Let’s get illustraight to the point! From animation to crafty collages, here are the top illustration trends for 2021.
Throughout history, humans have always used drawings to express themselves. With the first recorded cave drawings dating back to 15,000 B.C, even the earliest illustrations depicted people, places and events relevant to the time, often providing a reflective social commentary. While illustration has come a long way from putting pigment to stone, to this day, its core purpose remains largely the same.
In recent years, the explosion of digital illustration has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for artists around the world. The rise of drawing programs such as Procreate and Adobe Illustrator have enabled illustrators to bring their wildest dreams to life, combining illustration with other mediums such as photography and video. Some Photoshop and Procreate brushes even allow artists to add a sketch, watercolor or oil painting effect to any image, instantly turning a regular photo into a digital masterpiece.
With hand drawn and hand-crafted elements becoming one of the biggest design trends of the past year, plenty of brands and artists have started to embrace illustration in their branding, websites and creative projects. And with digital illustration tools and techniques increasing in popularity among creators, new illustration trends and styles are constantly emerging.
While the craziness of 2020 challenged the creative industries to no end, it also spurred on the development of many exciting and innovative illustration styles and trends that have continued to blossom in 2021. So, what are the top trends dominating illustration design this year? Let’s get illustraight to the point! From line art and minimalism to geo abstract and 3D illustration, here are the biggest illustration trends to try in 2021.
Featuring classic geometric shapes with an abstract twist, this illustration trend encourages designers and artists to experiment with different shapes, colors, patterns and textures. A relative of Abstract Futurism and Organized Chaos – two of the big graphic design trends for 2021 – Geo Abstract illustrations combine the methodical nature of geometry with the limitless chaos of abstract art.
This illustration trend can be seen on the bright bold website of SuperHi. Set against a grid-lined background, the shapes are layered with chessboard squares, diagonal stripes, and abstract wavy lines to create a trippy, 3D feel.
When it comes to putting this illustration trend into practice, strike a balance between minimalist and maximalist qualities. Combine a simple color palette with chaotic shapes and layers, or go easy on the geometric elements and contrast this with a maximalist, clashing color palette. Or, if you’re brave, take a full brutalist approach and go all out on both fronts!
This vibrant Abstract Geometric Design by Danjazzia is a great example of the Geo Abstract trend in action. Bursting with bold colors, repetitive shapes, sharp corners and the all-seeing eye motif that stares straight into the soul, it perfectly balances geometric symmetry with abstract chaos to engage, but not overwhelm, the viewer.
One of the biggest design trends of 2020, 3D illustration allows designers to lift their ideas off the 2D page and bring their drawings to life. Whether you want to recreate real life objects or create straight from your imagination, 3D illustration provides artists and designers with a whole new world of artistic possibilities. This trend has absolutely exploded online throughout the past year and shows no signs of decreasing in popularity for use across website designs, digital interfaces, social media and everything in between.
A perfect example of this is Jeremiah Shaw, who uses 3D visual data renderings to bring information to life. From pie charts and bar graphs to super detailed infographics, this innovative application of 3D illustration goes to show that the sky truly is the limit.
Meanwhile, Elements author and designer Amrit Pal Singh has been turning heads all over the web with his eye-catching 3D illustrations, namely his Toy Faces series. Illustrating the likes of Daft Punk, Frida Kahlo and even God himself, Amrit has been commended not only for his incredible skill, but also for the wide range of diversity and representation in his work.
“When creating 3D illustrations, I spend a lot of time thinking and chalking out my ideas and I keep a detailed notion journal,” explains Amrit. “Once I have a sense of what I want I get into the software right away, using Cinema4D and Adobe Illustrator. I usually first draw things in Illustrator and then take them to Cinema4D to model a 3D version. Then I think about textures and lighting and what kind of look I want. After the final render, I do some touch-ups in Photoshop and then I’m done!”
To include Amrit’s work in your own designs, check out his collection of 3D illustrations over on Envato Elements – including these Holographic Flowers Abstract Backgrounds and Pride Character 3D Illustrations. Or, to learn more about 3D illustration and 3D rendering, check out these Envato Tuts+ courses on Cinema 4D and Mastering 3D in Adobe Photoshop.
The minimalist illustration trend is perfect for artists who prefer a clean and uncluttered aesthetic. Encapsulating flat design, sketchy illustrations and neutral color palettes, we’ve been seeing more and more illustrators ditching superfluous design elements and taking their work back to basics with simple 2D drawings.
With a focus on simple lines, sparse or neutral colors and basic textures, the minimalist design style stems from the idea that less is more. Put simply, minimalism harnesses the power of nothing to highlight its counterpart.
“Minimalism is a trend that’s here to stay,” says Envato Designer and talented illustrator Taylor Conacher. “Illustration is a universal language, so mastering clean and simple illustration is an important tool to communicate your message clearly and effectively.”
Illustrator Jop Staphorst’s super-simple yet striking portraits perfectly exemplify this effect. Featuring simple lines and a basic palette, he highlights only the necessary facial features and accents them with one or two bright pops of color, resulting in a minimalist but powerful effect. Kasun uses a similar technique to create these enchanting minimalist illustrations.
A great example of the ‘less is more’ aesthetic, these abstract fashionable minimalistic girls by kaleriia on Envato Elements feature minimal details, block colors and simple shapes to create highly effective minimalist illustrations. Or, for a neutral color palette, try these simple Abstract Woman Faces by visuelcolonie with minimal details and simple lines.
To jump on the minimalist illustration trend, it can pay to learn more about minimalism and how to integrate it into your graphic design and web design projects, including the ever popular monochromatic color palette.
Following on from minimalism, line art is one of the biggest trends to take over the design world this year. Intertwining the simplicity of minimalism with the hand-crafted charm of illustration, the line art trend is perfect for capturing any subject or mood in a simple yet abstract way.
Often featuring smooth, curved lines inspired by the human figure, faces and other natural elements, line art incorporates simple lines, negative space and splashes of color to produce some truly beautiful and elegant results. Line art has become super popular online and is quick and easy to make. The trend is perfect for illustrators who want to create a stunning design in no time. Learn how to do line art in Procreate.
As seen in these Art of Taste Illustrations by Tubik Studio, these charming line art illustrations by The Brand Kit, and this Self Portrait by Anna Frovola, line art drawings can be clearly distinguished by their curved lines, layered colors and textures, and minimal details.
If you want to add a touch of sophistication to your next creative project, these Abstract Line Art Faces by timonko from Envato Elements create a simple yet abstract Picasso-like effect. Or learn more about the Line Art trend and how to use it in your work!
By now, we’re all aware that video is the most engaging form of online content – so it comes as no surprise that animation has fast become one of the biggest video and illustration trends of the last year. A content format loved by brands, marketers and creatives alike, animation is attention-grabbing, engaging and can add a dynamic effect to any website or design.
Popping up everywhere from advertisements, explainer videos and internal comms to social media posts and websites, animation is an incredibly versatile medium that can be used in a variety of ways. Whether it’s to add a small accent on a stationery design or website, or to create a long-form video, including animation in your creative projects will be sure to delight your viewers.
Jonas Mosesson’s Curated Restaurants Promotion for Airbnb takes a simple and fun approach to animation. Showcasing dining destinations from around the world, it features animated icons, logos and simple line drawings that repeat small movements on a continuous loop.
Alternatively, this playful advertisement for PayPal includes an engaging mixture of animation and video, a style referred to as ‘motion collage’. Great for creating imaginative videos that stand out from the crowd, any live-motion video can be quickly and easily spruced up with some fun animated characters or icons to create a motion collage effect.
If you’re ready to delve into the world of animation, these stylish animated illustrations by IconsX are a perfect intro. With customizable colors and 40 different elements to choose from, this easy-to-use illustration template pack will make animating your next creative project a piece of cake.
The crafty illustration trend is all about analogue textures and getting back to basics. Featuring textures such as brushstrokes, ripped paper edges and woodblock prints, crafty illustration brings real world textures into the digital realm.
Influenced by crafts such as collage, scrapbooking and printmaking, the crafty illustration trend also draws inspiration from 90s trends grunge and anti-design with its distressed textures, hand-drawn doodles and textured layering.
Crafty illustration is particularly popular on social media, with many artists taking to Instagram to share their work. Social-media artists Journal Bean, The Brand Kit and Labyrinth of Collages are all well known on Instagram for their crafty work and creative collages, which often mix mediums such as illustration, photography and typography to create an eye-catching effect.
Alternatively, Jessica Benhar’s work is an example of back-to-basics design in full swing. Made with a printmaking technique called linocut, this ink-on-paper effect can be easily replicated using textured brushes or add-ons, such as this Painter Photoshop Action by Eugene-design. These kinds of brushes and add-ons make it easy to give each of your illustrations a crafty, tactile feel by adding swirls, swipes and splashes of paint to your designs.
“Whether this trend has developed from people spending more time at home and picking up crafty hobbies, or is an extension of mixed media design trends – I’m here for it,” says Taylor.
“Envato Elements’ Crafty Collage Collection takes me back to afternoons cutting out magazines and creating collages in my sketchbook. Oh the nostalgia!”
To help you get crafty, we’ve put together this Collage Collection packed full of linocut brushes, letterpress alphabets and foil textures, so you can achieve a crafty effect in your own creations.
With an increased focus on diversity and representation throughout 2020, many illustrators are now featuring quirky people of all shapes and sizes in their designs – a trend commonly referred to as “odd bodies”.
Odd bodies aligns with the body positivity movement, and advocates for the acceptance of all bodies regardless of physical ability, size, gender or race. This style of illustration often features people with exaggerated proportions, distorted body shapes and unusual colors. Loosely linked to the abstract art of Picasso, odd bodies are now being featured everywhere from websites and apps to branding and social media.
“Odd bodies are the new normal,” Taylor explains. “It’s refreshing to see a wider range of representation in illustration. The global advocacy for diversity and inclusion is positively shifting design trends, and we’ll definitely be seeing more of this in the future.”
Indonesian-based Illustrator Summerizze’s work perfectly encapsulates the odd bodies trend, pairing her gentle-giant characters with soft pastel colors and fun patterns and textures. Danny Suario’s Illustrations also embrace this trend, featuring larger-than-life characters with greatly exaggerated limbs and unusual proportions.
Elements author Sukmaraga’s quirky characters and fun illustrations practically jump off the page due to their sketchy expressions, splashes of color and interesting shapes.
To include more odd bodies in your designs, check out this Marketing Flat Illustration by roundicons and this Girl with a cat flat illustration by switzergirl.
Combining the crafts of illustration and typography, intricate lettering is the perfect way for artists and designers to dress up a thoughtful message with all the trimmings of visual design.
A trend that can turn even the simplest of typefaces into an artistic masterpiece, intricate lettering often features a simple word or phrase embellished with illustration and other delicate visual elements. Used frequently in graphic design, branding, wall art and social media posts, intricate lettering is the perfect way to wrap up your message in a pretty package.
For example, this flowery greeting from Drawings for Sakura of America by Maggie Enterrios gives the word ‘hello’ a whole new meaning with its beautiful floral embellishments and sophisticated black and white palette – not to mention the intricately illustrated ampersand bursting with blooms, butterflies and even a hummingbird.
If you want to add some wow to your words, dot your i’s and cross your t’s with our Intricate Lettering Collection, featuring a selection of some of our favourite typography as well as templates to create your own designs. Or for more fun fonts and trendy typefaces, check out the latest Font Trends and Typography Trends taking the design world by storm.
And that’s a wrap on our top illustration trends for 2021. For more great trends content, check out our 10 Big Graphic Design Trends for 2021 and our top Web Design Trends for 2021!