Using Value: Real World Examples

By LaurenMarie

Value is not color. Value is also not contrast, which is a separate principle of design. Contrast can be found in any element—texture, shape, size/scale, space, color, line or value—which is why it is a principle, not an element. Value is the tone of a color; it has more to do with dark and light than red or blue. The visual spectrum of value ranges from black to white. It can dramatically alter the mood of a design depending on the amount of contrast present.

Value is used to create

  • Mood
  • Visual interest
  • Emphasis
  • Depth
  • Direction


Nanan Ad

Low contrast can be boring, but it can also be indicative of harmony or balance of the subjects. This Nanan ad doesn’t have a lot of contrast of value—there are no deep shadows or dark colors—and an innocent atmosphere is created.

Take a look at the Nanan logo, too. It has a very light and airy presence on the page because although it is dark, it is not visually heavy (thick). Value has not only to do with the actual dark or light, it can also be reflected in the visual weight of an element of the layout.

Henkel Perlana Panther

Henkel Perlana Panther

Value, like size, is relative to the elements around it. Take this Henkel Perlana ad, for example. The black areas used to create the nose and brow of the sweater panther appear light when compared to the rest of the ad, but if you took that value and put it into the Nanan ad, it would seem pretty heavy and dark (not to mention out of place).

The product image and tag line at the bottom contrast in value with the rest of the ad, making them stand out pretty significantly. It also competes with the panther’s button eyes for dominance in the layout. Yes, it draws attention, but too much perhaps? What would a lighter grey for the type accomplish for this layout?

The Spiderwick Chronicles Poster

Spiderwick Chronicles Poster

The Spiderwick Chronicles Poster is a great example of using value to emphasize. The darker areas towards the bottom and edges frame the center of the layout and push the eyes towards the middle. Makes you wonder what is beyond in that mysterious light, doesn’t it?

There is such a dynamic range of value in this poster and the designer did an excellent job of using value to create a mood. High contrast in value is very dramatic. It is eerie, intriguing and magical all at the same time. There isn’t too much contrast within the central area of the layout, though; only enough to give a rough idea that the shapes are trees, but not too much so as to be distracting.

This has been the fifth installment in Real World Examples of the elements of design. Previously covered have been line, shape, space, scale and texture. Next, up are the use of color and the color wheel and color theory.

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