paints colour images drawing design
Credit: By sayot on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Posts with images on social networks often attract more engagement than text-based updates, so if you need to spruce up your social channels, posting more images is a good way to go about doing that.

But each social network has its own requirements in terms of format, and there's no one-size-fits-all for social networks.

There are a number of tools online that can help you create bespoke images for the various social networks journalists use to share their stories – Canva is one such platform.

It caters to users who need an easy way to design images in a number of styles, from Instagram or Facebook photos to Twitter headers and Pinterest images, and even email headers you could use in newsletters.

Many of Canva's design tools are free to use, and you can access most of its library of templates, fonts and even images for free. Certain elements however are paid-for, and usually cost $1 each (payable when you download your finished image).

You will need to create an account to use Canva, or log in with your Facebook account. Once you're in, you can choose the type of image you want to create from the pre-existing formats, or you can choose a custom size to work with if you're creating images for your site.

canva format options
Screenshot from Canva.

Once you've chosen your size, you can find Canva's design options on the left hand side.

It automatically takes you to the 'layouts' tab, where you can find a number of free templates for images with quotes.

But you can also create your own from scratch, uploading your own images to Canva and using the "background" and "text" options.

canva options
Screenshot from Canva.

We tested the platform to create a basic image that could be used in a Twitter post, using a pull quote from our story Study: News outlets not doing enough to stop online rumours published last week.

The first step is to choose a background image or colour by clicking on the 'background' tab. The plus sign at the top opens up the colour wheel where you can find your preferred colours.

Alternatively, you can also choose one of the backgrounds provided, including free and patterned options.

Next, we uploaded the logo, as a PNG with a transparent background, to add to our test image.

Canva allows you to either upload images from your computer, or use photos from your Facebook albums.

Once a photo is uploaded, you can drag and drop it onto your work-in-progress, resize it by dragging the corners of the image, and position it where needed within the frame.

There are plenty of ways to add text to your image, and the 'text' tab offers some basic title options as well as a number of designs if you'd like your text formatted in a more visual way.

For the quote in our image, a combination of the main title and subtitle features worked well enough, but you can also customise fonts and colours for free.

Here's the result:

test canva demo
Twitter image, resized to fit site layout.

For more complex designs, or if you want to create infographics or illustrate statistics for social media, Canva has a number of icons and images you can use.

Click on the 'search' tab to access the platform's library of visuals, including shapes, maps, doughnut charts with percentages, and more icons to make your post stand out on social media.

Don't forget to represent your data accurately, and while Canva's design options are plentiful, don't overload your graphic. Check out these tips from freelance infographista Lulu Pinney on what makes infographics successful.

Once you're happy with your photo, you can download it or share it on Twitter, Facebook or email.

The Canva team also writes blog posts with useful tips for designing images for social media, general graphic design advice and more on their Design School blog.

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