Illustration Trends 2016
The major illustrative styles and techniques that are trending, as well as identify styles that we anticipate taking off throughout 2016.
The last few years, illustrations have been featured everywhere from major ad campaigns to smartphone apps. It seems you can’t open a magazine, shop online, or watch a commercial without seeing illustrations featured front and centre.
Illustrations can bring a unique stamp to a design that you can’t achieve with a photograph. This report isn’t intended to tell you what to draw. There are already have many resources here in the Contributor Community, from our bi-weekly Creative Briefs to our ‘Files We Need!’ forum. Instead, this is an overview to show you what styles, techniques, and historical styles are trending for 2016.
Flat design 2.0
The ‘flat design’ trend has been going strong for several years now. Using flat colors without shading, they are the perfect style for vector illustrations. However recently we’ve been seeing a slight change from super simplified flat shapes to more complex and detailed compositions utilizing subtle shading to add depth. We’re calling this ‘flat design 2.0’.
Instead of simple icon sets, illustrators are incorporating the flat design style into beautiful complex compositions. Sometimes the shapes are given some shadows underneath, creating the illusion of depth (like pieces of flat paper stacked on top of each other). ‘Long shadows’ are still popular but more and more we are seeing more sophisticated and complex gradients used.
The more traditional two-or-three color palettes of flat design are also being supplemented with more colors, often in bright cheerful palettes. While still very graphically simplified, adding a handful of additional colors to a flat design palette can add punch and depth to your illustrations. As our screen resolutions keep increasing in pixel dimensions we anticipate more detail and subtle shading to creep into the existing flat design style.
As the number of images available on-line has grown (both photographically and in illustration) our customers are looking for new viewpoints on well visualized subjects. As selfie-culture takes its grip on the world and GOPRO cameras and wearable tech have brought us a more personalized view, we have seen a large increase in requests for “point of view” or POV. Drone tech has also allowed image makers to create a closer overhead view.
As a result, the overhead perspective (also called “top view” or “straight overhead view”) is popular with designers and works well in illustration. It is an opportunity to convey an object from an angle that we don’t typically see. It can bring a fresh new look to subjects we see depicted often and works for anything from wide angle landscapes to close ups of objects on a desk.
Overhead perspectives can be created in any style you can think of. Flat design in particular lends itself well to this point of view but photo realistic styles are also trending, as well as cartoony simplified graphics with bright and punchy colors.
The Merging Medium trend is all about collaboration, colliding illustration and photography together. A result of our active pull away from the perfection of digital, visuals instead encompass a much rawer and looser aesthetic.
Merging Mediums has a broad appeal, being embraced across the media landscape, with advertising examples running the gamut from surreal mixed media compositions, hand drawn doodles juxtaposed with real objects, and infographics built from three dimensional objects. Creators are blending illustration with photography, painting, collage and craft to show visual metaphors in fresh and engaging ways. This isn’t just for raster contributors either: It’s easy to create elements in different styles (think mixing a photo realistic object with hand drawn doodles, or overlaying decorative text over a gradient mesh blur of a photograph) as a vector, too. The key is to show a clear and distinctive style contrast between different elements within your artwork.
Your mission is to think outside the box, create your own take, no holds-barred. Just experiment and have fun!
The handdrawn typeface style certainly isn’t a new trend, but it’s becomming increasingly popular. Illustrators are exploring the textures of chalks, paints, inks, markers and pencils on materials like paper, chalkboards, wooden and cardboard backgrounds in order to inject a playful human element into computer generated fonts and typography.
Handdrawn feels crafted. It enables a designer to use fonts that are not typical and works well for brands that are local or want to covey a uniqueness or originality.
In a sleek technological age, the hunt is on for techniques that add charm and character to a design.
According to Wikipedia, an isometric projection is “…a method for visually representing three-dimensional objects in two dimensions in technical and engineering drawings. It is an axonometric projection in which the three coordinate axes appear equally foreshortened and the angles between any two of them.”
This sounds complicated but it’s essentially where each axis (side angle) of an object is equal, meaning that you can flip objects horizontally and the perspectives will always match.
Typically used in engineering drawings, isometric perspectives are being used more and more in illustrations. We’re seeing a wide variety of illustration styles being applied to isometric perspectives, from cute, bright and colorful cartoony renderings to highly realistic mechanical breakaways and diagrams.
This ties in with the point of view trend offering a 3D perspective on well visualized subjects, but is also an emerging counter trend to flat design.
Vintage print techniques
Vintage illustration techniques put a unique and nostalgic mark on any design. More and more we’re see illustrators emulating different vintage art techniques such as etchings, engravings, scratchboards, silk screening, lithographs, wood and linoleum cut printing.
Combining these techniques with a time period appropriate typeface as well as a retro color palette brings these tried-and-true techniques back to life.
Vintage styles are particularly popular in typographic messages such as banners, shields and monograms. These elements can be easily incorporated into a design.
Low poly designs
Low Poly, or a 3D polygon mesh with a small number of polygons is the counter trend to high poly design used in computer games and animated movies.
Breaking down objects into geometric polygons is all the rage. We’re seeing everything from portraits to alphabets shattered into triangular shapes, often in eye poppingly bright color variations.
It’s a fresh and contemporary take on more traditional representational illustrations giving the subject within the image an origami effect.
Emerging within the low poly look are portraits, objects and landscapes with more complex objects and backgrounds standing out from the crowd.
As Amazon is reporting on the trend for adult colouring books, we have also seen a surge in popularity for highly ornamented, intricate sketches and doodles. These densely detailed styles are fun to create and pack a lot of visual impact into a small space.
They are reminiscent of doodles in the margins of notebooks so appeal to creative customers especially. The Zentangle® method is popular, as are swirls, floral elements, repeated patterns and dots.
Pixel art is a raster technique where images are broken down into small blocks of flat colors (pixels). Early computer graphics had very visible pixels due to the low resolution of the screens used.
Nowadays, we have high resolution displays but pixel art still holds its place in our hearts and has seen a resurgence in popularity through its use in smartphone games and the phenomenon that is Minecraft®.
There’s something quirky and nostalgic about seeing objects reduced to simple little squares to show depth and perspective. This is a trend that has been around for a number of years and is not going away any time soon.
Textures are a clever and easy way to add depth and character to any design. One of the latest textures catching the attention of designers is the use of watercolor paint washes (both raster and vectorized).
This style is reminiscent of fashion illustration where a designer would sketch their ideas, adding washes to represent the colour palette of the look. These textures are much more sophisticated than the old ‘grunge splatter’ look that was popular a few years ago.
The new painted textures have more depth and variation in tone and shape and can be mixed and matched with many different illustration styles: Simple splashes are used as design elements, while full washed backgrounds add a hand crafted feel. A painted texture is a one off piece, it cannot be easily replicated.