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4 Simple Tips to Design with Contrast and Type

By Mike Frederick
PhotoshopIllustrator

Great design makes your ideas stand out and have a bigger impact. We've got the tips to get you started!

Whether you're creating a memo, a movie poster, or an animated film, your ideas live and die with your design. Guiding your audience with contrast and type allows you to make more effective compositions that will—as a benefit—look a lot cooler too.
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In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how I use the design principle Contrast to make my type designs have more impact and communicate my ideas more effectively to an audience. Typography and design principles—such as Contrast—are topics we talk about in-depth in the Design Kickstart and Design Bootcamp courses here at School of Motion. If you like what you learn today, be sure to head over and see what we offer.
Also, you can download the project files I’m using in this video to follow along OR practice this after you’re done watching.
Today, we're going to cover:
  • Contrast with size and scale
  • Contrast with weight
  • Contrast with spacing: tracking, leading, and kerning
  • Contrast with value: brightness or darkness of an object or word

Grab the Project Files

Grab the project files and follow along. Some of the fonts have been swapped, as we can't share the licenses for Druk (my font of choice today). Feel free to insert your own to practice.

Grab the free files and follow along!

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4 Simple Tips to Design with Contrast and Type


What is Contrast?

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Contrast simply means that one element in your design is different from another. Contrast is a principle that helps organize your design and establishes hierarchy of important elements. Contrast also helps to show the viewer what’s important in your design and creates EMPHASIS…and emphasis gives your design meaning and impact.
Contrast also tells the viewer where to look first and can help add visual interest to your designs.
But, the most important reason we use contrast...is because we need to control the viewer’s eyes.

Contrast with Size and Scale

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The size and scale of your type helps a viewer determine the hierarchy of importance across the image. Think of a movie poster. The title of the movie tends to be the largest part of the image. The tagline is generally the second largest, and then the stars of the movie.
If that same movie poster had everything in equal scale, you might not even know what the film was called.
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For this exercise, we're going to be working with an imaginary client on a project. Binary Images, a division of Nebulae Films, has a poster for us to design. Let's see what we can do by following the principles of Contrast.
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We're gonna need to change everything about this.

Size

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Design is all about how you react to the positive and negative space in the image. By increase the size of the type, it takes up more space and therefore has a larger impact on everything else around it. The end result is a feeling of important.

Scale

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Scale refers to the size of the type in relation to everything else in the design. Is the type bigger than other type? Bigger than images within the type? All of these elements not only inform the viewer with important details of the composition, but they control eye movement across the design.
Since this image is symmetrical, I want the viewer's eye to remain centered and travel in a comfortable path down. I need them to read the type first, so it is larger and dominates more space. Then I trickle out information by leading the viewer down again and again, finally landing them on the image.

Contrast with Weight

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Swapping out the font, and affecting the type, adds weight and emphasis to your design. Bold words stands out and draw the eyes, while italicized words give off a feeling of emphasis and importance. Choosing how and where to employ these designs is a key aspect of Contrast.
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Using multiple weights will help you define which elements of your composition are more important for the viewer.

Contrast with Spacing

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Spacing affects how the reader's eye dances across the image. If type is close together, the words are grouped in importance. If we leave too much space between words, the audience's eyes could get lost. Controlling your spacing not only makes your design more legible, but more visually interesting.

Tracking

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Tracking affects the visual density of a word or series of words. Loose or open tracking is commonly applied to words or lines containing all capital letters. The end result is an open airy feeling.

Leading

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Leading spacing helps to create harmonious layouts between word combinations. Proper leading helps promote readability and creates a sense of proximity between type elements.
Extreme leading can create a desired "artistic aesthetic" in your type design. Leading and tracking both control the amount of white space or negative space desired in your design.

Kerning

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Kerning refers to the spacing between characters. Words should be tight and together, with enough separation so you can easily read the type on the page. If the kerning is too even, T H E W O R D S A R E N ' T L E G I B L E! Proper spacing is all dependent on the font, weight, and your own instincts about what looks right.

Contrast with Value

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Value refers to the brightness or darkness of the type in relationship to the background. The simplest version is the text you're reading right now: black type on a white background.
For my design, I need to contrast the dark blue sky. I pick a color from the brighter horizon, push its value brighter, and now it stands out even more than before.
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By changing the value of the lower type, I have again controlled its importance in the composition, while at the same time making it a more visually striking image. Now my colors mesh across the entire design.

Look at you now!

That’s it! Pretty simple, uh? Don't forget to practice with the project files above. Soon, you'll be a master contraster! Just remember scale, weight, spacing, and value, and you'll be well on your way to delivering some amazing designs.
If you want to learn more about using the design principle of Contrast and how to design using typography, check out Design Kickstart & Design Bootcamp from School of Motion.