’s a simple image of a page at the side of the image, as well as the more obvious “add a new page” button beneath it. Either one of these will do, but “add a new page” will appear blank, while the double-page image will create an exact copy of what I’ve already got on my screen. That’s the one I want for this design.

Now, I just delete the vector for book 1, replace it with the vector for book 2, change the image and the background colour, and change the quote. Simple! And repeat until all six books are done.

Now that all six posters are complete, there are a few options for saving –

  1. save as a zip file
  2. save an individual page at a time, by specifying that page number
  3. saving as a PDF

Saving as a PDF is a great option, if this is now a poster project but one that will be printed, or one that you’re going to use it for an online website or promotional material. Saving as jpgs or png are better for poster options.


So, that’s Canva. I know it looks complicated, but it takes me less time to whip up a poster on Canva than it does on PicMonkey – old or BETA version. It just takes time and understanding what aspects you need to access and which ones you don’t need to use. And, if in doubt, use the search option!

Now that I’ve shown you about, I’m going to show you what can be done with Canva. These are some of my favourite mock-covers and posters that I’ve made with Canva. These are the ones that took the most time, the most effort, and made the most of the features available on Canva.

And, yes, I made this collage in Canva. As a P.S. let me just say that the first cover, Moirai, was my favourite to make, because the split picture is actually a template provided by Canva. You can insert either three different images or add the same image into all three slots.

If you do the latter, as I did, then there’s this really cool feature that helps you line up the images so that they match perfectly – double click the center image and get it lined up to where you want it. Then release it, double click the first image and as you begin to move it, you’ll see it line up with the center image. Keep going until they match perfectly (you’ll see a slight blur until it matches) and then you release that image and do the same for the third image. In the end, as I have, you’ll have a perfectly matched image across three lines.


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