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Contrast in Art and Graphic Design

by Yule Xie


What is contrast?

If you enjoy art or graphics design, chances are, you have heard of the term “contrast” before. However, few actually understand the meaning behind this term as there are many assumptions revolving around it. In general, contrast simply describes any difference that exists in a piece of artwork or design. There is often the misconception that contrast only refers to differences in colors, such as having a variety of light and dark elements. Of course, including many unique colors and backgrounds is an essential part of contrast, but it does not reveal the whole picture. Any example of variety and difference can be classified as contrast, for example, having a plethora of shapes, like a square next to a triangle, demonstrates contrast. It can also relate to the size and boldness of a component in an art piece, such as how much space it takes on the artwork. For example, the drawing below highlights various examples of contrast as there is a large diversity of colors in the background and the vertical branches of trees also stand out from the horizontally aligned mountains and lakes.


Contrast Highlights Different Levels of Importance

Now we’ve talked about the general idea of contrast, you might be wondering, why is it used? First, contrast ensures that readers are able to see text clearly in a design. For example, if you are creating a poster, it would be optimal for the text to stand out. Therefore, contrasting the color of the text and the background would be significant as otherwise the essential information would be hard to see. This is terrible in graphics design as no one would likely be interested in the advertisement if they need to examine it carefully like a test passage. Conversely, if contrast is applied appropriately, readers will easily be able to identify which components are important and which are not as crucial. As an example, key parts of a design can be bolded or have a greater size than others, as a result, capturing attention.

How to Apply Contrast in your Designs

It is probably the desire of many graphics designers to gain a solid understanding of contrast so they can make it look appealing on different occasions. Well, how can you achieve mastery in this knowledge? In my opinion, experience is the key. I have found as I practice creating different designs, my understanding improves and it helped me develop an instinct on what to add to my designs. Therefore, simply try new elements in your next drawing or poster and eventually everything would feel more comfortable.


Works Cited and Image Credits






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