Lines in Graphic Design

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, discover the role of line in graphic design. You'll understand why line is a fundamental element of art and design, learn different types and styles of lines, and how line is used by artists and graphic designers.

Line is Fundamental

As an element of visual art and graphic design, line is perhaps the most fundamental. While you probably already know what a line is, graphic design will define it a little differently than the lines you studied in math class. In art, line is the path a dot takes as it moves through space and it can have any thickness as long as it is longer than it is wide. Not only can a line be a specifically drawn part of your composition, but it can even be an implied line where two areas of color or texture meet. This means that any shapes you use, even if they are not outlined, are bound by lines.

Types of Lines

Lines do not have to be perfectly straight, but if you've ever watched a toddler scribbling, you already knew that. Here are a few types of lines commonly used in art. They are defined by the path they take.

A) Vertical Line, B) Horizontal Line, C) Diagonal Line, D) Curved Line
Line Types

  • Vertical Lines: These are perfectly straight lines extending up and down.
  • Horizontal Lines: These are also perfectly straight lines, but they extend side to side.
  • Diagonal Lines: Again, these are straight lines, but their direction has both a vertical and a horizontal direction.
  • Curved Lines: These lines bend so that they are not perfectly straight.

Styles of Lines

In addition to the types of lines, artists and graphic designers use a variety of line styles. Some lines are longer than others, some are thicker than others, while some even change direction in order to zigzag or become wavy lines with curve changes. Check out these interesting style variations.

Examples of continuous, interrupted, and implied lines
Line Styles

  • Continuous Lines: These are solid lines drawn from one point to another. They can be straight or curvy as long as they do not stop and restart at any point.
  • Interrupted Lines: These lines are the opposite of continuous lines. The line's path still exists from one point or another, but there are gaps in the illustration along the way. Two common types of interrupted lines are dotted lines and dashed lines.
  • Implied Lines: We mentioned these in the introduction. They are lines that are not drawn but exist at the point where one area of color or texture touches another area of color or texture. Basically, they exist, but they are more like the lines from your math class where they have length, but no width at all.

Using Lines

Graphic designers use lines in the way many other types of artists do, but they also have a number of ways to employ lines that are specific to their line of work.

Traditional Artistic Use of Lines

There are three major ways that artists use lines in their compositions, often in drawing. These all involve how they construct images from lines.

  • Contour Line Drawing: In this method, lines are used to outline shapes and draw in details, like a fold in fabric.
  • Gestural Line Drawing: This method uses lines to represent motion. Ever see a series of lines behind a running character in a comic book, comic strip, or cartoon?
  • Hatching and Cross-hatching: This method uses lines for every part of the image. In hatching, the artist draws a series of parallel lines, creating shading where the lines are grouped closer together. In cross-hatching, the artist draws parallel lines in one direction and a set of lines perpendicular to the first. Again, where the lines are closer together, they create shading.

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