Talented illustrators from around the world share their plans to use Shutterstock’s 2020 Color Trends to create relevant and timeless images.
2020 has ushered in an exciting array of Colors of the Year — from Behr’s earthy Back to Nature and Sherwin-Williams’s sea-inspired Naval, to Benjamin Moore’s blushing First Light and Pantone’s Classic Blue, reminiscent of the sky at dusk.
The colors of 2020 are more brilliant than ever. Image by zef art.
And, of course, Shutterstock’s Color Trends have introduced a trifecta of rising hues: Lush Lava, Aqua Menthe, and Phantom Blue. From the fiery to the tranquil, these are the colors that buyers crave right now, and they all have one thing in common — they’re bold and vibrant. The last few years might have been defined by muted pastels, but 2020 marks a departure from this aesthetic, and the future looks bright.
Vibrant colors are taking charge of the 2020 color wheel. Image by tugol.
We asked illustrators, from around the world, to tell us how they’ll use Shutterstock’s Color Trends to create enduring, yet relevant, images. Read on for their tips on injecting color into your work.
Use the Color Wheel
Color theory enables you to choreography various colors within one image. Image by imagewriter.
“The best tip I can give to emerging illustrators is to read color theory,” Elena Grishchenko, a.k.a. Feaspb, tells us. “When I first started, it was difficult for me not to use a lot of random colors in one picture, but then I realized that even just two or three colors are enough for spectacular results. The secrets to using them can be found in any color manual. Read about color theory — it works.”
Shutterstock’s array of color options is impressive and vast. Image by Feaspb.
Study the color wheel to learn about which colors work best together — and which ones clash. We’ll cover a few of the basic principles here.
Know When to Use Cool or Warm Colors
Control the emotion and atmosphere of your images through color. Image by Tanya Syrytsyna.
Every color contains three elements: hue, value, and saturation. Hue is simple, as it explains where you are on the color wheel (green, yellow, orange, red, purple, blue). Blue and green are cooler hues, while red and orange are warmer. Your hue choices will directly influence the emotion and atmosphere of your image.
“You always need to choose the right scheme,” Ilya Boyko of Boyko.Pictures tells us. “Color should emphasize the mood of your work. Does your work have a calm mood? Or does it encourage you to act?”
A passionate, active mood would lend itself to warmer hues like Lush Lava, while Phantom Blue and Aqua Menthe would inspire a different feeling altogether. “Aqua Menthe is suitable for work with a calm, peaceful mood,” Boyko explains.
Remember the Buyer
Of course, you can use the mood of your photo to appeal directly to your ideal buyer. Think about the end-user and how they’ll display your illustration, and use that knowledge to dictate your color choices.
“If the purpose of the illustration is to attract attention, I usually use bright, catchy colors,” ANNA_KOVA explains. “On the other hand, if you need to emphasize the seriousness of a brand, dark colors and golden gradients might work better.”
Arohi Sharma of awesome design studio explains, “I always think about who I am designing for, and I use color to create a strong focal point and draw the eye to the most important pieces of my illustration. When creating commercial illustrations, I avoid using too many colors or effects. It’s important that the image is clean, neatly arranged, and well-aligned. Your design should look good, of course, but it should also be functional and effective for the buyer.”
Contrast Light and Dark
“Lightness” or “value” refers to how dark or light your color is. In other words, it measures how close it is to black or white. In most illustrations, it’s best to have a variety of light and dark tones.“I always take pains not to forget the tones I’m using,” Elena Grishchenko, a.k.a. Feaspb, tells us. “If two colors that are right next to each other are the same in tone, most likely they will work poorly together.” Contrasting values, on the other hand, create more depth and dynamism.
Use Saturated Colors as Accents
“Saturation” refers to the intensity or purity of a color. Any paint straight from the tube is usually highly saturated, but when you mix it with white or gray, you desaturate it. Saturated colors look even more intense when placed side-by-side with gray, white, or black — and that’s exactly what Boyko has in mind for Lush Lava. “I prefer a limited color scheme, and this hue would perfectly combine with achromatic colors (white and black) as an accent color,” he says.
Use these saturated “accents” to draw attention to the most important part of your image. “Probably the number one rule for me is to use an accent color correctly and in the right place,” Boyko adds. “If you do it wrong, the viewer’s focus will shift away from your main idea. Remember: don’t overload the work with unnecessary accents or a variety of colors, unless the task requires it.”
Know Your Complementary Pairs
“Complementary” colors are hues that are on opposite ends of the color wheel: blue and orange, red and green, and yellow and purple. “I usually prefer very contrasting palettes, where the main object stands out against the general background and jumps out instantly,” Maxim Borovkov, a.k.a. Vjom, tells us. “I often achieve this effect by choosing complementary colors.”
His favorite color from Shutterstock’s Color Trends is Lush Lava — not only because it works well with white and gray, as mentioned above, but also because it has an attractive complement on the other side of the wheel (a blue-green hue). “I think Lush Lava is the most versatile color from the set,” Borovkov says. “Plus, it resembles the color of the Shutterstock logo.”
As art_of_sun explains, complementary colors are often used in illustrations with a bright, Pop Art-inspired aesthetic. “One example would be to have coral-colored objects on a mint-colored (Aqua Menthe) background,” she explains. “Similarly, a red-yellow or ‘Lush Lava’ flower looks good by itself, but it looks brighter if you put it on a green-blue background.”
Play with Analogous Colors
Similar colors, those that sit close on the color wheel, also work well together. Image by Meranna.
While complementary colors sit on opposite sides of the color wheel, analogous colors sit side-by-side. These color schemes often appear in nature.
“I find that the nearest colors in the spectrum or wheel (e.g. green-yellow, orange-red, red-violet) or ‘triples’ of side-by-side colors (red-orange-yellow, yellow-green-blue, blue-violet-pink, etc.) always look good,” art_of_sun tells us. “If you want to add more balance, I recommend using one main color, and then adding the rest of the colors to the background.
“When I made a podcast for beginners on my blog, I always recommended two things: use pure colors (not muddy ones) and start by combining the nearest colors on the wheel or spectrum. It always works, even if you’ve never had formal training in color theory.”
Keep It Simple (at First)
When experimenting with colors, keep your palette simple. Image by Irina Bogomolova.
When you start experimenting with color and color theory, it can help to keep your palette focused and minimal. Then, once you master those colors, you can dive into more complex combinations.
“I’d advise beginners to use as few different colors as possible, maybe three or four,” Afishka explains. “For example, one color should dominate, another should be the opposite (a complementary color), and the rest should support that harmony. Try not to overload the illustration with colors. Sometimes colors look more spectacular and vibrant if you do not use them everywhere, but instead, keep it understated.”
Experiment with Gradients
Color gradients are on-trend for today’s graphic designers, so think about incorporating them into your stock illustrations. “I like using gradients because they can make your illustration look like a colored surface, where different parts are lit differently,” Maxim Borovkov, a.k.a. Vjom, explains. “For example, you can use a gradient fill to make it look like a lamp is shining in the center of an object, and so that toward the edges, the brightness decreases.”
You can create gradients based on the lightness of one hue for a monochrome color palette — as described above — or you can move between hues that are next to each other on the color wheel. “This is a more difficult type of gradient, and the most important thing is to prevent dirty colors,” Borovkov adds.
“One common mistake I notice is using unsaturated and saturated gradient keys on one object. That results in transitional tones that become muddy and unattractive. Keep your gradients at the same saturation throughout. Also, while I love to use complementary colors, I categorically avoid using them in gradients, since that results in a muddy transition.”
When applying gradients, choosing the right transition colors is essential. Image by SuperBelka.
Keep an “Inspiration” Folder
The best way to learn how to use Shutterstock’s Color Trends is to study images you like. Dive into the curated Lush Lava, Aqua Menthe, and Phantom Blue collections to start, and then begin building a personal inspiration folder or mood board full of images that speak to you.
Study images that appeal to you for inspiration. Image by agsandrew.
“At first, when you’re developing your eye, you can use a collection of colors and images from Pinterest or Shutterstock to give you ideas,” bioraven tells us. “Generally, you can gather inspiration from anywhere. Look at advertising and products on store shelves. Leaf through selections of beautiful Shutterstock photos or peruse fashion and cooking magazines at the grocery store.
“Save all the photos and illustrations you like on your phone or computer. Compare your work to the work you admire, and compare it to the first illustrations that show up on Shutterstock. By looking at the differences, you’ll see how you can improve. If I see a Shutterstock illustration on a website or in an ad, for example, I understand that this work is special, and I always pay attention to it and study what works.”
Make Multiple Versions
“If I’m not sure about the color palette for a particular illustration, I make several versions of the same image,” bioraven tells us. “Then, I look at the options with fresh eyes a few days later. That makes it easier to choose the illustration I like the best and want to upload.”
“We must remember one rule above all others, and that’s that there are no rules,” Vadim Georgiev explains. “The modern world is changing quickly, and my main piece of advice is to experiment with color.
“Tracking current trends will give you more opportunities to create relevant content for your portfolio, but one of my guiding principles for creating illustrations is that I also rely on my feelings and on what pleases me. Follow trends, but at the same time, follow your feelings and find your personality.
“Remain a child at heart. Keep wondering, dreaming, and fantasizing. Often, I find inspiration by playing and watching cartoons with my little daughter. When viewing the world through the eyes of a child, I find unique ideas for illustrations.
“I also recommend referring to nature often. It’s always my greatest source of inspiration when it comes to colors. For that reason, my favorite of Shutterstock’s Color Trends is Aqua Menthe. For me, these shades are the embodiment of freshness, lightness, and vitality.”
Refer to nature for creative inspiration. Image by iMacron.
Want to learn more about color and design? Check these out.
2020 Color Trends: See the SpectrumColorful Packaging Design: 15 Vibrant Examples to InspireCozy and Luxurious: Using Earth Colors in Your DesignsWhat is a Color Scheme: Definitions, Types, and ExamplesComplete Guide to Color in Design: Color Meaning, Color Theory, and More
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