Brushing Up on the Basics: The Elements of Graphic Design

The elements of graphic design are the fundamental basics. They’re essentially the main ingredients for creating design, and when use correctly, can make some pretty tasty compositions! These basic elements are used to communicate visually and work together with the Principles of Graphic Design to create successful design. It’s helpful to know these elements and their functions, so you can better use them in your own work. Review each element below, then take the Elements of Graphic Design quiz to test what you’ve learned!




The most basic element of graphic design is line. It’s made of a single point or series of connected points, that visually connect or divide other design elements. Lines create movement, organize elements, guide the viewer’s eye and add texture to a composition. Lines have a variety of characteristics such as horizontal, vertical, diagonal, curved, zigzag, dotted, coiled, and angled. Other lines can vary with styles like gestural, calligraphic, organic, smooth, wavy, loopy, and sharp. They also vary in depth with two or three dimensions. The possibilities with line are endless…figuratively and literally!




A shape is an enclosed area of space defined by lines or other surrounding elements of graphic design. Shapes are considered positive or negative and measured using height and width. There are three categories for shape: geometric, organic, and abstract. Geometric shapes are structured and precise, while organic shapes are more fluid and natural. Abstract shapes are stylized and distorted. The term ‘abstract’ is also used to reference unique shapes in real life. Shapes are used to convey meaning (think of a stop sign) and organize or divide the other elements of graphic design. Furthermore, a form is a three-dimensional shape that has depth, in addition to its height and width.



Did you know the shape of an infinity symbol is called a 'lemniscate'? #FunFact #Designers Click To Tweet



Texture refers to the surface quality of a composition. It adds a three-dimensional sense to a two-dimensional space. It’s used in design to make a piece more interesting and is considered to be real or implied. Real texture is tactile, meaning you can actually feel it. While implied texture creates a visual sensation to help you perceive what it feels like. Both types of textures are important in graphic design. Web designers often used implied textures, while print designers are more likely to work with both real and implied.  Patterns are also used in design to add visual texture to a composition.




Color is the reflection of light and used to evoke emotion. Designers use color to visually communicate and connect with viewers. There are three main properties: hue (the purest state of a color), value (the measure of lightness and darkness), and saturation (brightness vs dullness). Hue is the name we use to reference the colors we see; like the primary colors “red”, “blue” and “yellow”. When the primaries are combined, they create secondary colors (green, orange, and purple) and then tertiary colors (yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-purple, red-purple, red-orange). All these colors make up the color wheel and are arranged by temperature (warm vs cool). Colors are also categorized by color schemes: monochromatic, analogous, complimentary, split-complimentary, and triad. Lastly, color is relative. This means a color’s appearance is dependent on other colors. Click here to see just what I mean!




Value is the measure of an area’s relative lightness or darkness. Similarly to color, value is relative and greatly influenced by the characteristics of surrounding elements. When white or black is added to a hue, the color becomes a tint or a shade. Adding gray to a hue alters the saturation, or what is also known as the chroma. Light values are called high key and dark values are called low key. The greater the difference between these “keys”, the higher the contrast is between them (and vice versa). Contrast help emphasis the other elements of graphic design, and can be used to create movement within a composition. Designers use gradations of value to create illusions of depth and space.



Space is an area that is defined by the other elements of graphic design. It creates distance around and between elements. Elements with little to no space between them appear connected and grouped together. But the opposite occurs when the space is wide, elements look separated or distant. Space can be defined as positive or negative. Negative space is key to good design, because it gives the viewer’s eye a chance to rest and fully take in all the positive elements in a composition. Space is also used to create an illusion of depth.


The Univers typeface was the first font with a numerical system for weight. #FunFact #Designers Click To Tweet



Typography is the process of choosing fonts and arranging letters. Letterforms are systematic shapes used as a tool for visual communication. They can vary by typeface, size, weight,  and font variation. For example, the text you’re reading right now is a sans-serif typeface called Source Sans Pro. The font style is regular and weighs 300 at 16pts tall. Typography directly influences how well a message is communicated and received. Certain fonts work best for legibility and comprehension, while other fonts are harder to read because of their decorative and artistic style.




Now it’s time to review what you’ve learned! Take the Elements of Graphic Design quiz to test your knowledge and master the fundamentals of design. Then download the infographic to reference these elements when you create. 😀

Ariana Nicole
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