Sketchnote Tip #9: Contrast is your friend

What makes sketchnotes “look good?” It’s a hard question to answer since “looking good” can be subjective, or up to each person, but generally speaking, appealing art or designs have one or a few of these elements:

  • asymmetry
  • symmetry
  • contrast
  • hierarchy/proportion
  • unity/harmony
  • variety
  • rhythm
  • movement

I think one of the most important elements is contrast.


Contrast is achieved through creativing a visually dominant area or element next to a visually passive element or area. When these two things are juxtaposed it creates contrast- the creation of visual tension and interest. Contrast can be achieved with color, placement, degree of difference, subject matter, or light/shadow.

Here’s a hack to tell if something has contrast or not. Blur your vision (or take off your glasses!) and look at a sketchnote. Are there areas of dark and light, or elements that really stand out? If the notes kind of blur togehter and everything looks the same, it could use more contrast. 


Good examples of contrast: 

This sketchnote has areas of deep black and areas of white. The contrast of the darks and lights makes it visually interesting.

This sketchnote has good contrast with the black and bright red color. There is visual interest between the sectionsm and there’s a good balance of dark and light in the notes.

Examples of Poor Contrast:

This sketchnote is low contrast. There is a lot of text and very few illustrations, and the colors are all light. The highest contrast area is the portraits.

This sketchnote has low contrast because there isn’t any large area of difference or color. Everything is similar. 

Does low contrast mean it’s a bad sketchnote?

Absolutely not! Sketchnotes can still look great and have low contrast… sometimes the ability to put contrast into your notes depends on the content you’re working with or the time you’re given to complete it.. The sketchnote may have other positive elements like movement, hierarchy, variety, etc. that make it look great. 


Tips to start adding contrast into your sketchnotes:

  • Make dark things. This could be your headline text, arrows, illustrations, or background. Instead of drawing a character, try a silhouette instead! 
  • Get as grey marker and add shadows/shading
  • Try sketchnoting on black paper with a white pen
  • Be aware of contrast as you create your sketchnotes. Ask “how can I juxstapose two different things together?”