4 Art Deco Graphic Design Techniques and Applications

The illustrious Art Deco style has found expression throughout various creative industries. With the help of these 4 techniques, learn how to take some design direction from this world renowned art period.

Symbolized by geometric skyscrapers and lavish lines, the Art Deco era was one of the most iconic, design movements from the 1920s to the 1940s. The term art deco derived from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et ModernesWhile this term is well known today, the coined phrase didn’t become popularized until 1968.

Art Deco’s archetypal style surfaced as a result of the rise of industrialization and modern technology. This led to a depiction of shapes and forms in a more streamlined fashion. Just like other artistic styles, Art Deco took some influence from previous movements. The geometric, machine-driven formations have been drawn from Cubism and Futurism.

While the Art Deco style has had its ebbs and flows, the direction taken from the art period still continues to thrive. Designers have sprinkled Art Deco inspiration into poster designs, logo lockups, and branding elements.

The continuous evolution of the traditional style keeps its main characteristics intact, yet with a more contemporary perspective. Art Deco has surfaced across sci-fi film posters, hotel branding collections, and coaster designs. Typographers have also continued to provide refreshing takes on the famous, dramatic Art Deco font style.

While Shutterstock features an endless library of Art Deco-inspired graphics to choose from, it’s always great to take some stylistic cues from such a dynamic art period. Read on to discover four key techniques in successfully evoking the iconic Art Deco style.

1. Use Textured Gradients

Textured gradients are widely used in many designs and illustrations, to achieve that subtle, yet grainy, look. Those little specks you see on-screen resemble the careful airbrushing techniques from the early twentieth century. This art of airbrushing was also common across Art Deco poster designs, most notably those of A.M. Cassandre.

Instead of grabbing the nearest airbrush, you can easily mimic the look and feel of that grain, with a few tools and effects in Adobe Illustrator. When combined with gradients, these grain textures can transform a design’s overall appearance, providing dimension to otherwise flat graphics.

Begin by opening up your most recent illustration, or create a few shapes with Illustrator’s Shapes Tool. With the Selection Tool (V), duplicate a shape by holding down the Option key and dragging it across, or hitting an arrow key.

Bring up the Gradient panel and create a linear gradient, with the duplicated shape. Click and drag hues from the Swatches panel to apply them to the gradient stops. For the red heart, I dragged the same red hue to transition into a dark red hue. If you’re not sure which hue to use, you can always adjust them, later on. To mimic the Art Deco stylization of drastic shadows, I placed the two gradient stops close to each other.

Head on up to Effect > Texture > Grain at the top of the program – this brings up the Grain popup menu. Set the Intensity to around 34, the Contrast to 69, and the Grain Type to Regular. Hit OK to return back to your artboard.

Activate the Transparency panel, then set the blend mode to Multiply, if using a darker shape, like the heart; or set the blend mode to Lighten, if using lighter hues. Play around with other blend modes, as needed, to achieve the look you’re after.

Rinse and repeat the above steps on the remaining shapes. Since you’ve already established the Grain effect settings, you can quickly apply the effect with Shift + Command + E.


2. Embrace Geometric Symmetry

The Art Deco style drew from various art periods and influences, including  Cubism, Futurism, and De Stijl. The most notable characteristics from all three of these movements were references to modernity, the use of geometric shapes and lines, and a streamlined composition.

Think back to the Roaring Twenties. You may recall an illustrious use of lines and geometric forms in a clean, symmetrical fashion, embellished with metallic accents. This dominant style remains popular today and can be seen across logos, branding, and invitations.

Without the help of software tools, symmetrical designs can be hard to master. Lucky for you, Adobe Illustrator has just the right tool! Transform Effect enables you to mirror any vector shape, within a specified artboard. There’s no need to worry about copying and reflecting your composition manually. This effect will do all the extra work for you.

Start off by creating a new document or artboard. Create a separate layer, just for the mirrored effect, by clicking the folded square icon in the Layers menu.

Activate the Rectangle Tool (M), then draw out a rectangle that exceeds the limits of your artboard. Set the shape’s outline to black and the fill to none, then align the shape to the artboard with the Align menu. This step is crucial. Without marking the bounds of your artboard, the mirrored effect will not work properly.

Bring up the Ruler guides (Command + R), then click and drag down the guides to mark the centers of the artboard. This step is optional, but I find it helps to visualize where the mirrored shapes will be placed.

Target the layer you’re using by clicking the open circle in the Layers panel, then bring up the Appearance menu. Select the FX icon and choose Distort & Transform > Transform. This brings up the Transform Effect popup. Select Reflect X and set the number of Copies to 1.

With this handy technique in mind, you can quickly design a symmetrical composition, in no time. Get inspired by Shutterstock’s Art Deco illustrations to help you create a pattern reminiscent of the Roaring Twenties.

3. Incorporate Exaggerated Sans Serif Fonts

One of the main takeaways from the influential Art Deco style is its usage of decorative, and exaggerated, sans serif fonts. These fonts typically evoke luxury and drama with their angled appearance, excessive curves, and drastic stroke weights.

Art Deco-inspired fonts are vast. There is no shortage of these luxurious styles, no matter where you’re looking. Shutterstock’s font library features countless Art Deco themed vector fonts, ready to be downloaded. The good news? There’s no need to install a font file. These font designs behave just like typical vector files. This in-depth article goes over how to make the most of Shutterstock fonts.

There is also an abundance of free, Art Deco-inspired fonts on both Dafont and Google Fonts. Some typefaces that call the Art Deco style to mind include: Market Deco, Poiret One, Spinnaker, Voltaire, and Limelight. Install these free fonts and they’ll be ready to go in your favorite Adobe design program.

4. Top off a Bold Style with a Bold Palette*

The Art Deco style is known for being bold, bright, and opulent. Designers often incorporated hints of metallic accents – such as gold, silver, or chrome – to evoke a sense of extravagance. Art Deco remained prominent throughout the Depression, as well as, onslaughts of world wars, hinting at simple, yet better, times approaching. It encapsulated a joyful life for the future, despite current struggles.

One way to capture an air of exuberance is to bring in cheerful, bright hues to your composition. Color is a powerful tool in design – it can change how a specific composition is being perceived. Bold, contrasting palettes speak differently than a toned down, muted palette.

What better way to capture the Art Deco aesthetic than achieving color inspiration from Art Deco-themed design elements and illustrations? These palettes pack a lavish punch, whether you’re using them in your next Art Deco-inspired design, or in any inspired composition.

To use these unique hex codes in your next design, bring up the Color Picker menu by double-clicking the Fill Color, in any Adobe design program. Enter the six-digit code into the dialog box, preceded with the pound key. Hit OK, then bring it into your Swatches panel by selecting Add New Swatch.

nce you’ve added these hues to your Swatches menu, you can easily access them within the design. Experiment with different applications of these palettes, or get even more creative input from various Art Deco-themed designs.

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