Go Retro: How to Create Brilliant Illustrated Designs–No Drawing Required!

You need a flyer, advertisement, or social post but you don’t have high quality photography. Plus, a simple photo and text is not not really the vibe you’re after. You want something that pops… something that the art department of Don Draper’s ad agency would illustrate over a three-martini lunch. Only you’re not an illustrator, nor do you have an art department, and drinking at noon would really throw off your busy day. With Spark‘s vast collection of shapes and textures, brilliant color palettes, and intuitive design features, you can easily create eye-catching retro-inspired branding for your next event, sale, or marketing moment. And we got the templates to help you do it!




The easiest way to get the vintage screen printed look or pop art-inspired shapes and textures is to click into one of the templates below and remix the design into your own creation. But knowing a few tricks our designers use to find and arrange elements into dazzling designs will set you up for success and help you become your own full-service creative agency. Here’s how to create a retro illustrated design–the easy way.

Use Scale and Color to Lend 3D Depth

The key to giving your design depth is to develop contrast between the foreground and the background. Being strategic about size and color can help you do just that. In these templates, the larger shapes indicate the foreground, while smaller icons lend a sense of the depth to the design. Master this trick by duplicating an element and playing with the size and placement to create the illusion of distance.


Color can also help you accomplish this design trick. Notice how the middle balloon in the design below appears darker, as if it is in the shadow of the balloon in front of it. Decide on where your light is coming from in your picture and adjust the color values accordingly. In general brighter colors bring objects forward in the design. Use Spark’s smart color picker to find help you find the values perfect for your design.


Layer Icons and Text

Forgoing an orderly grid for an open composition with overlapping elements can also take your design to the next level. Layer icons and text to get  on-trend maximalist look, just make sure the most important info is still readable by paying attention to the order of your elements and bringing that item to the front.


In the design above, the text and its backing shape appears on top of the light icons. Adjust the order of an element, by selecting it, tapping order, and sliding the bar that appears.

Duplicate and Arrange Icons to Create Drop Shadows

Another easy trick to looking like a vintage illustrator pro: create drop shadows! Simply duplicate the element, assign it a darker color, and then position it in context with your main image, like the design does below with the shopper’s legs. This template also does a nice job of highlighting the message by lining up the text and the attention-grabbing icon. Pair a bright complementary color palette and a bold font to bring the design home.


Add Texture Using Spark’s Icon Library

Our shape and icon library is so vast, you may not know that you can even search for textures! Whether you’re looking for pop art dots a la Roy Lichtenstein or that “imperfect” screen printing look, chances are Spark has it! Search for “texture” under “Add icon,” then position the shape over the entire design or just a portion like the templates below do. You may have to expand the shape so it fills the canvas.

Search for “texture,” “halftone,” or “duotone” to find comic book dots:


This design is a combination of splatter texture, star icons, and an expanded landscape scene. Duplicating the car icon and changing the color gives it a subtle motion effect and reinforces the vintage vibes.


Applying patterns is also an easy way to fill a canvas with something that pops! Search “patterns” under “add icon.”


Other fun things to search for: “splatter,” “squiggle,” or “fingerprint.” How can you arrange the elements to create something unexpected?

Duplicate and Layer Text for Dramatic Statements

You can apply text effects like drop shadows cut-outs with one tap to turn type into art. But for a more dramatic effect, try duplicating the text and layering your message. Experiment by playing with complementary colors or fonts and layering placement. The templates below provide a great starting point of design-friendly font and color palettes to get you going.


Are you ready to embrace the retro design trends? Tag #AdobeSpark with your best retro designs!