Our team spends part of every day looking for a moment of inspiration. We're always searching for a style that helps us to tell a different story.
Here’s 16 styles that got our creative juices flowing. Many of them nod to past trends, with a playful, 2023 kind of twist. They’ll be great to keep up your sleeve for the year ahead. Let’s get started.
1. Vintage and Retro
Illustrations inspired by the first half of the 20th century are making a comeback. As far as we know, there were no laptops in the 1930s. It meant the design process was slower, and very intentional. That era gave us plenty of vibrant and elegant designs.
Of course, this style is a bit more accessible now. You'll find retro filters on most social media tools, which has helped this style come back into focus. There's a lot of vintage color palettes appearing in web projects right now, too.
Illustrated fonts are also a big part of the vintage and retro illustration trend. Brands often add a modern take on a font by using their own colors. This design trend has lived long enough that it's not likely to wear out. It's sure to give your creations a timeless, classic feel.
Technically, this style is pretty retro now, too. But it's not quite as old as the first style we mentioned. Psychedelic designs first took off in the mid 1960's and stuck around for a decade or so. The psychedelic movement had a big impact on art, but also on music and culture.
The vibrant colors and kaleidoscopic spiral patterns make every psychedelic design unique. Groovy typography and fantasy imagery also makes this style feel familiar.
There’s endless variations you can make to the psychedelic style. When a style is so versatile, it will always come 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. Sometimes, you don't even need words to grasp what's happening.
Cartoons grab people's attention because they're visually stimulating. After all, who doesn’t like a good cartoon?
More talented artists are trying to capture reality in a natural way. You could say that this goes against many other illustration trends right now. But it makes plenty of sense when we think about how much beauty is out there in the real world.
The realism style gets as close as it can to what the human eye sees. This is by adding as much detail as you can to the subject matter. It's not the easiest illustration trend to master, but it’s a rewarding one. You could always get ahead by using a visual A.I. tool to help you out, but we’ll discuss that later.
Most of us struggled with being stuck at home throughout the pandemic. In this time, many designers found the perfect way to survive creatively.
They dived into their imaginations, and created fantasy worlds as a getaway. The main feature of escapism is that all the settings are unreal and otherworldly.
Escapist illustrations are only limited by what the artist imagines. The results are images that encourage people to explore and get lost for a while.
6. Comic Book
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 create something with meaning.
Illustrations help to reflect moods and themes that you’ll see in graphic novels. The comic book style has been a method for digital storytelling for some time. Telling those stories helps us to be more human, and more personal.
More designers are working with 3D techniques as technology makes it more achievable. There's plenty of tools you can even use in the browser now, like Spline and Womp. Also, now feels like a great time to plug our in-browser mockups ;)
3D designs can portray powerful ideas. That extra dimension makes the simplest of shapes and textures more appealing. When stuff stands out of the page, you're going to notice it.
3D is a game changer for showcasing products and hero images on your website. There's plenty of other use cases, too. 3D will only get more popular as the technology keeps evolving in 2023.
Flat designs are becoming increasingly popular these days. The 2D features look bright and crisp both on the web and on print.
The simplicity is an important part of the look. It removes clutter and sticks only with what's needed for a visual to be complete. It also plays nice with other elements like text and images. A great example of flat illustrations are the scenes and objects in our very own style, Offbeat.
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 for many uses. The clean lines, white space, and minimal detailing give a crafted, yet refined design. This style always gives an original feel to your creations. With careful planning, line drawings can communicate exactly what you want to say.
10. Micro Animation
Micro Animations are great for grabbing 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.
We all know it's getting more difficult to compete for our attention online. This is where micro animations are a game-changer. It almost feels like this style was invented for the shortening attention span.
Micro animations are extra hot on Instagram, TikTok and Dribbble. You could consider using them if your audience hangs out on these social channels.
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 is for you. It will be a wonderful dose of nostalgia.
Many illustration trends this year will nod to styles that have come before it. But using A.I. for design is a much more recent idea.
People created remarkable art using DALL·E, Stable Diffusion and Midjourney last year. We're fascinated with its potential, too. We actually launched an A.I. Holiday Card Creator as our first step into using A.I. and visuals together.
As the A.I. gets smarter, we'll see more art that exclusively uses A.I, or leans on it in some way. You could write a prompt to generate the scene you want. Or you could paint it in simple shapes and watch something more complicated come to life. Visual A.I. is one of the most exciting spaces of all, and might look totally different again in 12 months' time. This is just the beginning.
A surreal style is powerful and unique. It allows you to create messages without the limitations of the real-world. Surreal illustrations contain visuals that you'd probably find in your dreams. You can put things together that wouldn't normally fit.
That's why it's perfect to bring simplicity to complicated ideas. As an illustration trend, this goes neatly with A.I., too. You can use the tools we’ve mentioned to some surreal ideas to life.
Texture and gradients are both excellent ways to add personality to an image. They help you to make your illustrations different from others that have a similar style.
Using these elements in subtle ways will give an illustration more depth. It’s these small touches that make your visual original. But they also keep people looking for that bit longer.
This style can also be a clever 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. This goes 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
There's been so many changes to our collectives lives in the last few years. When life changes, design evolves. We've seen a lot of transformation in the graphic design industry.
Old styles have been shaken up and been giving a modern feel. Then there's innovations making new things possible in the world of 3D and A.I.
Shifts in illustration trends 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.