Let’s talk about Canva, shall we? It’s a brilliant execution of an online service that caters to the world of people (like me, maybe like you, too) who aren’t professional designers but who need things that look reasonably good, that look like they were designed by a competent, if not necessarily downright brilliant designer. You can even make a Canva ebook, amazingly enough.

That’s what Canva does. It makes it dead simple to make good, basic images and graphics by just dragging stuff around. It doesn’t do most of the stuff that a sophisticated design tool does, but what it does, it does in a way that comes out looking right.

It’s great for throwing together logos and the like. Nearly every image on PeakZebra was, at least at time of writing, created with Canva (if you hate ‘em, blame me, not Canva).

It’s also a great way to create an ebook, the whole thing, soup to nuts.

So let’s talk about ways in which that’s great, and ways in which it may come up short in certain ways and how you might use the good stuff from the Canva design but maybe move a step or two beyond in terms of what your ebook offers.

Step One: Have a book

In this piece, I’m not writing about how you go about producing the copy that will go into your book. Presumably you know more or less what you want to say and you can find a way to get it said. Let’s assume that. I’m assuming you’ve wound up with something like a Word or Google document with all that good writing in it.

Step Two: Make some early design decisions

Personally, I don’t think you should completely wing your design process, though I’ll have confess that I have, on occasion, done exactly that.

What I’d recommend, though, is having a little back and forth “conversation” with yourself, on the one hand looking at ebooks and book covers on line, and on the other hand thinking about the style elements you’d like to incorporate, irrespective of any of the finished designs you’re looking at.

By style elements, I mean:

  • Color palette
  • Font choices
  • Illustration style
  • Page designs

First get a sense of all these elements and some things you’ve seen and liked, then we’ll take the elements on in the next several steps.

Step Three: Color Palette

If you’re not a designer and haven’t spent some time actually learning about color, playing with color, and talking to colors in a little language that only colors can understand, I’d recommend borrowing a palette wholesale.

Oh, and I’d recommend having color, in general. Print books are often black and white on the inside, but your Canva ebook doesn’t have to be. If you’re trying to recreate the experience of reading a print novel, then fine, black and white (actually, very dark gray looks more professional, just as an aside) is fine. But otherwise, get some colors going and not just on the cover.

Places to borrow palettes from include just about any professional software that offers palette choices. But why add extra work when Canva offers kind of an amazing amount of help on this, beginning with a freaking huge list/display of palettes.

For kicks, let’s use a palette they call “muted succulents” for examples in this article. Here’s what it looks like:

By way of quick confession: Despite all the praise I heaped on Canva earlier, I don’t think the way Canva handles palettes is remotely intuitive. But whatever. The point is to find colors that work together well and use them for all your design elements.

Step 4: Fonts

Honestly, mere mortals should generally not pick font groupings. And for an ebook, you want only two or three fonts. So find some options that have been chosen by a designer who does this for a living and use those. Generally, if you use sans-serif for headings, you want something in the serif family for the body. Vice-versa is also fine, but most people are accustomed to reading serif fonts in the body of books, if that makes a difference to you.

Step 5: Illustration Style

The mark of a professionally designed book is that, if it has illustrations, those illustrations all look like they belong to the same thing. If you have charts, don’t mix radically different looks for those charts. If you are going to use illustrations that are the sort of semi-abstract people illustrations that are so overused on websites these days, things that look like this…

Then stick to that sort of illustration throughout.

This is an area where Canva can really shine, by the way, because generally if they have one element drawn in a particular style, they’ll have a whole set of elements drawn in the same style. And they have lots of the style I was just talking about:

There's abundant corporate-look art for your Canva ebook.

Step 6: Page Design

OK, now we get to what the actual pages look like. Here again, I think there is little point in reinventing the wheel.

It’s possible to do an entire short Canva ebook (I wouldn’t suggesting doing anything much over a dozen pages without using a more page-design oriented tool in addition to Canva) and the service offers some very good looking templates.

With a Canva template, each page is essentially a separate graphic image you’re creating. When you’re done, all the separate pages are saved as a single PDF. It’s a clean, simple approach, but there are some downsides that should be mentioned:

  • It’s a PDF, not individual web pages. So one read of the PDF won’t result in many page views, if you care about that.
  • It’s a PDF, but there’s no way to create links from page to page within the document, so you can’t, for instance, create an interactive Table of Contents. This is probably OK in a short document (which, in fact, may not even need a ToC).
  • You can’t “flow” text across pages in the document. With a heavier-caliber page design tool, you can create text boxes on your pages that are linked from one box to the next. This is handy because you can just dump the contents of the main text into the first box and it will continue into the following linked boxes automatically. It makes later edits to the text hugely simpler to handle in the laid-out text because they just reflow.

Step 7: Using Other Tools for a Canva ebook

For longer ebooks especially, you’ll probably want to involve tools that more specifically address managing long-form text. And you’ll have to decide whether to use PDF as your format, or handle it as a series of web pages. PeakZebra has experimented with web formats that act more like books, support gated access, and run on WordPress installations (example here).

But even when using other tools, Canva is still a fantastic resource for graphic design elements and illustrations you’re incorporating into the work. So, hat tip to Canva, useful for all sorts of things, but useful for ebooks, too.