How to Make a Transparent Overlay in Canva?


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Transparent overlays can add a lot of style and class to a design. They can be customized to match a brand’s color scheme, can tone down images so that words or elements pop, and let designers have more control over the colors that their designs highlight. 

In Canva, you can make a transparent overlay by selecting the square element and dragging it over your design. Set the desired color and use the opacity slider to achieve the right transparency level. Lastly, add any text or elements that should go on top of the transparent overlay. 

Canva makes it very easy to make elegant designs with transparent overlays. Let’s dive into the steps you need to take to use this great feature. 

What is a Transparent Overlay?

A transparent overlay is a colored layer that covers your entire design. You may decide to have some elements on top of it or under it depending on the effect you’re trying to achieve.  Whatever is underneath will be muted and whatever is on top will be emphasized.

But, as the word “overlay” implies, it’s supposed to “lay over” your background image or collage of images. When you put text or other elements on top of your overlay, they will stand out and pop more than if they were simply on the image alone.

The overlay is said to be “transparent” because it can be seen through. The intensity of the transparency can be customized depending on the design, all the way from a solid color to full transparency. 

Basically, a transparent overlay can be seen as a tint that’s added to a design. It serves to unify the design around a certain color and either tone done or emphasize various elements. 

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canva transparent overlay

When to Add Your Transparent Overlay

If you know from the get-go that you will want to include a transparent overlay in your finished design, add it as soon as possible. That way, you’ll have a good sense of how your design is coming together as you continue to add elements.

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Think of your overlay like a pair of sunglasses. Once you put on a pair of sunglasses, everything you see is suddenly tinted, which impacts everything you see around you. The same goes for an overlay. If you’re planning on a blue overlay, you might realize that the colors in your background image or text clash in a way they wouldn’t if you used a pink overlay. 

Similar to sunglasses, an overlay will impact your entire view, which means that the color you pick will be the predominant color influencing your design. It’s good to have the general hue of this color set prior to starting, even if you adjust it a bit as you go along. This will give a strong foundation as you design. 

But, as we’ll talk about, adding a transparent overlay once you’re done with your design is doable. It just takes more adjusting. Let’s start with the process for adding an overlay from the beginning of your design, and then talk about how to add it at the end. 

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Make a Transparent Overlay From the Start of Your Design

  1. Start off with your background image and stretch it across your entire design.
  2. Choose the square from the elements tab
  3. Stretch the square over your entire design
  4. Choose a color for your new overlay
  5. Click on the checkerboard, which is your opacity bar and choose a transparency level for your overlay
  6. Start adding elements on top of your new, transparent overlay

If I know that I’m going to incorporate a transparent overlay in my design, I add it from the get-go. Even if I do a 180 on the color and change it from blue to red halfway through, I like to see how all of the elements are coming together given the overall tint and tone I’m working with. 

How to Make a Transparent Overlay in Canva

Make a Transparent Overlay After Your Design is Finished

Sometimes you don’t realize that you want a transparent overlay until you’re done. Maybe it’s the missing piece that has been keeping the design from feeling just right and complete. It’s totally doable to add a transparent overlay at the very end of your design if you’re ok with making a few adjustments.

  1. Choose the square from the elements tab
  2. Stretch the square over your entire design
  3. Choose a color for your new overlay
  4. Click on the checkerboard, which is your opacity bar and choose a transparency level for your overlay
  5. With your transparent overlay selected, click the position button and move the transparent overlay backwards until all of the necessary elements are sitting on top of your overlay

You may have to play around with the colors of your elements and overlay so that they are compatible. Since you didn’t start off with the overlay and the color of it impacts the design SO much, you may have to toy around with all of the colors for a while until you find a combination that works. 

Making a Transparent Overlay that Covers Only Part of Your Design

No, a transparent overlay doesn’t have to cover all of your design. I often use partial transparent overlays to add text to an image heavy design. This lets me add lines of text without them getting lost in the busyness of the images, while also not having to mute the entire image with the overlay. 

I often turn my overlays into banners at the top, bottom, or middle, and then center the text within them. In order to do this, you would create the overlay just as described above, but instead of stretching your overlay across your entire image, you would simply stretch it as much as you need to hold your desired text. 

Partial transparent overlays can be a great way to keep your images colorful and vibrant, while also giving yourself a strategy for making your text pop as well.

Canva is my favorite design tool. It offers so many amazing features to designers of all skill levels without the need for learning the complexities of learning the Adobe suite of products. I’m a huge fan of the Pro version and how it lets me resize my documents, remove the backgrounds from my images, and gives me access to TONS of stock photos. If you want to try Canva Pro for yourself, click the banner and grab a free trial.

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Diana Fitts

Diana has been an artist for over 25 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana's latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.

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