I know, I know… Canva is free! It’s easy! But is it a good choice for your small business?
I get it. You don’t want to pay for Adobe subscriptions. The templates are easy to use. It feels like a great solution for creatives who want to design pieces for their brand… and in some instances, it can be extremely helpful.
We actually love using Canva for some components of our client designs—it can be a great way to share editable files (like social media graphics) that they can easily update in the future.
But as with anything “free,” there’s usually a catch. Canva is no exception. While Canva can be an incredible tool for some design elements, there are some important considerations you need to think about before relying on Canva for all aspects of your business:
1. You should be familiar with Canva licenses.
In general, any original files that you upload to Canva are considered “User Content” and you retain ownership over those files; however, incorporating any additional design elements can complicate things.
For example, you retain ownership over logo files or custom graphics that you upload. But when you combine those graphics with templates or design elements from the Canva library, you’re adding elements that you don’t actually own. You don’t own the additional design elements—Canva does.
If you add too many of Canva’s elements to go along with your own uploaded file, it could result in a design with more elements owned by Canva than owned by you… meaning Canva is the legal owner of the final graphic (even if you have some license for use).
All of this is generally okay for one-time use graphics (like social media posts)… but it’s tricky territory if you’re creating a logo or other key design element to represent your brand.
If you use design elements provided by Canva, Canva (or an affiliated third party) has varying degrees of legal rights to “your” design. If you use the design for business purposes or for re-sale to a client, you must purchase an additional license for the use of “your” own design.
These are the licenses available through Canva:
– One Time Use License
– Royalty Free License
– Unlimited Reproductions Extended License
– Items for Resale License
– Multi-Seat Extended License
Overall, I would recommend using more of your own design elements (fonts, colors, logos, and graphics) than Canva-owned design elements. This is one reason why I recommend Canva Pro: it allows you to upload your own fonts for additional customization.
The balance should lean toward your own brand, especially if you’re creating something for re-sale or high distribution (like products, email marketing opt-ins, or anything else purchased by or distributed to a wider audience).
You can learn more from The Creative Law Genius; I would highly recommend familiarizing yourself with these licenses before using or distributing any artwork created with the Canva platform.
2. Canva cannot be used to create professional logos.
Aside from the issues mentioned above, it is also important to note that Canva is not a vector-based program. Vectors are files that can be scaled to any size without becoming pixelated; they are the standard for professional design work. Non-vector files (like .jpgs and .pngs) can lose quality and look fuzzy, pixelated, and unprofessional.
When you create work in Canva, the designs are not in vector format. This is a problem if you ever intend to use your brand graphics at larger scale (for example, storefront signage). It also leads to issues with quality reduction and pixelation over time if you and your team are recycling a .jpg in a lossy format.
Non-vectors are also a problem for printing; if your logo is not a vector, you cannot guarantee that your designs will be print-quality resolution. Many printers require vector format, because it is the industry standard for quality printing without pixelation; vector format is also necessary for any luxury print process like letterpress or gold foil.
*Update: as of 2022, Canva now includes .svg file formats and Adobe Illustrator conversions for Pro users! This is a big upgrade that makes it feasible to incorporate some vector-based elements into your design. You can import vector-based files, but you still cannot create custom vector artwork in Canva. This means you can incorporate vector files into your Canva designs, but I still would not recommend using Canva to create original files that should be vectors.
3. It’s hard to protect your brand image.
I can completely understand the appeal when it comes to using templates! It’s so easy to update a Canva template with your images and photos, resulting in a nice-looking semi-custom design. However, using templates can make your brand feel homogenous if you aren’t careful. The templates in Canva that are well-designed tend to become so popular that they no longer feel distinctive.
You can use templates, but it’s definitely worth the extra effort to truly customize them to your brand and make them feel more like your own. Take the time to implement your colors, fonts, and brand images consistently. Customize the design as much as possible to reinforce your own brand image—not the template designer’s.
Which designs should or should not be created in Canva? The short answer: it depends.
In general, here are the Canva uses I would and would not recommend:
Recommended to create in Canva:
– Instagram Story Graphics
– Instagram Reels Covers
– Instagram Carousel Covers
– Pinterest Graphics
– Facebook Graphics
I personally recommend using Canva for social media graphics! Canva makes it easy to duplicate your designs for consistency in your social media branding. I especially love how video-friendly Canva is (compared to professional programs like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop). Creating social media graphics is quick and easy, as long as you keep in mind the licensing factors mentioned above.
Sometimes recommended to create in Canva:
– Email Opt-Ins
– Course Workbooks
– Digital Products (Resources, Guides, Workbooks, etc.)
– Printed Products (Paper Goods, Stationery, Notebooks, Planners, etc.)
– Packaging Designs (Packaging, Boxes, Bags, Labels, etc.)
– Print Files (Collateral Pieces, Business cards, Thank You Notes, Postcards, etc.)
*With all of these items, you need to pay attention to distribution rate and product resale terms. Licensing terms can change at certain thresholds of distribution or resale. You also need to be careful about how much of the design is “yours” and how much of the design relies on licensed elements such as fonts or images—which each may come with their own licensing terms. Lastly, be careful about resolution of your design for high-quality printing.
Not recommended to create in Canva:
– Logos (including logo alternates, sub-marks, variations, badges, or icons)
– Any graphics intended to represent your brand (since these usually cannot be trademarked)
I’m not trying to discourage using Canva for your business (in fact, we really love it!)… but it is important to understand the implications associated with using it.
I want you to feel equipped with all the knowledge you need to make an informed decision about your choice of design platform—so you can feel confident in making a choice that fully supports your brand.
I hope this post helps clarify some of the common questions around using Canva, and gives you the freedom to make a decision that works for you and your business!
*Note: I am not a licensed attorney and therefore cannot offer legal counsel. The opinions listed in this post are not to be considered legal advice; if you are in need of legal counsel, please speak to a licensed attorney.