Do you remember a world without Canva? I do! In fact, my first design gig was working for the student union magazine at my university, and I used Photoshop to lay out the pages!

If you don’t know why using Photoshop to design a magazine was a big mistake, that’s alright. Because this article is for you, a small business owner who is juggling a million things and design skills aren’t exactly your superpower.

Since its launch in 2013, Canva has revolutionised graphic design. It’s easier than ever to create high-quality designs for social media, advertising, and even print. But with this newfound power comes a responsibility… the responsibility to avoid some truly cringe-worthy designs!

That’s why Canva has become a bit of a love-hate relationship. Small business owners love its ease of use, while designers sometimes cringe at the results. But hey, there’s a middle ground! With a little knowledge, anyone can use Canva like a pro.

I’ve been navigating the design world for over 14 years, and in that time, I’ve seen some very common mistakes beginners make on Canva. Don’t worry, these are all easy fixes! Keep reading to learn the secrets to avoiding those sneaky mistakes and create designs on Canva like a pro.

Mistake 1: Your margins are too narrow

Margins are the blank spaces around the edges of your design, and they play a crucial role in creating a polished and professional look.

Margins will give breathing room to your design and make it look polished and professional.

Just like a picture frame enhances a painting, margins visually frame your design, giving it breathing room and preventing elements from feeling cluttered or cramped. Effective margins also improve readability by ensuring text isn’t too close to the edge and at risk of being cut off during display or printing.

🤓 Fix it like a pro

Thankfully, Canva takes the guesswork out of margins for most design types! They’ve got pre-set margins built right in that are specifically chosen to look balanced and polished for each layout. Sticking with these built-in margins ensures your design elements have enough breathing room and avoids any unwanted text or image clipping when you go to print.

💡Bonus Tip

If you’re planning on printing your project, be aware of the concept of “bleed.” This is the extra bit of design that gets chopped off during printing. Canva Pro has bleed options, so you don’t end up with any awkward white edges. Find out more about this topic from Canva: Using margins, bleed, rulers, and crop marks | Canva

An example from a flyer with narrow and inconsistent margins
An example from a flyer with narrow and inconsistent margins. If the frame was wider, this would be a great flyer.
Use settings on Canva to start using Canva like a pro
Use settings on Canva to start using Canva like a pro

Mistake 2: Your text and image alignment is inconsistent

A design can look messy fast if text and images are scattered around without order. 

Alignment is key for creating a clean and easy-to-read design. Use Canva like a pro by keeping your text alignment to the left, and placing images at the right place.

🤓 Fix it like a pro

I recommend left alignment for text. It’s the easiest on the eyes, and the most legible if you are writing in a language that goes from left to right. Don’t be afraid to experiment with centre or right alignment for titles or headers, but use them sparingly. Use Canva’s Rulers and Guides function to set yourself some guides as your gridlines.

💡Bonus Tip

If you want to use Canva like a serious pro, think about grid alignment. Grid alignment is your new best friend. It helps you arrange elements in your design in a neat and organised way. Canva has a handy grid function you can turn on, so you can see those invisible lines and create a super structured layout. Check out this great tutorial on YouTube: Canva: How To Add Grid Lines, Guides and Rulers (New FREE Feature 2020)

Example of flyer with incosistent grid, text and image alignment, and narrow margins
This is a great great flyer, but the grid and the alignment of text and images is inconsistent. With more consistent grid and wider margins, this would be a fantastic flyer.
A screenshot of Canva rulers anf guides in action
Use Canva grid presets of draw your own when you activate rulers. This grid is not perfect, but it helped me control the alignment of the text in this flyer

Mistake 3: You are using too many font sizes.

Fonts are the typeface of your text, and just like picking an outfit for your design, it should reflect your message and brand. Font size is like the volume control for your text – too big and it’s shouting, too small and it’s whispering.

Using a limited and consistent font size makes your Canva design look cohesive and professional. The key is finding a balance that’s clear, readable, and complements your overall look.

🤓 Fix it like a pro

Three’s the magic number when it comes to font sizes. Stick to a maximum of three for titles, headings, and body text. The exact font sizes will depend on the kind of design you are creating – it will be different for a presentation versus an instagram post.

My recommendation for flyers:

  • Heading: Go for 22pt for subheadings. This provides a clear distinction from the main title while remaining prominent.
  • Sub-heading: Set 18pt for section titles. This keeps them noticeable and easy to read without overpowering the subheadings or body text.
  • Body text: Chose 14pt as the minimum font size for your design. This is the font that is easily read by most people.

💡Bonus Tip

Think about readability, especially for accessibility. Small, funky fonts might look cool, but they can be hard for people to read. Select fonts that are clear to read. Fonts without serifs (usually  called ‘sans serif’) are considered to be better for readability.

Find out more about the best fonts for accessibility in this blog by HubSpot: Best Fonts for Accessibility and Visually Impaired Users [ADA-Compliant Fonts] | HubSpot

This is an example of flyer with too many different fonts
This is a really fun flyer, but there are three different fonts none of which are the Healthwatch brand font. They are all in different sizes. The person who made this included the right amount of information, so it is not difficult to read.

Mistake 4: Your design has poor colour contrast

Bad colour contrast can hurt your design. A common mistake people make is that the contrast between the colour of the text and the colour of the background is not strong enough. As a result, the text seems to disappear into the background and becomes very hard to read.

Colour contrast is important for both readability and making your brand identity shine.

🤓 Fix it like a pro

Canva has a built-in accessibility checker that will also check for colour contrast between text and background colours. Use it to choose colours that pop and make your text stand out. Use dark colour text on light colour background for maximum readability. Use light colour text on dark backgrounds for emphasis and impact. This tool is available for Pro and free Canva accounts.

💡Bonus Tip

Good designers have a solid grasp of colour theory. Understanding how colours work together can help you create stunning and harmonious colour palettes for your designs. Check out this tutorial if you want to find out more: Colour Wheel and Calculator | Canva

Example of a flyer where colour contrast makes it difficult to read the details in the flyer
This is a flyer where colour contrast makes it difficult to read some of the details. This will be a great flyer with just a few adjustments in alignment and colour contrast.
Screenshot of Canva Accessibility Checker
This flyer is mostly accessible, but I did not add alt-text behind the images. If I were to publish this as a PDF document, people who use accessibility software would probably struggle to read this flyer.

Mistake 5: You don’t edit yourself

Less is always more, especially when it comes to designs that have limited space, like flyer design or social media posts. Aside from design skills, using Canva effectively will also require you to have some basic copy editing skills.

Remember, a clear and impactful message is always better than text overload.

🤓 Fix it like a pro

Read through your text carefully and cut unnecessary text. You must be ruthless!

Here are some questions to consider when editing your text:

  • Is this information essential?
  • Can I rephrase this to be clearer and more concise?
  • Is the message clear and easy to understand?
  • Is the tone appropriate for my target audience?
  • Are there any typos or grammatical errors?

By taking the time to edit your text carefully, you can ensure that your designs are not only visually appealing but also informative and engaging.

Example of a flyer that is overloaded with text and the information is not very easy to see
This is a good flyer. But the text is too long and includes a lot of specialised terms. With a bit of editing, this could be a great flyer.
This graphic is a summary of the top tips in the blog.
This graphic is a summary of the top tips in the blog.

That’s all folks!

Canva is a powerful tool that can help you create professional-looking designs, even if you’re not a design expert. 

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can give your designs a more professional look. One that truly represents your brand in the best way possible.

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