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If you read my previous post about Canva, you’ll know that I’m not a fan.

But I’m also pragmatic enough to understand that my customer base of small business owners is the same as Canva’s, so there is a fair amount of overlap.

To that end, I’ve put together some tips to assist anyone thinking about using Canva to produce print-ready files. Here we go:

How to Create Print-Ready Files from Canva

If you are considering using Canva to create flyers, posters or business cards that require professional printing, I have some important news: Canva lied to you.

When they told you, “You don’t need any design skills – just choose a layout you like and get started”, they didn’t give you the whole story.

Don’t get me wrong: Canva is great for producing low-resolution social media graphics.

But sadly, if you want to get your Canva creations printed professionally, you need print-ready artwork. That requires you to take some time to understand the technical nature of printing and the limitations of Canva as print production software.

Getting print-quality files out of Canva is possible, but you must follow some essential rules and understand some print reproduction fundamentals.

Start with the Bleed Area

Unlike a desktop inkjet printer, when printing professionally, the paper used is larger than the final document size. The printer often uses large sheets for printing multiple orders at once.

Once printed, each job will be trimmed to its finished size. And that’s where bleed comes in.

Bleed is the extra bit of your design (usually a background colour or image) that extends beyond the trimmed edge of your print. If you don’t add bleed, when your job is cut to size, you risk seeing a thin white border where the guillotine didn’t quite align with your background.

Most commercial printers require a 3mm bleed area, and I’m no different.

When you begin a new file in Canva, opt for a custom size instead of using their standard templates and increase the width and height of your page by 6mm – which adds a 3mm bleed area all around. To create an A3 poster (A3 is 297x420mm), your document must be set up as 303x426mm.

Yes, it’s a faff, but this is one of the limitations of Canva from a print perspective. (I’m aware that Canva lets you add bleed to its standard templates, but we don’t use it – more of that below.)

While we are in document set-up mode, remember to increase your inner type margins by 3mm. This has the effect of placing them in the same position as if you hadn’t changed the document size. More on margins later.

Finally, please don’t set up your document at A4 and expect it to print correctly blown up to A3 because it likely won’t (see Resolution below). Set the document up at the correct size you require from the outset.

Use High-Quality Graphics

Every graphic available in Canva should be high quality and suitable for prints up to A4 size and smaller. However, if you need to include custom elements, such as a company logo, ensure that these graphics are both high quality and large-scale to avoid any blurriness when printing. Don’t import a JPG logo file and then enlarge it – it will become blurry.

A Bit About Resolution

Canva images and most web-based graphics are 96 PPI (pixels per inch). Professional printing usually requires 300 PPI, which is nearly four times larger. (I’m not going to get into the difference between PPI and DPI here – except to say that for our purposes, they are interchangeable.)

Making a 96 PPI image smaller in your layout increases its final output PPI, and enlarging a 96 PPI file reduces it. Zooming in on a small detail in a photo and blowing that up to fill the page will very likely make the image resolution too low to print. Unfortunately, Canva doesn’t give you any way of knowing what resolution your graphic elements are.

Understanding Colour

Concentrate – here’s the science bit! RGB and CMYK are two of the many colour models used in design, and they work in unique ways. RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue, and it’s the colour system used to display things on screens – TVs, monitors, smartphones.

By combining the three primary colours at various intensities, your screen can produce a wide range of vibrant and eye-catching hues, perfect for websites and digital content. Canva uses the RGB colour model, as it’s designed for creating social media graphics.

Professional printing, on the other hand, uses CMYK, which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (which is black). Unlike screens that emit light, printers use ink to reproduce colours on paper. (If you’re interested, which I doubt, or suffer from insomnia, look up additive vs. subtractive colour models.)

However, here’s the catch: the CMYK model can’t replicate all the vivid colours you see on your screen. Some super bright blues and greens and neon colours in RGB mode can’t be matched in print, so choosing your colours carefully is essential to ensure they’ll look great on paper.

Sky blue is a common problem – a beautiful summer sky photo on your screen can come out decidedly dull and purpley when printed. And from my days in the motorcycling industry, the bike manufacturer Kawasaki’s signature colour was lime green – it looked fabulous on the bike and in photos but was impossible to match in print.

None of this was the printer’s fault, but a limitation of the colour models used.

Layout Pitfalls to Avoid

It is very easy to knock up a layout for social media in Canva – what you see on your screen will look the same everywhere.

However, professional printing is more variable. One important thing to consider is movement. Depending on the printing process, either the paper is moving during printing or the ink is. No matter how well-calibrated the equipment, this movement means overlaid colours may not quite align.

So this is why it’s a bad idea to use small, thin white text on a coloured or photo background. Similarly, you shouldn’t use very thin coloured lines because any misregistration will cause the white text to fill in (becoming unreadable) and the lines to become blurred.

The type area margins (remember those) of a document are there to stop you from placing important information too close to the edge, where it might be trimmed off when the job is cut to size. Another term for the type area is the safe zone for that reason. Keep all important information at least 5mm (for business cards) and 10mm (flyers and posters) away from the trimmed edge and any folds.

Download Your Artwork as a PDF for Printing

When you have completed your masterpiece, it’s time to download your final design to send to me. In Canva, select the “PDF – Print” option. This export format will provide you with a 300 DPI (dots per inch) file, considered acceptable quality for printing.

Opting for the other PDF option will result in a 96 DPI file, regarded as too low resolution for printing (although it will look great on your screen) – which will be rejected by my printers (and cost you £25 – see below).

Importantly, DON’T tick the box next to “Crop marks and bleed”. We manually added bleed at the start because our final print-ready PDF needs bleed but no crop marks – my printers manage crop marks using their own software. Canva doesn’t allow you to include bleed but no crops (unlike all other industry-standard design software), so we have to do it like this.

You didn’t choose Canva because you wanted to learn lots of technical design information. But sadly, when it comes to getting quality results from print, you need to understand the basics of print production. (I’ll save a discussion of spreads and chokes, ink limits, dot gain and PDF/X file formats for a rainy day 😆.)

So I hope this helps. If in doubt, please ask me first (for page sizes, etc.).

I want you to be happy with your final printed files, so a little preparation at the start will help you get the best results.

Do understand, though, that if I have to correct or send your files back to you to be adjusted, I will add a handling fee of £25 per file.


Photo by Bank Phrom on Unsplash