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

You might be the kind of artist that has great ideas, but when it comes to hand-eye coordination, something is lacking. You don't need to be good at drawing to become an excellent graphic artist. Knowing how to use graphics software and basic design elements is the foundation for creating digital masterpieces. The first element to learn is emphasis.

What does emphasis mean in graphic design?

The definition of emphasis in graphic design is straightforward. It means having a focal point for your graphic artwork. In the image, it can be any shape, object, or text area that you deem to be the most important part of the message. For the viewer, it takes less than a second for their eye to be drawn to it when they first see your graphic image. There are several techniques for making this work.

How to use emphasis in graphic design

Emphasis in graphic design is used with a specific goal in mind. In marketing especially, it is used a strategy to get the viewer to take action, for example, to click on a link or dial a phone number. Here are the top ways you can use emphasis in your graphic artwork:


Linear flow determines the overall direction of the design. Changing the flow calls attention to that point. For example, a design created with vertical lines is interrupted when a horizontal line is added. It creates a distraction that catches the eye.


Color can be used effectively to create emphasis in graphic design. Soft colors make the eye move at a leisurely pace, while bright colors cause the eye to jump. A dramatic shift in color is an attention-getter.


The human eye loves to follow sequences, such as tracing a road on a map. It likes to see text lined up in an orderly fashion. Create a break in the sequence or alignment, and the eye will search it out, wanting to know why it is there.


Textures are used to deliberately demand scrutiny of an area within a design. For example, when there is an important section of text on the image, use an embossed or drop shadowing effect to make it more noticeable.


This involves the use of color and shape together. For example, if most of the background is bright, add a dark shape to create focus. This is a common strategy used for titles and headlines.


Balance or symmetry in a design means granting equal emphasis to all objects. This balance can be broken by inserting an asymmetrical arrangement. The point of imbalance will be the strongest point of interest.


When two areas are in severe contrast, the eye jumps from one to the other. Understanding how colors compete will allow you to match the level of contrast to the strength of your message. A call to action requires a powerful contrast.


Psychologically, we perceive objects arranged near to one another as a single group. By isolating one of those objects, you have a "rebel" element in the design. It is a great way to make your main point more obvious.


The human eye relaxes and decides to "go with the flow" when it sees repetitive patterns or objects. It is soothed by the orderliness, so when this is suddenly disrupted, the eye cannot wait to determine the reason for the chaos.

White Space

White space or any consistent background color allows for a calm visual flow throughout the design. Increasing the white space around an object or section of text draws the viewer's attention to that area.


It is natural for the human eye to go to something that looks different from its surroundings in a scene. For example, drop a circle into a design predominantly composed of squares, and it will stand out.

Entice the viewer with design emphasis

Remember that emphasis in graphic design does not stand alone. There must be something behind it to allow for the outstanding element to exist. An important part of understanding the emphasis definition in graphic design is realizing that it takes at least two elements playing off each other to tempt the viewer's eye.

Need to Download CorelDRAW?

Download a Free 15-Day Trial Now!