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10 Principles For Creating Stunning Illustrations

Creating illustrations that get a “wow, who did this?” is every designer’s dream, whether noob or experienced. Good illustrations not only look stunning, they also pass a message as clearly as possible.

However, creating designs that truly move the needle might not be as easy as said even if you’re a professional. And that’s why I’ll share some kick-ass illustration principles in this article to elevate your design skills.

1.Start With A Sketch Always

Illustrations are born from flashy imaginations. Some are crazy, some are just mild. But the main thing is, you can easily forget whatever you imagine. And that’s why most pro illustrators sketch down their ideas.

So when discussing with your client regarding the illustration they want, it’s best to create a rough sketch on the spot and make gradual adjustments before opening your illustrator software.

Traditionally, paper sketches are the goal standard. For one, it’s faster. Unfortunately, their downside is costly as you can lose the sketch and have to start all over again – if the inspiration is still there.

Alternatively, you can use modern illustration tools like Procreate. Coupled with free downloadable procreate brushes and internet cloud access, you don’t have to worry about losing your awesome sketches.

2.Focus On Simplicity

Have you heard the word “Ignoramus” before? 

You could have, but there are possibly hundreds of millions of people who have no idea that it simply means “Ignorant person”.

Ambiguousness is a big problem with textual communication. But visuals like illustrations are not free from this tumor as well. Your illustrations can look ambiguous when you fill every space with unnecessary and complex elements.

I know doing a lot is a way to show that you’re truly skilled at what you do. But what makes you a professional is understanding what element needs to be on a design and what should not.

Of course, this has nothing to do with minimalistic designs. However, every illustration should easily convey your message, be easy to digest, and captivating at the same time. To do that, you should use as little elements as possible without making the illustration look desolate or crowded.

Simplicity also helps people focus on the crucial information on your design. So if the more critical the message you want to pass, the simpler your design must be.

3.Develop a Cohesive Color Palette

Making your color palette cohesive means each color must complement the other and not look awkwardly different. But to create a cohesive color palette, you need to first understand color theory. 

You must know what colors are primary, secondary, and tertiary. Importantly, you should know how to use these colors complementarity to create the right atmosphere.

Color psychology is also important. Some colors like blue convey professionalism, red convey love, passion or danger, while green expresses agriculture, climate stability, and abundance. Now imagine using a blue color as your dominant color for a Q3 illustration report on forestation. That’s definitely not a good fit.

After that, you can now choose which colors will go into your palette. This usually depends on the type of illustration you want to create, the brand you are designing for, and their audience.

As for the number of colors you should use for an illustrative design, there are different schools of thought. But if you go by the 60-30-10 (%) rule, three colors are more than enough for your palette. 

The 60% is your dominant color and should be used for 60% of your design whereas 30% is for the complementary color. Lastly, your accent color takes up the remaining 10%.

It’s also important to consider culture and the status of your likely viewers. For instance, putting red and green together on your illustration will make it inaccessible to people with red-green color blindness.

4.Contrast Is Your Best Buddies

There are contrasts of color, size, shape, and type. But the most common are color, size, and shape. Whichever one it is, contrast can draw attention to or eliminate focus from a particular element in your illustrations depending on how you use it.

For instance, the size contrast can help viewers see which texts are more important hierarchically – often from the biggest to the smallest. Check out the image below:


Source: Pluralsight

Color contrast works in a similar way when two distinct or near-distinct colors come together. The more distinct they are, the more contrast they have. This is particularly important for illustrations since you have so much important info to pass along. Check out the example below:


Source: Pluralsight

Others like contrast of shape also work magic, although limited. For instance, imagine designing an entire illustration with rectangular boxes and placing a single star-shaped element in the center. The star-shaped element will draw more attention as the odd one out.

5.Maintain Consistency in Style

If your color palette at the start of an illustration were red, blue, and green, then they should remain that way till the end. Same thing applies to your fonts and shapes. There’s no reason to start your design with New Times Romans and end the other half with Arial.

On the bright side, you don’t have to be so rigid when creating illustrations. While inconsistent styles can mar your designs, you can smartly use them to draw attention.

For instance, a sudden change in your color consistency – let’s say halfway through an illustration – will promptly draw people’s attention. 

6.Your First Draft Is Never The Best

Submitting first drafts is one common practice of newbie illustrators, especially if they are racing against deadlines. Don’t get it wrong – your illustrations can look extremely stunning even on the first draft. But that’s still not ideal as there will always be one or two subtle mistakes that can mar your design.

After the first draft, you need to check if your colors match up, if the fonts align, and if there are clutters to be removed or new elements to be added. From there, you can ask friends and families to sincerely review it from their perspective before turning the illustration in.

7.Craft Story-like Illustrations

Storytelling is the core of every marketing strategy. After all, how else do you want to keep people glued to their screen reading your long-winded illustration? 

The most stunning illustrations are thus those ones that tell or look like a story. And you can easily do that by ensuring there is a hierarchical arrangement between your elements. Viewers’ eyes should go top-bottom or left-right, not otherwise.

Your illustration can also become story-like by putting one or two comical arts in a few edges. Other than that, using leading lines is a cheat-way that will help you create illustration elements that seem to be in motion (even though they are not).

8.Ensure Your Designs Are Visible and Scalable

Illustrations are usually designed with a larger screen in scope. However, that means viewers with smaller screens or those using mobile devices will be unable to appreciate the design unless they zoom in.

Trust me, no viewer wants to go through that much stress.So it’s quite important to consider the scalability and visibility of every illustration on different screens.

You should also inspect the contrast and color of your design. For instance, red appears weirdly non-red when I export designs from my previous laptop to an android. The view is different on iPhone too – weird right? That’s why you must cross-check to ensure you see what everyone else sees.

9.Draw Inspiration From Other Illustrations

Remember I said illustrations are born from imaginations? The extent of your imaginations, however, depends on how much you’ve seen. This automatically means your mind and eyes have to consume more advanced graphic materials in order to spur better illustrative ideas.

Personally, I recommend visiting sites like Pinterest, Freepiks, Behance, and Dribble. Each of these platforms have a library of inexhaustible graphic content that can tug your strings and give you a spark of inspiration.

You should also network with other graphic and illustrative designers to share ideas, compare viewpoints, and even review each other’s work. This will expose you to new angles to creating better illustrations.

10.Integrate AI With Your Designs

Artificially Intelligent tools like ChatGPT and DALL-e took the world by surprise in 2022. And you can be one of their early adopters for creating good designs. And note, I don’t mean you should let any tool do the designing for you.

But you can use ChatGPT to generate design briefs from bits of information given to it. Then you can edit and streamline this brief to suit your purpose. Importantly, you ask an AI tool to review your first illustration draft and give you some suggestions on improving it.

As regards DALL-e, use it to generate some realistic concepts or structures which you can then integrate in your illustration. That’s often better than creating everything from scratch especially if you are on a tight deadline.

It is, however, important to understand that AI’s help is limited and shouldn’t be your major go-to resource.


Your brain retains 65% of what you see compared to 10% of what you read. And that’s one of the reasons why illustrations are extremely efficient in communicating crucial information compared to texts.

In order to create stunning illustrations, you need to focus on simplicity, develop a cohesive color palette, and understand how contrast works. You should also maintain style consistency and draw inspiration from online sources or other designers. Lastly, ensure your illustrations are scalable and visible.

IEMLabs is an ISO 27001:2013 and ISO 9001:2015 certified company, we are also a proud member of EC Council, NASSCOM, Data Security Council of India (DSCI), Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). The company was established in 2016 with a vision in mind to provide Cyber Security to the digital world and make them Hack Proof. The question is why are we suddenly talking about Cyber Security and all this stuff? With the development of technology, more and more companies are shifting their business to Digital World which is resulting in the increase in Cyber Crimes.


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