Contrast in Graphic Design: Understanding What it Means and How to Use It

In less than a second, the human brain accumulates a massive amount of information from viewing a design composition. The eye does not move the way it does when reading text. Rather, it is drawn to the element that stands out the most. That is the reason contrast in graphic design is significant. It determines the viewer's decision to leave or to investigate further.

What does contrast mean in graphic design?

What does contrast mean in graphic design? For starters, it means determining what the first thing is that you want the viewer to look at. Contrast causes the eye to be drawn to a particular area. Technically, it is the visible difference in properties of the design elements.

Any difference whatsoever could be defined as contrast, but for the purpose of graphic design, which is often used for marketing purposes, it should be significant enough to clearly distinguish one thing from the other. It is easier for the viewer to consider and comprehend a meaning when comparing contrasts. Overdoing it does not work. There must be enough similarity throughout the design to set the stage for a contrasting element. Too much contrast can overwhelm the visual senses, appearing chaotic.

How to use contrast in graphic design

Using contrast in a balanced way ensures that your design will be interesting. Remember that the contrast definition in graphic design indicates it is meant to communicate a message or inspire the viewer to respond to a call to action. Contrast can be created using color, size, shape, and typography.

Contrast of Color

Color is a key principle for creating contrast in graphic design. It is the concept most familiar to viewers. An example of this is a basic white background with solid black text. The contrast between the two color values is obvious. You will be working with a much broader color palette. The use of contrasting colors that are in conflict tends to irritate or confuse the eye. Complementary colors are used to establish contrast, and they are easier on the eye.

Contrast of Size

Big versus small is a simple example of contrasting sizes. Placing a large object or block of text beside a small object or block of text has an impact. The eye naturally seeks out the larger object, interpreting it as more important. This type of contrast adds interesting diversity to your composition, and it is especially useful when you are working with limited space.

Contrast of Shape

Creating a noticeably different shape at the key area of your design compared to the other elements in your layout is effective. For example, if the majority of your design is made of areas shaped as squares, dropping in a circle will cause the viewer's eye to instantly gravitate to it. The human eye is soothed by similarities but intrigued by appreciable differences. That is where you would place your primary message for the best results.

Contrast of Typography

As a graphic designer, much of your work will involve some type of font. Color, size, and shape can be applied to typefaces. For unification, it is best to stick to one or two typefaces within a layout and use style variations. For example, try the light, regular and bold styles to create contrasting effects. Choosing colors that complement your overall color scheme is another technique for making sections of text stand out.

Use contrast with care

Creating a visual point of interest through contrast in graphic design is one of the most important skills to have. It is the combination of the various contrast techniques that offer optimal results. Using contrast in a balanced way won't seem like a punch in the eye to the viewer but will naturally inspire them to look at the key points in your layout.

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