Year on year, the newest illustration trends inspire designers who are creating something new. This year, many of the most popular styles are returning to past trends. A lot of these are playful and less technical in nature.
Whether you’re new to using illustrations or if you’re searching for an up and coming style that inspires you, you’ve come to the right place. Today, we are showing off sixteen illustration trends that inspire us. Without further ado, let’s dig in and get your creative juices flowing.
1. Vintage and Retro
Illustrations inspired by scenes from the first half of the 20th century are making a comeback. This past era is known for being aesthetic, vibrant, and elegant. Social media platforms recently introduced a bunch of retro filters for their apps, and vintage color palettes are also commonly being used in web projects right now.
Illustrated fonts are also a key part of the vintage and retro illustration trend. Brands will often adapt a font by using their own colors. This design trend won’t really wear out, and will always give your creations a timeless, classic feel.
Although you could technically include this style in the Vintage and Retro category (thanks to its first appearance in the ‘70s), it deserves its own place in this list. The vibrant colors and kaleidoscopic spiral patterns make every psychedelic design unique. Other hallmarks of the style include groovy typography and fantasy imagery, making it visually and emotionally stimulating. There’s endless variations you can make to the psychedelic style. It’s really versatile too, meaning that it always comes back as a trend in illustration sooner or later.
Illustrations help to make a message feel more friendly and natural. Artists often use cartoons to make things easier to understand. Using a cartoon style is great for expressing emotion, which helps you to connect with people far more easily. It also gets their attention by getting them interested faster. Who doesn’t like a good cartoon?
Talented artists have started a trend among illustrators, where the aim is to capture reality in a natural way. You can recreate an illustration in the style of realism (as close to the human eye as possible) by adding as much detail as you can to the subject matter. This makes the composition accurate, and better reflects what people see with their own eyes. It isn’t an easy illustration trend to master, but it’s a rewarding one.
As most people have struggled with being stuck at home for over two years, designers found the perfect way to survive creatively. They dived into their imaginations, and created fantasy worlds as a getaway. The most noticeable feature of escapism is the unreal settings that the artist presents to us. The scope of an escapist illustration is limited only by the expanse of the artists’ imagination. The results are images that encourage people to explore and get lost for a while.
6. Comic Book
Contemporary illustrators find traditional comic books inspiring. They are great examples of character creation, style, and narrative. Laying out a story panel-by-panel is an excellent way to challenge creative thinking. Illustrations help to represent moods and themes that you’ll see in graphic novels. The comic book style has long been a method for digital storytelling, which helps brands to feel human and more personal.
The accessibility of 3D design software is pushing more illustrators to work with this technique. 3D compositions can portray ideas powerfully, even if they only have simple geometric illustrations and textures. Realistic illustrations in 3D are seen a lot in creating life-like characters and product mock-ups. Unsurprisingly, it’s a game changer from everything to creative presentations through to showcasing products. This illustration trend is sure to continue throughout 2023, as 3D becomes increasingly accessible.
When researching current design styles, you’ll notice that flat designs are pretty popular these days. It has become a staple in the web, graphic, and developer industries. A great example of flat illustrations are the scenes and objects in our very own style, Offbeat.
Why has the style become a wider illustration trend? Well firstly, the 2D features look bright and crisp on-screen and on print media. Another reason is that a flat illustration removes clutter in a design by using simple options within a composition. Finally, the simplicity of the icons, lines, colors, fonts and other elements makes flat illustrations look attractive. It also usually uses bright colors, which is a surefire way to create a positive mood.
9. Line Art
Whilst line art is primitive, it is super effective at creating an impact. Each line is purposeful, and the style is perfect to use in various ways when making illustrations. The clean lines, white space, and minimal detailing give a craft, yet refined design. It has become a massive trend online for a while now, yet this style is still used in many social media campaigns, logos, web designs, and branding.
10. Micro Animation
Micro Animations are great for capturing people’s attention for a split-second. It lets them get into your story, and learn about your message. They’re often used in websites to help direct users, or make them stop in their tracks. The Micro Animation trend is now all over social media, especially on Instagram and TikTok. More and more interactions are taking place, whilst people are expecting interactions to be short. That makes both of these social channels the perfect home for this illustration trend, invented for the decreasing attention span.
11. Colors of the ‘90s
Whilst it might seem like yesterday for many of us, the 90’s are now long enough ago to be considered a throwback (wow). The 90’s style color palettes have a vibrant feel and remind us of MTV, cartoons and advertising of the era. If you’re old enough to remember ‘90s cartoons, then this illustration trend will be a wonderful dose of nostalgia.
Many illustration trends in 2022 nod to styles that have come before, but using AI for design is a more recent concept. AI tools will emerge throughout 2022, where you’ll be able to lean on technology to aid your creativity. Some things we’ve already seen are illustrations being generated through user prompts, and people painting simple shapes which are then transformed into complex, realistic landscapes.
Thanks to machine learning and AI becoming more powerful each year, you can expect this trend to span across 2023, too. Tools such as Dall-E-II and Mid Journey will make things extremely interesting in the illustration space - this is just the beginning.
A surreal style is powerful because it allows you to create messages without being limited by what exists in the real-world. Many surreal illustrations contain dream-like scenes and often put different elements together that wouldn't normally fit. It's the perfect style to give clarity to messages that are otherwise complicated. As an illustration trend, this goes neatly with AI. This is because you can use the AI tools we’ve already mentioned to conjure up some really ‘otherwordly’ scenarios.
Texture is a an excellent way to add personality to an image. It helps you to differentiate your illustrations from others with a similar style. The subtle use of texture can give an illustration more complexity, depth and can also be a very effective way to add motion. An example of this is the sketched feel we add to illustrations using our tool, Crayon.
Nike and New Balance are among the brands that are bringing this design trend to the forefront in 2022. They use a simple editorial font with a meaningful illustration, which can go a long way to communicating your message. The impact of this style is clear when you think of newspaper publications such as the New Yorker.
Patterns are a very simple way to use illustrations as a wider part of your design. You can use them either to create movement or to simply create a background using your brand colors. It’s another way of adding life to a space, creating plenty of positive attention. It’s the perfect brand asset for so many situations.
Design never stops. But with so many changes to our collective lives in these last few years, the graphic design industry has seen a dynamic transformation. While new, innovative illustration trends emerged, old-school styles also showed up, sporting a modern, diverse feel.
That shift in illustration trends each year can go under the radar if you don’t have have resources to inspire you, so we’re glad you read this article. Which style is your personal favorite? How will you use the style in your own projects? We’d be fascinated to see what you create.