How to Use the Free AI Image Generator in Canva


Will this put stock image companies out of business?

A magical forest city from the future as generated by Canva’s AI Image Generator tool
A magical forest city from the future by Jonathan Wylie

The future is already here. Or at least it is if you believe the online excitement around AI chatbots and AI image generators.

However, is this technology any good, and would ordinary people like you, or me ever take advantage of it? To find out, I took Canva’s free AI image generator for a test run. Here’s how it works.

Canva’s Text to Image App

Canva’s AI image generator is based on a technology called Stable Diffusion, an open source text-to-image model that is capable of generating photo-realistic images for whatever you want to create a picture of.

The app is part of Canva’s design suite, so you do need a Canva account to use it. However, it works with both free and paid accounts, so everyone can give it a try to see what it can do.

How Canva’s Text to Image App Works

Once you are logged in to your Canva account, you will want to create a new design. You can use whatever design you want, but bear in mind that the final product from the AI image generator will always be a square. That’s just how it works right now.

Once you have the design ready to edit, click the Apps menu in the bottom-left corner of the screen, and then select Text to Image.

Screenshot of how to find the Canva Text to Image app in the Canva editor
Image created by Jonathan Wylie

If this is the first time you have used the app, you might see a splash screen explaining its purpose. Otherwise, you are ready to start creating, or should I say typing because generating an AI image in Canva is as simple as typing a description of what you want to see.

Screenshot of the Canva text to image description box. Text reads, A duck with sunglasses walking down a busy street
Image created by Jonathan Wylie

Next, if you would like to choose a style of image, (e.g., photo, drawing, painting, etc.) then you can specify that. Else, click Generate Image and wait for the results to appear before your eyes.

Screenshot of the Canva editor showing the four image results from my search for a duck with sunglasses walking down a busy city street.
Image created by Jonathan Wylie

Et voilà! If you find an image you like, you can drag and drop it into the design you are working on. But, if you don’t like the results, you can roll the dice once more by clicking Start again. You will then have the option to change your text description or simply generate a new round of images with the same text.

What Kind of Images Can You Create?

In theory, you are really only limited by your imagination. Just know that it might now always turn out the way you want. Every so often you have to play with the wording to get the right result.

For instance, in the example above, I was unable to generate a picture of a duck wearing sunglasses. I got several ducks and several cityscapes, but no sunglasses.

Canva’s free AI image generator can create some really wild and wacky images. However, you can’t get too wild. Safety measures have been built-in so that you don’t create and share any harmful or explicit images. And that’s a good thing because Canva offers free accounts for schools.

If the Text to Image app produces something that the filter didn’t catch, you can help to improve the technology by reporting those images to Canva.

Screenshot of the Canva box for reporting unsuitable images generated by the Canva text to image too. Categories for reporting the image include hateful speech or symbols, biased and/or stereotypical, graphic violence, and sexually explicit.
Image created by Jonathan Wylie

Who Owns the Copyright on AI-Generated Images?

This is a great question, and unfortunately, there is no great answer. Here’s what Canva has to say about that:

The treatment of AI-generated works under copyright law is an open question, and the answer may vary depending on what country you live in. For now, Canva does not make any copyright claim over the images you create with Text to Image. However, please note that this does not mean you are the copyright owner of the images or that you have exclusive rights to them.

So, it’s complicated. Canva does not make any copyright claim over the images you create, but is keen to point out that you are not the copyright holder either.

That being said, Canva has no problem if you use these images for personal or commercial projects, and that’s probably the most important thing to remember here.

Another example of an AI-generated image from Canva. This time showing Tom Cruise drinking coffee in a field with cows.
Tom Cruise drinking coffee in a field with cows by Jonathan Wylie

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, I feel torn between whether this technology is a gimmick or whether it is actually a useful tool in a designer’s toolkit. It’s a lot of fun to use, but it’s not perfect, and anything involving people’s faces does tend to output mixed results.

The technology will get better, of that I have no doubt, but will it ever reach a point where it replaces conventional art? I hope not. Especially as we have been warned about that before…

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. (Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park)

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