Contrast In Graphic Design and How To Use It

Contrast is the secret to powerful graphic design. It makes your designs memorable, more satisfying, and more interesting.

Contrast In Graphic Design and How To Use It
Photo by davisuko / Unsplash

What is contrast?

To understand contrast, you have to first ask what it is.

In its most basic sense, contrast is a measure of the difference between two objects.

When those two objects create a visual relationship that our eyes can't help but see, we say there's contrast in them.

Contrast makes things stand out from their surroundings or from each other by virtue of their differences. The greater the difference, the more striking the effect when they're placed side by side.

You create contrast visually when your two elements are different enough to be seen as opposites: light/dark; sharp/blurry; color/no color; large/small; thick/thin; straight lines versus curves; and so on.

Think of it this way: two things that are identical won't stand out next to each other (they'll merge together into one thing), while one thing will always stand out against nothing at all (it's all in context). But if you've got something like an orange sitting next to a banana, or four chairs sitting next to five chairs, then you've got some degree of visual contrast going on—largely because oranges and bananas aren't really that similar in shape or color (the same goes for four and five chairs).

How to Create contrast

One of the best ways to ensure your design stands out is to create contrast.

One way to do this is through the use of complementary colors, which are colors located on opposite sides of the color wheel. Complementary colors are not only pleasing to look at; they also help you draw a viewer's attention by simultaneously making your design pop and keeping it visually balanced.

Another great way to create contrast is by using different fonts in your design. This ensures that even if you're using similar colors, you will still have contrast between text and background elements (as long as they aren't both white or both black).

You could even try contrasting letterforms—for example, a sans-serif font for headlines with a serif font for body copy.

You can also use contrast in value (lightness/darkness), style, or texture in order to add visual interest and make sure your design stands out—just be careful not to overdo it!

Using too much contrast can make your work feel unbalanced or chaotic, so always keep an eye out for opportunities where less would actually be more (especially after you've used multiple methods of creating contrast).

Contrast is the balance between elements in a design.

Contrast is the balance between elements in a design. It’s how you create visual hierarchy or different sections within a composition. High contrast designs often have very bold and/or large typography up top, with smaller supporting types below. This makes it easy for the eye to skim over and recognize the information it needs to quickly.

Additionally, contrast can be used to create visual balance in a design—this could be size difference, alignment difference (centered vs flush left), color difference, shape difference (round vs square), or font choice (serif vs sans-serif). Contrast keeps things interesting and draws your eye through a layout!

There are many ways to create contrast in your artwork.

Contrast is a great tool to use when designing because it creates visual interest and helps draw the viewer’s eye. But contrast can be achieved in many ways.

  • Color Contrast: It's the contrast you get when you place two colors directly opposite each other on a color wheel, like red and green or blue and orange.
  • Line Contrast: It occurs when an artist uses different types of lines in one composition such as vertical lines compared to horizontal lines, long curved lines compared to short straight lines or diagonal lines compared to zig-zags.
  • Shape Contrast: It occurs when geometric shapes are combined with organic shapes or different kinds of geometric shapes are used together such as squares with triangles, circles with rectangles, etc..
  • Texture Contrast: It refers to how something feels if you touch it (e.g., soft, smooth, rough) or looks if you look at it closely (e.g., shiny vs dull). When creating a drawing, we may not have these physical textures available but we can still create them using pencils and other art materials for a more interesting effect called textural contrast.

Complementary colors create strong color contrast.

When two colors are opposite one another on the wheel, they are known as complementary colors. For example, red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple are all complementary color pairs.

Complementary colors create strong contrast in images because they’re so different from each other. They can be used intentionally to create visual interest—but be careful with their use. As you can see below, when complementary colors are used together in a high-contrast setting like this, it can make for a jarring graphic design:

Contrast adds dynamics, variety, and dimension to your designs

Contrast is a valuable design tool. It creates hierarchy and adds depth, dimension, and focus to your designs. Contrast helps you guide the user’s eye to the most important information first.


Contrast can add dynamics, variety, and dimension to your design. Akin to a visual element, contrast is the balance between elements in a design.

A basic definition of contrast is the juxtaposition between two or more elements. Contrast also means difference or opposition. It can be size, color, texture, shape, or spatial relationships that provide emphasis in art and design by altering the visual weight of objects through their placement on the page or canvas.