Basic Design Principles – Contrast

When one element is different from another, there is contrast. Including contrast on a layout creates emphasis. We talked about the benefits of emphasis in Basic Design: Emphasis a couple of weeks ago.

We all routinely scan our surroundings – even when we focus on a spot, we eventually change our field of vision. As we make this change, we do a quick scan of the environment. As we do this scan, we unconsciously look for elements that stand out—elements that contrast. Think of the hunting lion looking for that movement or bit color that identifies prey.


Contrast will draw the viewer’s eye into and through the page.

That first eye-grabbing item is the starting place for your viewer and your page’s focal point. Once a starting-place is found, you’ve established a hierarchy within your page – that is, the viewer unconsciously understands what’s next most important and then next after that. The result is a page that can be understood and viewed well.

Contrast adds visual interest.

While repetitions of color and image give a page unity, too much similarity becomes boring. Something needs to stand out. Be careful, though, not to add so much contrast that the page becomes confusing. Or, rather, be sure that all of the contrasts you include are in support of one another and exist in a hierarchy, themselves.

On my page “Challenges of Today” there are several contrasts, but the one that comes to the forefront is the image of the bull coming out of the top left corner. The top left corner of any page is a key location for any of us who read books starting in that spot and moving left to right and down the page. The bull is a compelling image, and it is sized large. Other contrasts include: the variety of fonts and sizes in the title; the juxtaposition of patterned paper next to solids; the landscape orientation of the focal point photo next to several portrait-oriented supporting photos; the larger size of the focal point photo as well as its rendering in color while the supporting photos have very little color.


“Challenges of Today” by Debbie Hodge
Supplies: MYO Frames, Stitched by Anna Brown No 2 by Anna Aspnes;Patterns Petite No 4, Farmer Joe Mini Kit by Lynn Grieveson; This is the Day Word Art by Ali Edwards. All from


Contrast occurs when two elements are different. This next point is very important: the greater the difference the greater the contrast. If you’re going to include contrasts – be sure they’re obvious. If you’re going to do it – then REALLY do it.

The approaches for incorporating contrast are intertwined with those for emphasis, so refer back to Design Basics: Emphasis and check out the additional tips that follow.

type contrasts

Use different fonts, cases (upper or lower), colors, sizes, and materials for the words (titles, embellishments, journaling) on your page.

You could:

1)render a title in two parts that contrast

2)make your title type contrast with your journaling type

3)make selected words stand out from the rest of the journaling with type differences.

On “Escape Artist,” Amy Mallory has used a chunky, black alpha of chipboard for “escape,” and then a script font in white for “artist.” The two words differ in color, size, fonts, and texture/materials.


“Escape Artist” by mymallorboys
Supplies: Little Layette Kit, Graphed Paper Pack No. 02, Classic Embossed Grid no 2, Yarn Swirls No. 03: Neutrals, Ric Rac Basics no 1, Flossy Stitches: White, Date Spots, Chunky Chipboard Alphabet: Black No. 03, Jewelry Tag Alphabet, Spot Dot Brushes no 5 by Katie Pertiet; Stitched by Anna Borders No. 01, Stitched by Anna White No. 06 by Anna Aspnes;Painterly Backgrounds No. 01, Story HandDrawn Journal Blocks Brushes and Stamps by Ali Edwards Help Haiti Collaborative Collection; Worn Page Edges No. 02 by Lynn Grieveson. All from

size contrasts

Differences in size are a great way to incorporate contrast. Remember, though, that it’s not the large size that draws the eye, but, rather, the differences in size. An item that is proportionately smaller than everything else is just as eye-catching as one that is proportionately larger.

On “My Love,” Amy Kingsford has included a man-and-woman graphic that is by far the largest embellishment on the page. After the photo, it is the first thing my eye noticed. It not only adds pleasing visual interest, but its symbology–especially when accented with small hearts—supports her page meaning.


“My Love” by askings
Supplies: Basic Masks No 1, Cait Kit, Grid Brushes No 1, Paper Alphabet No 1 Green, Soft and Spunky Damask Papers No 2, Textured Solids No 2 by Erin Clayton; Happily Ever After by Aja Abney; Chocolate Minikit by Bohemian Art. All from

color/value contrasts

Contrast in color and/or value (lightness/darkness of a hue) is always a great way to make a photo, title, or grouping “pop” from the background. Remember: if you’re going to have contrasts, then they should be strong contrasts.

On “Rock Thrower,” Kellie placed a bright yellow mat on a deep blue background. Her photos sit on green mat and totally stand out because of these color contrasts as well as the generous white space. The entire grouping of photos, title, embellishments and journaling stand out.


“Rock Thrower” by kfite7
Supplies: Tom Foolery by Bella Gypsy & Amanda Heimann; Template by ChrissyW; Stitching by Mira Designs.

shape contrasts

You can use differences in shape to get contrast. On “Year 2009,” Katie used a large black circle to back up a narrow rectangular strip of square photos and give her title a home. The whole piece sits upon a white square with a narrow mat. There’s no doubt of this black circle on a white background standing out.


“Year 2009” by katiescrapbooklady
Supplies: papers by Amanda Heimann; template by Emily Powers; stitching by Anna Aspnes.

image Debbie Hodge owns, teaches at, and writes for the website Get It Scrapped! She’s the author of the F+W book Get It Scrapped! and two e-books on digital scrapbooking: Embellishing with Alphas and Every Little Thing, both available at DesignerDigitals where she is a creative team member. For more information on contrast check out Debbie’s article called Creating A Focal Point on Your Pages.

P.S. Thanks to everyone who gave Cindy some love yesterday in the comments! Lynn was randomly selected as the winner in $10 of product from Cindy. Here’s what Lynn said about Cindy’s templates: “I love Cindy’s templates! Set 36 is my favorite; however, I already own that one. So, I’ll have to say Set 35. Thank you for the chance and the great coupon!”