Recently in a group that I am in a discussion came up regarding licensing terms on Canva. Many people love to use Canva for all sorts of design purposes because it is so easy to use.

The other nice thing is there’s lots of inbuilt content that you can just drag into your design. But should you do this for digital products?

I’ll give you the short answer: most likely no. The terms are not super clear, but reading between the lines plus what a group member shared from Canva’s support team lead me to believe:

  • No PDF documents (oddly ebooks seem to be explicitly exempt from this though) unless you provide the link to the document on Canva
  • No wall art or patterns (in digital format that the customer then prints)
  • No SVGs for sale or distribution
  • No PLR unless you provide the customer with just the link to the document on Canva
  • No digital papers or covers

The thing is though, even after studying the Canva terms and content guidelines it really isn’t super clear. But, I want to highlight some of the things I think any Canva use should know.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. This is solely my interpretation of their licensing and terms pages.

You can read the whole thing for yourself here:

General Terms of Use

Licensing Explained (overview)

Content Licensing (the nitty gritty, and the focus below)

Free vs. Pro Content

There are two tiers of licensing on Canva, at least on the surface. There are actually multiple levels of licensing terms and here’s where it starts to get a little bit confusing.

Most people are aware that there is free content and paid (i.e. pro) content.

A free user can use pro content as long as they pay $1 per use. This is one license for use in a single design.

You pay extra if you make modifications to that design such as resizing it and then redownloading it. Or you can pay a monthly pro license fee and get not only extra features but the ability to use all pro elements.

If you sell anything with a pro licensed element and your customer does not have Pro, they will not be able to print out different sizes without purchasing their own license for each variation.

Free elements have very few restrictions on them when it comes to licensing. However if you go through Canva’s licensing terms you will notice that license terms vary.

There is Canva’s Free Content which includes things such as shapes, lines, some illustrations, and fonts.

There are also images that are courtesy of Pixabay which are governed by Pixabay’s licensing terms.

There are also images provided by Pexels, which are governed by Pexels licensing terms.

And finally there are public domain sources of images, which have no restrictions.

But wait, there is also Creative Commons licensed content available through Canva and those fall under Creative Commons licensing terms. Some Creative Commons licenses require attribution while others do not.

There are several variations of Creative Commons licenses and therefore it’s important to know which kind of Creative Commons license the content you are planning to use has. For example, commercial use vs. non-commercial use and attribution required vs. not required.

When you mix various types of licensed content your final design will be governed by the most restrictive license.

So, if you did incorporate a pro element with a free element your design will be governed by the licensing terms of the pro element.

Likewise if you use a Pixabay image in your design then Pixabay might be likely the most restrictive license.

Are you confused yet?

Can you deliver a digital file to a customer that you have exported from Canva?

Well fasten your seat belt because all of this so far is not really that new. But the discussion that I referred to in the introduction seemed to indicate that you cannot sell digital products created with Canva. Caveat, you can, but you must send customers a link to the design on Canva, the customer must create at least a free account if they don’t already have one, and download the document from Canva themselves.

Are you surprised?

I certainly was because so many people are creating printables with Canva. So many people are teaching creating digital products and printables with Canva.

So I read through the terms of use and I cannot find anything that explicitly states this. However, the person in the group had contacted Canva and confirmed that you may not sell a PDF with any Canva content on it, supposedly not even free content.

You may sell physical copies of designs made with Canva provided you follow all the licensing we just went through regarding free and pro elements. But digital is different.

This is also especially interesting because you can now export SVG’s from Canva, which many people sell to crafters.

What is certain is that if you sell anything with a pro element anywhere in the design or are offering something that the customer can edit you must provide your customer with a link to the document on Canva where they will be able to edit themselves, and download a copy, and pay any licensing fees due on any pro elements.

Here are a few other interesting things that I found on the various legal pages with Canva.

So, if you are selling a template with Canva content and they no longer work with that content provider (e.g. Pixabay) then your template may change. The content will either be missing or Canva may substitute it with something similar. That could be embarrassing if you sell one thing and the customer gets something different.

Keeping track of which Canva elements are which could be a real pain. Also, note that YOU are granted a license, but that license is non-transferable.

Creating PLR with Canva elements? Think again. Those elements are licensed to you and you cannot pass on a license to others.

Okay. Let’s slow down and really read this part. “You may transfer a Canva Design containing Content (Free OR Pro) to a client for a client’s own use” provided you:

Enter into a written contract with them and you are responsible for your client complying with Canva’s terms. Yikes.

Now, we could say that this is like a freelancer doing work for hire. For example, if you hired someone to create a design for you and they used Canva to do it.  You, as the buyer of this design need to abide by Canva’s terms. But the designer is ultimately responsible.

That is a little scary.

But what about selling printables created with Canva? That is multiple clients. That is transferring a design with content licensed to you to others.

Note point #3 in the above screenshot—you can only transfer the design to a single client.

They go on to clarify that you are not allowed to transfer or sub-license content to clients for use outside of a Canva design.

I would say this means you cannot just download Canva elements and use them in another design program such as Photoshop or Affinity Publisher.

Which brings me to my next point, and the real reason that it should not be surprising that you can’t sell digital products made with Canva elements. It all comes back to the content and licensing.

The eternal designer’s question: will your customer be able to extract the Canva content without a license?

We know that PDF’s can be edited. Affinity Publisher is awesome for this, but Adobe Acrobat Pro as well as other PDF editors can do this too.

I ran a test and put multiple types of Canva elements on a page and exported as a standard PDF, a PDF for print, and a PDF for print that I ticked the flattened box.

I opened each in Affinity Publisher and every element was editable and on its own layer. Only the flattened PDF was a single image on one layer.

So, just flatten your PDF right? Maybe, but if you are not overlapping elements your customer could still crop them out or screenshot just that element.

Let’s move on and see if we can get more clarification:

Here is where we get a little respite, or contradiction, you decide. Now we are told that “Free Content” can be downloaded on a standalone basis (i.e. unmodified). Here we are also told Free Content can be used in documents for sale. But, remember that not all content that is free is Free Content.

Remember, some is free via Pixabay, Pexels, or CCO licensing. Free Content in capital letters is Canva owned content as defined earlier in section 2: Free Content licenses. All other free content is governed by the respective content provider (e.g. Pixabay), and hovering over any element in Canva should give us an info box that tells us who the content is from.

But don’t get too excited.

Now we have reached the Prohibited Uses section.

Okay, so we can’t sub-license or re-sell Canva content (I am interpreting Canva content as the elements, not the design you create with it). This is where it is important to make sure your customer cannot extract the elements.

And in point #10 under prohibited uses we have confirmation of that:

And then in point #13 we are told we may not use the content in a way that gives the impression that you made it.

So how do you interpret that? If I create a kids worksheet with Canva decorations and sell it, is that giving the impression that I created everything on the page?

As designers and business owners, we know not to assume that but what about the average customer on Etsy? Etsy grew out of a base of designers and artists so I would say there is a strong assumption by customers that you drew that cute little panda bear on your printable.

Also think about what this means. When you create a printable, whether you sell it with personal or commercial rights you are granting your customer a license. Furthermore, you are granting them a license to something constructed of elements you do not own copyright to, only a license. You need to be sure your license allows you to either transfer (and we have seen that for Canva, that is a no) or create a derivative work and call it your own (e.g. a collage).

Now, the other thing that came up in the group discussion is you may not edit any Canva design in any other software program that is not Canva. I don’t see a whole lot of evidence of that other than in reference to templates , which I already discussed earlier in this post.

You may only create Canva templates that customers edit in Canva. They are clear on that point.

So what can we conclude?

If you are like me, going through the Canva terms with a fine tooth comb really doesn’t clarify things much.

What I would say is if you create any digital content for sale with Canva elements I would get in touch with Canva support and tell them your specific use case. That is, tell them what type of Canva content you are using in your designs and how you are selling it to your customers (e.g. a PDF printable, or JPG wall art).  

Then, keep their response on file in case there is ever a question.

It is also a good idea to pay attention to any notifications that terms have been updated, and then read through the changes.

For me, I only use Canva for limited things such as social media images, blog post headers, YouTube thumbnails, etc.  I don’t create anything to sell or giveaway in Canva.

If you want to use Canva for products, be certain that everything you use is Canva owned “Free Content” and for anything else, grab it from a source whose licensing you understand (Creative Fabrica for example) and upload it into Canva.

Even then…make sure you understand those licenses because many of the same terms apply. In particular, your customer cannot extract any of the original designs and you may not transfer a license in most cases.

My best advice? Take the time to learn some sort of graphics program and make your own. You don’t need to be an artist, there are plenty of hacks that can get you great results without natural talent.

I shared some tips about this here: How to Fake Being an Artist

Also, watch out for AI Art programs as they are getting better and better very rapidly. Art not created by a human, at least in the U.S., is not subject to copyright law (of course this means no one, not even you own the rights) so AI generated art should be pretty safe to use and distribute.

If your head is spinning more than when we started, try distilling it down to the golden rule. Put yourself in the shoes of the content creator that made the element available on Canva. If you licensed it to Canva to use, how would you want Canva customers using it?

Would you want anyone and everyone to be able to re-sell and profit from it without you getting any credit or compensation? When viewed through this lens, the terms not only make sense, but it is a little easier to make decisions on what is acceptable even when the legalese is mind-numbing.

How to Fake Being an Artist

Okay, maybe not fake it, but can you develop your creative side even if you can’t draw or paint a stick figure? Some people seem like they have natural talent while others would love to be more creative but don’t think they can. In this article, I am going to explore ways that non-artistic people…
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