You’ve found the incredibly useful image editing software, Canva! Nice Job!
Now you can create all of the images you can dream of for your projects, fast and easy! With this helpful beginner’s guide, you’ll learn how to use Canva and:
- Sign up for a Canva Account
- Download the Canva Desktop Application
- Navigate the Canva Interface
- Create a basic template
- And save and export your first image for use elsewhere
- We’ll be making a Custom YouTube Thumbnail Template for this guided project
Table of Contents
Introduction to Canva: What it is and Why It’s Useful
Canva is a feature-rich graphic and media design platform that is incredibly easy to use. It is an excellent tool for making YouTube thumbnails, social media gifs, PDFs, and much more.
I have been using Canva for a little over a year now to create and source every image that appears on this website. It provides me with plenty of easy-to-use tools to create image templates which I can use to create images – like the one you see above.
It is powerful enough for my needs and definitely has a place for people. For example, novice YouTubers often can’t afford to hire an artist for every single visual asset they need for a thumbnail or other media assets within their content. That is where something like Canva comes in, allowing rapid iteration of an image template to create similar images to fit a standard format.
- It is extremely easy to use
- No extensive graphic design knowledge is needed
- It has a fast creation process
- It stores your creations in a cloud server, accessible from any device with a browser and login credentials.
- Teams feature – Work on an image with a team of designers
- A reasonably priced premium subscription model
- Not capable of certain effects that are possible in dedicated image manipulation programs like Photoshop or GIMP
- Requires an internet connection to use
- Images on the free version are not safe for commercial use (unless specified)
- It takes a lot of extra time to check each image you use
Setting Up Canva
This section of the guide on using Canva will start at the very beginning and teach you the basics.
After reading this section, you will:
- Have your Canva Account Created
- Have the desktop application version installed if you want to use it over the browser version (Recommended)
- and have an understanding of the basic Interface options
If at any point something doesn’t make sense, please leave a comment below, or join our community discord to get additional help.
Go To Canva’s Website and Create your Account
As this is a beginner’s guide, I will start this tutorial at the very beginning.
Before you can do anything with Canva, you first need to create an account. This process takes only four steps, and they are all fairly easy. I’ve written them out for you so that you can have a sort of checklist, should you need it.
Feel free to skip ahead if you already did this.
- Navigate to Canva’s Login Page.
- Use one of the following methods to create the Canva Account
- Apple Account Link
- Google Account Link (Easiest method)
- Facebook Account Link
- Email Link (Most secure method)
- Clever Account Link
- Mobile Number Link
- Enter the appropriate login information for the chosen platform (Or set a unique account using the email option)
- Sign in
When logged in, you should see something similar to this: (I’m in dark mode. I’ll have a guide on how to switch to dark mode linked here soon!)
Now, you could just start using Canva and skip Step 2, but I recommend using the app over the browser version for a few reasons. Mainly, it’s a cleaner interface, reducing your browser tab load by one, which can potentially save on some system RAM, depending on how many extensions your browser is running.
(Optional) Download the Canva Client
If you want a little bit of a cleaner interface, I recommend downloading the desktop client of Canva. The application has several advantages over the browser edition, such as:
- No top navigation menu, which is unnecessary when designing your images
- Doesn’t get lost in the sea of browser tabs – Has it’s own taskbar icon
- Better performance, especially if you run a lot of browser extensions
- And More
You can download the Canva app to a Windows, Mac OS, iOS, or Android machine.
When you download the app, you’ll need to sign into your account that you just created – the application itself will take you through the process step-by-step, so I don’t need to include a small guide for it.
Navigating the Canva Interface: An Overview of the Layout and Features
The main elements of the home section of Canva are all designed to get you into a project as quickly as possible. Plenty of starter templates are presented to you, all common uses of Canva. You’ll seldom be in this section when using Canva, so it makes sense it is laid out to make things as straightforward as possible.
I want you to take a good look at the main navigation menu, particularly the options called Templates and Projects.
Starting off with Templates, upon clicking it, you’ll be greeted with this section:
It is here that you will use that search bar at the top.
- Left-Click into it
- Type in YouTube
- Press Enter
- You’ll see something that looks like this:
As you can see, there are a lot of base templates to work with. Going further, type thumbnail and select it. Here, you’ll see a lot of thumbnail starting points.
For this tutorial, I’m going to select the first option there, “The Most Attractive Thumbnail,” created by Tive Studio, as it immediately grabbed my attention. This particular template is for Pro users only, so if you’re using a free account, just pick one that grabs your attention the most.
Canva Editor Overview
In the Canva Editor, there are seven main parts of the interface:
- Tool Functions
- Collapse Button
- Image Canvas
- Lock, duplicate, create new page quick buttons
- Scale Bar
- Grid View for Seeing multiple pages
The most important sections are 1, 2, and 4, as they will be the most used sections of the tool. In fact, let’s talk about the toolbar.
Canva Toolbar Deep Dive
In the Canva toolbar, there are three sections that you will find the most useful – the other sections are there for organizational purposes or to add extra tools.
The most helpful sections are the ones labeled:
These sections allow you to use stock images included with Canva (elements), Upload your own images (Uploads), or add text to the image to add contextual hints. They are the bread and butter of any image you make, even if you are only using pre-made templates by others to speed up your creative process.
Projects are just Canva’s word for files and folders you have already made, and Logos is something that lets you upload specific images that you intend to reuse a lot – like logos.
The Tool functions section (Probably not its actual name, but that is how I understand it) is the browsing section of the editor to access stock images, uploads you’ve made, text options, file and folder browser, logos browser, and apps browser.
It’s just the area of the program that changes contextually based on the part of Canva you are using. This allows you to keep the image you are editing while doing small subtasks.
If you want to focus on the image itself, you can use the collapse button to squish down the Tool Functions tab. This will dynamically adjust the scale section to expand the image into the new whitespace and keep the window size the same.
The Canvas of the image is where you manipulate the various parts that make up the final image. From stock photos, AI-generated images, your own photos, and primitive shapes, it all comes together on the canvas.
This is where you will spend most of your creative energy and, ultimately, is where the final product will come from.
Lock, Duplicate, and New Page Quick Buttons
These three helpful buttons will be beneficial in the rapid iteration of a template. The duplicate function is one that I use most often for my templates.
For the record, Canva has a limit of 100 pages per template, even for pro users, but it isn’t hard to make a second copy of the template and delete 99 pages to keep using it beyond the original while keeping each page of the previous file editable.
The scale bar will adjust the Image canvas size, allowing you to zoom it in and out to conform to your needs. For example, if you are doing highly detailed work, you can zoom up to 500%, making it 5 times bigger than normal. Then, to get an overall look at the entire image, you can scale it as low as 10%.
I use this feature pretty often.
Grid View for Multiple Page Projects
If you like to utilize that page feature of Canva, this will be very helpful to you in navigating your designs and finding one that suits the context of your next project. Then you can apply the appropriate tweaks to it, and you have another iteration ready to download.
Editor Deep Dive
Now we take a good look at the image canvas and the editing tools available in it.
When you click on an element within the canvas, it will be selected unless it is locked. from here, you will see a few handles that look something like this:
- The two circles with the refresh icon and the move icon will rotate the selected element and move the selected element on the canvas
- The Circles on the 4 corners of the selected elements will scale the element up or down symmetrically
- The Flat pill-looking handle on the selector will crop images and squish text into more lines.
- Pressing the delete key will delete the selected element
- Double-clicking the background image will allow you to position it better
- Ctrl-Z will undo your last action
- Ctrl-Y will redo your last undone action.
- Remember, leaving Canva and returning later will remove the ability to undo and redo until you do more actions. Be sure to leave the image in a state you don’t want to undo later.
The thing about this, though, is that it is all fairly intuitive to even beginners with little to no experience with image editing tools. This is what makes this program a fair bit easier to use than most image editing options, which makes heavy use of shortcuts to accomplish the same thing. Shortcuts that you’d have to memorize, making it a more frustrating experience for beginners.
Text Element Modifiers
Here, you will see a pretty standard icon toolbar for controlling the selected text properties. From Left to Right:
- Zing Rust Base – the Font of the text
- 50 – The Size of the text
- A – The color of the text
- B – Bold toggle
- I – Italics toggle
- U – Underline toggle
- aA – Case Control
- Text Alignment icon
- List toggle
- Letter spacing control
- Special effects tab
- Animations (for Gif and MP4 Creation)
How to Change the Background Color
One final addition to this beginner’s guide on how to use Canva is to change the background color. Changing the background color can have a BIG effect on the final image in how it can get people’s attention.
Red is definitely eye-catching, but I feel it is a little bit too, uh, “in my face,” I guess, and it takes away from its ability to deliver the message I wanted to give my audience.
I’m going to pick something more Subdued, and to do that:
- Select the background image or layer
- Left Click on the color box
- Select a color of your choice
And now, it’s a different color! I chose the Twitch purple brand color, as that is what looked the best from by pallet of brand colors. It still catches the eye, but the red shirt contrasts the purple background and cause your eyes to drift to it as the focal point. This puts the focus on the subject, rather than the background, which was a bit too busy for my taste.
Sometimes, the color box may not have that rainbow effect. Instead, it will be the color that it is already assigned to it, as seen in this next image:
Don’t Panic; the process is the same!
Now, you may have noticed that the background accented images are now gone. This is because Canva replaced the embedded image with a flat color. (Don’t worry, ctrl-Z will undo it if you want it back!).
Alternate 1: Use The Adjust Tool
If you like that pattern but want to change the color from red to something else, you can actually still do that using Canva’s Adjust tool. This keeps the pattern of the image, but shifts the color to something else.
If you click on Edit Image after selecting the background, as seen in the above toolbar image in the previous Section, you will see something like this:
- Left Click on Edit Image
- Select Adjust
- You may need to select the “See all” text to get that to appear under the recently used tools as it appears on my screenshot.
I fiddled with the sliders here and ended up with this thumbnail design:
Note – You won’t always be able to easily adjust the color, like with this example, but I happen to really like the blurred effect with the added Vignette and darkening of the color. It really makes the rest of the content on the thumbnail really pop out at you.
The only thing left to do now is to export and download your thumbnail.
The Final Step – Exporting & Downloading Your Image
Do you see that Share button at the top right of the interface? This is where you can export your image to various places, including downloading it to your computer. When You click it, you’ll see this menu appear:
For the sake of the tutorial here, I’m just going to show you how to use canva to download the image to your computer. From here, you can back it up on your favorite cloud storage service (Or home file server) if you use them, and upload the image to…wherever you intend to use it.
Upon clicking the Download button, this menu will replace the first:
I recommend that you choose an appropriate file type – images with transparency must be PNG or SVG, but images with a lot of varying pixels should be jpg.
If you intend to make an e-book or notebook template, choose the PDF Print format. Wanna get some B-roll for that YouTube Video you just made? Save it as an MP4.
When you are done, click the big purple download button, choose a suitable file location, and you’re off to the races.
Pro tip: check the file size and export as other types if you need to conserve HDD space.
And that’s it! I hope that you found this guided tutorial post helpful for you in learning how to use Canva for making a YouTube Thumbnail! I hope you have a great day