Trending Illustration Styles 2020: Abstract, 3D & More

What's the state of illustration design in 2020? We look at six key illustration trends with our experts.

Trending illustration styles
Portrait for Lachean HumphreysBy Lachean Humphreys  |  Updated November 20, 2020

Illustration has come a long way from simply denoting sketching on paper. New and evolving tools mean artists can work more quickly and continually experiment with illustration styles—and this means the future of illustration is bright and getting brighter. Here we explore the most popular illustration styles for 2020, including the best illustration design.

What Are the different Styles of Illustration?

So what’s the state of illustration design heading into 2020? There are new players, but some of the golden old illustration trends such as grain effect and hand-drawn illustration are back in the game, too. Here we look at six key trends with help from our experts and examples from Envato Elements.

01. Illustrations for Web​

Illustration boasts a wide portfolio. For marketers, it makes our communications more effective, across social media and blogs, packaging, posters, print ads and apps. It also plays a big part in branding for many companies.

For web in particular, picture the early 2000s mascots, like Mailchimp’s Freddie (one of very few who has survived!). Mascots went out of style, and character illustrations went with them. But in the last few years, they’re back, brighter and bolder than ever.

“The style has a modern retro aesthetic with bright and interesting color combinations,” says Kate McInnes, Content Specialist at Envato. Leading the charge, she says, are artists like Alice Lee, the mind behind Slack’s illustration library.

The difference for 2020’s resurgent version of the trend, Kate explains, is that it “adopts playful metaphors and injects plenty of personality. Figures are designed for diversity and have drawing styles that avoid veering into the old cartoon mascot territory.”

You can see what she means in some of Envato’s simple templates, such as the Emry feature header by usedesignspace.

02. Grain Effect/Texture

Adding textures is a handy technique that you can use in different ways throughout an illustration to add visual interest.

“Grain effects and textures can be a great way to elevate a flat vector or simple illustration by adding an extra layer,” explains Camilla Anderson, Digital Designer at Envato.

These layers of interest can come in a few different ways: as a way of adding shadows or highlights, adding depth between foreground and background objects, or combining sections of texture and flat color.

Or all of the above, as in these ski maps or these product illustrations for Vancouver grocer, Stong’s market, all by Tom Froese. Texture effects can be used to enhance website pages, too, as demonstrated in the photography landing page template by aqrstudio.

Camilla’s top tip? “Don’t forget, texture can be added by anything you like! Try using closeup photos of textured surfaces with different blending modes over your design to get a really interesting look.”

03. Abstract Illustration

Visual communications have the upper hand compared to relying on the written word, as they transcend language barriers and can have a much wider audience appeal. But, as Ryan McCready warns, writing for Venngage, “As more brands started embracing simple illustrations, the uniqueness and effectiveness of the graphics have kinda worn off.”

“Your illustrations need to get a little more imaginative, abstract, and even dreamy to really stand out in 2020,” he adds.

This is where the abstract trend comes in. Examples from illustrators like Kamila Romaniak and Olimpia Zagnoli, with her quirky covers for The New Yorker, show the range and applicability of this style. For a taster, check out the ready-to-use graphics and templates available from Envato Elements author Dan Jazzia.

04. Bright and Bold

Bright and bold are the king and queen of the social media space. As Sophie Dunn, Senior Brand Designer at Milkshake App, says, this trend is the one you’ll stop scrolling in your IG feed for.

“What I love about this ‘concept-first’ stylistic approach is there’s no hiding,” says Sophie. “It’s gutsy, it’s simple, and it’s the concept that packs the punch.”

But don’t jump in too enthusiastically—the key isn’t necessarily jamming your space with the brightest shades possible. As Sophie advises, it’s best to pair the bright and bold trend with an illustration that’s simple and uncluttered: “light on detail and big on shapes”.

Her top (technical) tip? “When picking colors, consider how they’ll roll out across digital and print. You don’t want to lose impact because ol’ CMYK got in the way!”

05. Hand-Drawn Illustration

In a marketing world that often seems dominated by digital design, this is an illustration style that can help pieces be that bit more memorable.

“We’re saturated with minimalist clean designs, so hand-drawn elements bring back a tactile playful nature,” says Tahlia Giannopoulas, UX Designer at Envato.

Pairing hand-drawn features with nature or precision illustrations can also make for engaging compositions. Illustrator Vikki Zhang shows how to mix it up with her flora, fauna and picturebook-esque style, as does Ella Jackson with soft, nature-inspired designs.

Whether you’re after watercolor, charcoal or plain old pencil, the Essential Vector Brushes Collection by AnnaIvanir features 150 brushes and is a very good place to start experimenting.

06. 3D Illustration

Illustration can bring an element of storytelling to complex information, and happily for designers, 3D illustration design also provides a way to lift these ideas off the 2D page.

“The current web technology made it possible to render 3D objects; 3D illustrations can be used to breathe more life to a normally static/flat design,” explains Aurenia Permadi, UI Designer at Envato.

“It is also specifically useful to visualize complex ideas and blend the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds,” she adds.

3D illustration is used effectively on homepages like Pitch and interactive sites like Ueno’s “Interview”. While these are comprehensive, it’s easy to get started with simple designs or by making use of 360° rendering of objects.

Beyond these six illustration trends, there have been a few others catching eyes recently. The ‘90s are back in more ways than one—think Saved by the Bell style colors and patterns. Japanese influence is still strong in many areas of art, and kawaii is an illustration trend that doesn’t look like it’s disappearing anytime soon. Round this out with isometric designs, which are particularly (and enduringly) useful in infographics and presentations.

Go forth and experiment. Take some inspiration from some of our favorite illustrators such as Kaleriia Tverdokhlib and Danilo Sanino. Happy illustrating!

Oh, and before you go, if you’re keen on seeing just how much value you can get out of your Envato Elements subscription, take a look at The Elements of Envato Elements.

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