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Wanting to sell posters you made in Canva? Here's what to know in 2019.

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

The very popular graphic design platform called Canva is an easy-to-use and intuitive space that allows you to quickly make your own posters, social media posts, pinterest visuals etc.


It seems like a win-win all round for those who are less than tech-savvy who can finally get into design. It also helps people like me, who may have created/designed/overseen a lot of digital work over the years, but who've never really grasped the full use of Photoshop or InDesign, mostly because we've got lost & overwhelmed.


So. What we already know about Canva is that it is FAB for helping you create an online brand by designing your own promotional stuff for Pinterest, blog posts, social media shout-outs, business cards etc.


BUT, is Canva any good when you want to design something to sell on? I didn't know, but wanted to find out, specifically for selling posters.


First, a little about what I started looking into this - my 8yr old wanted me to design a poster for her (pink, obvs) room that has a cute dog covered in paint because she couldn't find one anywhere. Quite where she's been looking, because I know she isn't on Amazon and she isn't driving herself to the mall every Saturday, isn't the point, she tells me.


So I found her that picture in Canva, I designed her that poster (adding one of my fave inspo quotes to make me happy that we can call it 'educational' and not just another piece of tat that seems to multiply in her room by the month), and I printed it, and it looked blooming amazing.



See? Isn't he cute?

And then her friend asked me to make her one too, just as her mum said I should be selling them.


Well, I like the idea of a little passive income, I mean who wouldn't? Have you seen those How-to instructional posts/videos on passive income earning from printables*? It's so easy! they shout. Any idiot can do it! they shout (well, that's not exactly the phrase they use, but you know that's what they're thinking).


*Printables - a digital download where the purchaser pays a fee to download a design file at home, sometimes edits it like in the case of birthday party invites, and either prints it at home or sends it onto a professional printing company to print

Nowadays, you can drop a shopify store into your own website and sell printables direct to joepublic, or of course you can set up an Etsy store, harness their power, and sell through them. There's a number of steps to the process, but it's totally possible. Earning money while watching Real Housewives (no judging, I'm totally obsessed) - who wouldn't be tempted?


And so I started asking the internet some questions about what was allowed and what wasn't, and it got murky quickly, particularly in the areas of templates and images. There are already a good number of articles and blog posts published about what's legal or not, but I found it very difficult to work out how recent those articles were written, and whether they were still relevant, so I went to the source to trawl through Canva's own Terms & Conditions.


What I found was surprisingly easy to understand and written in plain English, not confusing legalese. (Bravo, Canva!) The same rules will apply for any item you're thinking of selling.


Here's a summary as at September 2019:

Templates


You CANNOT sell your poster to joepublic if you used a Canva template that you just grabbed and dragged onto your design. Full stop. That Canva template belongs to someone and it would be breaking the law for you to do so.


You CANNOT sell your poster to joepublic if you changed that Canva template a little or even a lot.


You CANNOT sell your poster to joepublic if you haven't changed that Canva template but your purchaser is intending to i.e. you've made it into an editable file.


You CAN sell your poster to joepublic if you did NOT use a Canva template i.e. you just used a stock photo like I did above and added your own text. This is when you are truly designing from scratch.


(You CAN actually even sell your own Canva templates to joepublic that you designed in Canva as long as they don't match, or look remotely similar to one of the in-built Canva templates.)


So that's fine, you think. I'll not use their templates, I'll just design my own poster and use their image because it'll give me such high-quality and there's so many to choose from. But...


Images


Back in 2003 when I did a Masters degree in online publishing, the legal uses of photos and stock photos was a swirling vortex of pain and a long, long way from being clear cut.


But thankfully, today it's different and platforms like Canva have clearly worked hard to make things as simple as they can be while protecting the photographer's rights.


All photos that have the word 'free' in the corner are able to be downloaded and used anywhere, including on items to be sold on by us acting as the purchaser.


It looks like the word 'free' on the photo does not refer to it being free to download, but rather to the Free Images License Agreement that you are agreeing to the terms of when you use that image

Now, just because this Agreement has the word free in it, doesn't mean it's a free-for-all. There are plenty of rules, but for my poster-making, here's what's relevant:


1) I cannot redistribute or sell the images on other stock photo or wallpaper platforms

2) I should check the source on every image I want to use as there are 2 exceptions to Canva's license - photos from Pixabay or Pexels who fall under their own Agreements. You do this by clicking on the top right dots on the image. All other images will fall under Canva's rules.

3) All free photos on Canva can be used for free for commercial and noncommercial use.

4) Free images can be exported as many times as I need in as many designs as I like. This means I can change out the background of my dog as many times as I like. I could even customise a background for a purchaser's request.

5) It says, "You can modify the photos. Be creative and edit the photos as you like."

6) It says, "Don't sell unaltered copies of a photo e.g. don't sell it as a stock photo, poster, print or on a physical product without adding any value."

7) Obviously, you have to use the photo in a professional, inoffensive way and not for any of that other business thank you very much. You know what I'm talking about, so I don't need to spell it out.


It goes on to detail Permitted Uses of the stock media:

"a. invitations, advertising and promotional projects, including printed materials, product packaging, catalogues, brochures, greeting cards and postcards for promotion and/or resale, without any reproduction quantity limit"

and

"g. prints, posters (i.e. a hardcopy) and other reproductions for personal or promotional purposes, resale, license or other distribution"


Now, there are other Licensing Agreements that photos without the 'free' word fall under. They're called a One-time use license, a Multi-use license or an Extended License. You pay extra for these photos (on top of your monthly Canva Pro subscription) as they are premium. They carry more restrictions in the numbers of reproductions you are allowed to use. For my purposes, I don't ever see a need to use them.


Sidenote about logos: you cannot use a stock image from Canva as part of any logo that you plan to trademark. If you do want to trademark your logo, you should not use Canva.
But, Canva does offer pre-made editable logos if you're not interested in trademarks. They're also good if you want a fluid logo i.e. one that changes colour/background to suit.


Conclusion


So, it is perfectly legal to design a poster in Canva that I plan on selling. It doesn't matter if I'm planing on selling hardcopies or printables for customers to print themselves.


I just have to make sure I 1) don't use their templates 2) edit the stock photo I'm using 3) only use the 'free' stock photos from the site.


My research has led me to believe that the scare-mongering articles online about this subject must be all outdated as of September 2019.


These Terms are perfectly fair, so I'm going to give it a go.

I'll update you with my poster-making as I go!