The principle of framing in graphic design

For many of us, our first introduction to framing was in school art class when the teacher would instruct us to draw borders around our creations. And while you may not have given it much thought since, framing is actually all around us—from the shape of your computer or phone screen to the windows in your home and the paintings on your walls. It’s an incredibly important aspect of any visual composition and graphic design is no exception.

Whether you’re creating a poster, social media graphic, business card or logo, framing is a core design principle that many designers and photographers use to create a sense of balance in their designs.

In this article, we delve into the principle of framing in graphic design—including why it’s so important, examples of how brands use it successfully and tips and tricks to guide you to do the same.

What is framing?

Visual framing is the presentation of visual elements in an image or layout in relation to the main subject. You may have experienced the concept of framing in relation to the border that goes around a painting, but it’s just as applicable to what’s going on within the visage, too! As well as other visual arts, framing is commonly used in photography and cinematography to make a shot more aesthetically pleasing and draw attention to the main focus.

reneeroaming instagram post

via Instagram @reneeroaming

Take, for example, this image of travel blogger @reneeroaming. The riverbanks on either side of the water perfectly frame her sitting on the rock, which makes for a spectacular image.

Why is framing important in graphic design?

While it may not be spoken about as much as color or typography, framing is considered one of the key principles of graphic design. Why? Because it’s essential for creating visual balance and unity within a composition! It can be used to decorate, highlight or crop the visual elements in a design, depending on your goal. It creates visual hierarchy in your work and guides the user’s gaze around the layout. It also allows you to draw attention to the focal point in your layout and set it apart from its surroundings. Essentially, framing is the underdog of the visual design world and you often don’t realise how important it is until it’s not there. After all, an image or layout with no framing would likely look bland, unorganized or chaotic. Or, your audience simply wouldn’t know where to look!

The different types of framing in graphic design

The important role of framing in graphic design dates back to its origins in print media—when magazines, posters and newspapers were its main applications. While we may no longer print out everything we design, there are a few framing terms from its heyday that are still relevant. The different types of framing include:

Margins

This is a border around the visual elements of your layout. Generally, all sides will be evenly spaced and sized. Wider margins can be used to emphasize the image within the frame, while narrower margins can make the content seem larger than life, so to speak.

troegs via dribbble, The principle of framing in graphic design

via Dribbble

Using a narrow margin, this poster for beer company Troegs gives the illusion that the visual contents are ‘bursting at the seams’—aided by the fact that some of the elements are overlapping the border.

Want to use a margin in your own designs? Canva’s Pink Bordered Ballet Dance Poster has all the right propotions—all you need to do is add in your own images, colors, and text!

Bleeds

In graphic design, a bleed is when an image or other visual elements fill the layout and seemingly run off the sides of the pages. While it involves the absence of a border, it can actually be a powerful framing device in itself—so long as you have other visual elements to offset it.

Instagram story template by vladimir via dribbble, The principle of framing in graphic design

via Dribbble

These Instagram stories by Vladimir Kudinov are a great example of how a visual bleed can be used effectively. The photos bleed to the edges of the page (or in this case, screen), but the other elements like the text and logo tie it all together and frame the image.

Want to achieve a similar effect in your own DIY creations? Canva’s Cream Beach Photo Pinterest Graphic template bleeds the image to the edges but balances it out with typography.

Partial bleeds

In graphic design, a partial bleed is when the image fills out most of the layout, but stops at a certain point. Unlike a normal bleed, it’s not a perfectly even event but rather a solitary snippet of negative space on the page. This is often used to create a more abstract aesthetic, or when the designer wants to include accompanying text or pointers.

Ankaylli Spatial and Ideological Terrain, the principle of framing in graphic design

via Behance

In this architecture book Ankaylli Spatial and Ideological Terrain, the designer has used an offset partial bleed to give the layout a distinctly modern feel.

Partial bleeds are particularly useful for posters, as they allow you to use a show-stopping image to get your audience’s attention while still including all the relevant information below. Try Canva’s Blue Stars Scientific Poster template.

How to achieve framing in graphic design

It’s important to know that bleeds and margins aren’t the only way to frame your layouts. A wide range of elements including text, shapes, lines, and images can be used to achieve a well-framed and balanced layout. Here, we take a look at a few different visual framing strategies you can use in your own designs.

Insert borders

Borders don’t always have to reach the edges of your canvas! Using an inset border in your designs can be an excellent way to make it more multi-dimensional. This is when your border is used closer to the middle of the layout, rather than on the outer edges.

Ombre Border Design Shack

via Design Shack

In this design for Digital Goodness, you can see how inset borders are particularly useful for directing the viewer’s attention to the content or call-to-action within the frame.

You can also use broken lines to create an inset border. To ensure it looks polished and intentional, you’ll want to make sure you leave ample space outside the frame and that your margins are evenly spaced. Canva’s Sky Blue Background and Simple White Border Slang Quotes template takes the guess work out for you!

Make use of negative space

Negative space is an incredibly important aspect of framing. Otherwise known as white space, these are the empty spots in your layout. By using negative space in an intentional way, you can draw attention to the positive spaces in your layouts—that is, your text, images or calls-to-action.

Pinterest template by Daria via Dribbble, The principle of framing in graphic design

via Dribbble

In this layout, the designer allows her empty spaces to frame the text in the middle. The use of shapes and icons breaks up the space and ensures the viewer’s eye takes the desired path around the layout.

Text

The typography isn’t always the central focus of your layout. Sometimes, you can use your text as a framing device around other elements like images or even video! This challenges convention and can make your layout stand out against the crowd.

Dark Force Generations by Isabella via dribbble

via Dribbble

In this layout, designer Isabella Mello has used a combination of horizontal and vertical text in different colors and sizes to form a rectangular border around the image. This is inset outside another border with the image, which creates a dramatic and layered effect.

Experiment with textures

There’s no rule to say the borders in your designs need to be a straight, solid line. Sometimes, it’s okay to be a little rough around the edges! Using different textures to frame your layouts can be a great way to add extra visual interest and depth.

The Makery via Design Shack, The principle of framing in graphic design

via Design Shack

For example, this designer has used a whiteout border to create a rustic and grungy effect. Watercolor and brushstroke borders are also great options to help you create impactful designs.

Want to incorporate textures into your own design? Canva’s Cream Orange Watercolor Art Postcard template uses an inviting watercolor border to frame the layout.

Incorporate icons

Whether its graphics, shapes or hand-drawn illustrations, icons can serve as an excellent framing tool. These can be used on all edges of your layout or peek out from opposite corners. So long as it’s symmetrical, it’s going to create an aesthetically-pleasing effect.

Canva’s Black and Green Watercolor Wreath Vow Renewal Invitation template comes with a gorgeous wreath border to perfectly round out your design.

Layer your elements

Using geometric squares and rectangles is perhaps the most common way to achieve visual framing in graphic design. But if you want to put a different spin on it, try experimenting with layers. This could mean using a narrow vertical text box across the middle of your layout. Or, you could layer a transparent box over an image, which creates two borders around the text.

Canva’s Pineapples Spring Pinterest Graphic template has done all the hard work for you, but you can also achieve this effect with any visual element by adjusting the transparency slider.

Great examples of framing in graphic design

As ironic as it is, perfectly framing your designs sometimes involves thinking outside the box! Check out these creative examples of visual framing to inspire your next creation.

Poster by Design Monat Graz, The principle of framing in graphic design

via Behance

In this poster for the Design Monat network, the designer has overlaid a transparent box onto the eye-catching map graphic. In doing so, the outside of the map becomes the border. This is a great way to use negative space in framing, while drawing attention to the most important part of the poster—the text in the box.

Featuring a cut-out box element layered over an image, check out Canva’s Summer Bordered Teen Magazine Cover template to achieve a similar look.

Gist by Anagrama Studio, The principle of framing in graphic design

via Behance

This inset border for lifestyle magazine GIST is anything but boring! With a stunning gradient effect, it’s a great reminder that your border doesn’t always have to blend into the background. In this case, it almost becomes the centrepiece of the magazine cover!

Want to experiment with a multicolored border in your own designs? Canva’s Colorful Bordered Black Friday Discount Flyer template is a great place to start.

Art Landing Page by Burak Yilmaz, The principle of framing in graphic design

via Dribbble

The framing in this website sculpture design company Aristo Art is imperfect—and that’s exactly what makes it so interesting! The designer has layered a border in the bottom right corner with another inset one traversing three edges. The subtle grid background also adds some degree of framing. All in all, it creates an unexpected look that works firmly in its favor.

Want to achieve a similar broken border look in your own design? Canva’s Cream Corner Frame Photography Logo provides the ideal (almost) blank canvas.

Henthorne Hill, The principle of framing in graphic design

via 99 Designs

From the circle exterior to the delicate lined border around the text in the middle, there’s a multitude of different borders in this image. While in the wrong hands this could look overwhelming, the designer has artfully created a balanced design that is delightful to look at.

For a more pared-back approach to this layered approach, take a look at the Charcoal with Brown Arrow Hipster Logo template in Canva.

When it comes to creating sleek and professional-looking designs, framing shouldn’t just be an afterthought. Because no matter which way you frame it, this is undoubtedly one of the most important principles of graphic design! By using the design tips and inspiration in this article or using a template that’s already perfectly framed, you can create beautiful designs worthy of a place in any art gallery.

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