You’ve all seen it before, because frankly, this trend has been all over the place and for quite a few years now. But you don’t really know how to describe it — a bunch of similarly colored triangles or rectangles combining to create a intricate geometric shape, which somehow manages to be abstract but still demonstrates a clear figure of some sort? What is this magical style and how was it created?
We’ve got you covered — it’s been dubbed low-poly art. The name refers back to the style’s origin as rendering 3D models for video games. Though it seems as if you are using many polygons, in reality there are relatively few in comparison to the number that would be used to create a mesh for a more realistic and detailed 3D image.
And while now video games have far and away surpassed this level of detail, it has become a rather regular trend to see in the 2D graphic design world and has increasingly diversifying in how designers are using it, both in their unique design style and for what purpose.
Here’s a couple of the most important factors to consider as you dip your toes into these sparkling geometric waters:
Triangle Animals by Hope Little
Select the right source material. Though not impossible, it’s pretty difficult to make something out of nothing. So do yourself a favor make sure that any image you’re basing your design off of is high quality, or at least gives you a solid structure to work off of.
One thing that these geometric works mostly all do share are straight lines. There are those that incorporate circles and curves, but it’s something about those polygonal shapes, composed of facets, that makes us think “geometry!”
That being said, part of what’s going to determine your style within these limited options is the decision to use the oft-selected (and let’s be real, the simplest) option, the triangle, or to employ a variety of overlapping polygons, not all of which have to be the same as one another in number of sides or proportions. While each of these, the overall effect for your piece is going to be totally different, so this should be one of the first decisions that you make.
An important component in your piece is going to be symmetry. Are you going to, like the topmost image in this post (Triangle Animals), create a piece where one side mirrors another? Or will you play with the more abstract concept of creating a piece filled with vertices meeting in all sorts of different locations, like the image directly above?
Speaking of the image above — are you working in the 2D space or the 3D? While the majority of these works are being done in the former, they’re quite dependent on the illusion that they’re creating a 3D space. But they achieve this effect in varying levels.
The example above, for instance, is very intentional in creating a detailed image that really pops out of the page, while the majority of the rest of our examples play with these theme in a flatter form.
While a lot of this low-poly style is derived from illustration, it’s now being used in all kinds of graphic design, having made the journey from digital art to logos, print, and more. As demonstrated by both designers above, the artifice of this kind of geometric trend can be blended with more natural and detailed imagery, like a photograph, for an awesome contrast effect.
Take a look at how people are using this trend, and find your own creative way to do it! What we love about the Omnom package below, is that they put a subtle spin on the idea of the intersecting polygons. While they use color to differentiate the sections within the logo itself, on the packaging they use shading and texture techniques to create depth and movement in the figures, clearly rendering each one in black and white against a colored background.
Ready to get started? There are tons of different methods that designers have come up with to start producing this art. Some people use source imagery and trace spaces by hand, some use computer programs to detect color and create their images based on that.
Here are a couple of different tutorials, each which have a different take on how to make low-poly pieces:
This author focuses on selecting a great reference photo and determining how you want color to function in the piece before even getting started with the facets. He uses a non-symmetrical mesh style, done with a combination of Illustrator and Photoshop.
This tutorial has selected a symmetrical version of the trend, using Illustrator and Photoshop in combination with an app called I ♥ ∆ to create the vertices. It’s a great tutorial for helping to decide how much detail should go into different parts of the image.
While this isn’t quite the same low-poly style as the other two tutorials, it’s a great way to understand how shapes relate to one another when you’re creating a geometric portrait. Hand-sketch your own polygons to create the design that you want!
99ers on trend
Here’s how top 99designers community users have taken this concept and applied it to their winning designs. As you can see, each designer has created a unique style and are using it in many different genres of design, as low-poly is a great starting point for inspiration!