What is Contrast?

Ah, contrast. Contrast is probably one of the first things you notice about a design. It’s so prevalent that it is hard not to notice. To properly define contrast, it occurs when two elements in a design are opposite. Completely opposite! In the design world, contrast is used to set the tone of an idea and it helps bring out the focal point of that idea. The audience is automatically drawn to it. The other day, I was walking towards my car getting ready to head home and at the corner of my eye, I could not help but notice two people standing next to each other and the obvious difference in height and size. One was tall and slender, the other short and round. Although they seemed different on the outside, their interaction showed the connection to each other – their friendship. It’s not hard to understand the concept of contrast; it’s making sure you show the connection (the underlying message for all principles) to the other elements in your design.

Using Contrast

There are plenty of methods that can be used to create contrast. Most designers differentiate elements in size, value, color, and type. It is making sure the difference is obvious. If your audience cannot distinguish the difference, there could be a possibility that you are creating more of a competition or conflict with the elements and the message of your concept is unclear. The contrast between the black text and the white space in this paragraph is an example of direct contrast between two elements.

tutorial icon


This exercise will involve a tad more work than the others. You will create three compositions. One will include whatever you like, but the contrast must be shown using color. The second comp again will include whatever you like, but the contrast must be shown using text (hint: use hierarchy). And lastly, the third comp will also include whatever you like, but the contrast must be shown using shapes. The objective of this exercise is to get you to notice how contrast plays a role in the overall message of your idea and how it really does make an impact.

tips/advice icon


It's quite understandable you want to jump right in and experiment on what you just learned. Slow down and remember the following:

  • You can contrast colors (warm vs. cool)
  • You can contrast font types (serif vs. sans serif) and/or sizes (large vs. small)
  • You can contrast lines (thick vs. thin)
  • Lastly, the contrast MUST be evident.
fun facts icon


When you are ready to see what all this talk is about, simply click here to browse through a few examples that illustrate contrast. Remember that once you understand these principles, they can be utilized to express all forms of art.