The Psychology of Lines and How to Use Them

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Where would we be without lines? When it comes to making sense of our world, lines are everything. Without lines, there would be nothing here for you to read. No lines means no letters.

There would be no buildings, because there would be no way to draw up the blueprints used to design the many structures we inhabit. Our eyes wouldn’t know where to look. All would blur together in a whirlpool of unbounded color.

Fortunately, we have lines to save us from falling down that bizarre rabbit hole.

Here, we’ll discuss how vertical, horizontal, diagonal, and curved line designs are perceived so you can effectively use them in your logos, flyers, and other marketing materials.

Let’s do this!

Where Would We Be Without Lines?

When it comes to design, lines allow us to make a point—both literally and metaphorically—by connecting one point to another. Lines direct our eyes by guiding us into a design and signaling where we ought to look next, dividing and organizing the visual field, and creating an aesthetically pleasing flow.

Whether you’re looking to incorporate lines into the design for your restaurant menu, the flyer for your real estate business, the label for your beauty business, or anything in between, Create has you covered.

Learn how different lines are perceived by your audience, plus how you can use Create to work these lines into your design.

Here we are at the starting line. Ready? Let’s go!

Different Types of Lines

In the visual arts, a line can be defined as a linear mark made by a pen, brush, or virtual design tool. There are many types of lines out there, but today, we’ll focus on the main four: vertical, horizontal, curved, and diagonal.

Vertical Lines

License this image via Photo Veterok.

These run along the y-axis, meaning they are perpendicular to the horizon. Full of energy and potential, these lines can remind viewers of skyscrapers, Grecian columns, or towering basketball players.

Because these lines can appear to be stretching from earth to heaven, they can even conjure a feeling of spirituality and grandeur.

A thick vertical line conveys strength and rigidity, as in a tree trunk, whereas a thin vertical line can convey fragility or delicacy, like the stem of a wine glass.

Popular example: The icon for cell phone signal strength is usually five thick lines progressing from shortest to tallest. When we see all five lines colored in, we feel confident that our phones are working at maximum capacity.

Cellphone signal bars
License this image via Butterfly Hunter.

Ideal for: Construction companies might consider incorporating the sturdy vertical lines of a ladder into their logo. High-end restaurants eager to capture a sense of elegance can benefit from the use of thin vertical lines as a way to organize their menu.

Add your own vertical lines: Create features a wide variety of pre-made templates with vertical lines that may suit your project. Explore our Templates and enter keywords such as Menu into the search bar to quickly locate designs with vertical lines you can customize.

You can also add your own vertical lines by clicking the Drawing feature. Select from style options, such as Pencil or Paintbrush, and then scroll down to Size to adjust the thickness of your line.

Horizontal Lines

Horizontal stripes in a row using pastel colors
License this image via Yeshe-la.

Keeping in line (pun intended) with the horizon, these lines run parallel to the x-axis. They appear to be lying flat, which imparts a sense of restfulness and relaxation.

They create a tone that’s more subtle and peaceful than powerfully upright vertical lines. Because they appear grounded, these lines are associated with the earth and stability.

A thick horizontal line appears quite sturdy, like a platform one can stand on with confidence. The delicacy of a thin horizontal line can be used to gracefully divide up a design space.

Popular examples: The AT&T logo—a bright blue sphere with horizontal lines—suggests that they help the world go round via powerful connections. When we see the Spotify logo—three slightly curved horizontal lines stacked on top of one another—we can practically hear the music drifting up to our ears.

Music logo with green circle and slightly curved horizontal white lines within
License this image via Anang Selamat.

Ideal for: Job seekers in need of a well-organized cover letter design, mattress companies that want to put buyers in a restful mood, and Instagrammers in need of colorful post templates.

Add your own horizontal lines: Looking to create a compelling original flyer for your business? Head to Create and select Collage. Click the design with the line arrangement that suits your fancy and make it your own.

Alternatively, you can select Templates to check out designs for Cover Letters, Instagram Posts, Uplifting Quotes, and more, all with artful horizontal lines that you can then customize to meet your needs.

Curved Lines

Blue curve vector background with overlaped white layer and space for text and message artwork design
License this image via Thaiview.

Like horizontal lines, curves convey a sense of comfort. Think hammocks, relaxed smiles, and gentle ocean waves. Because these lines have an easy natural flow, they’re associated with nature and all things organic.

Curved lines express more spontaneity than the literal straightforwardness of a straight line. The more curved the line, the more active and dynamic it appears.

Popular examples: The curved arrow beneath the Amazon Logo inspires a sense of ease and flow, as we trust that whatever it is we have ordered will arrive on our doorstep in no time.

Amazon logo printed on a blue paper
License this image via dennizn.

McDonald’s golden arches combine the impressive height of the vertical dimension with the ease of a curve in such a way that you might just feel you’re about to ascend to hamburger heaven.

Logo at McDonald's in Neunkirchen, Germany
License this image via U. J. Alexander.

Ideal for: Businesses that promote natural, organic products such as Etsy shop owners selling homemade lotions and candles or beachy boho attire, yoga teachers promoting the benefits of their classes with some flexible-looking fonts, or a ballet studio seeking a graceful logo.

Add your own curved text: Go to Create and open either a blank canvas or pre-made template. Look to the list of editing tools on the left. Select Text > Add Text.

When presented with the list of text edit options, look to the far right and select Curved text. Select Arc and then adjust the Curvature slider to create a concave smile or a convex hill shape.

Diagonal Lines

Set of five templates with diagonal line examples for each
License this image via rarinlada.

An excellent way to create a sense of dynamism and movement, diagonal lines stimulate excitement.

They can appear to be either rising or falling: a diagonal line drawn from the bottom-left to top-right will look like a mountain to be climbed, whereas a line that runs from top-left to bottom-right will look more like a ski slope one might speed down.

Popular examples: The Adidas logo features three diagonal lines in ascending height order. This makes it easy for consumers to imagine that with Adidas sneakers on their feet, they’ll be able to sprint up a hill, no problem.

Adidas logo against brown wall
License this image via Suriyawut Suriya.

The sleek diagonal of the Nike swoosh conjures up a similar sense of effortless athleticism. 

Nike logo printed on white paper
License this image via Rose Carson.

Ideal for: Fitness-oriented companies such as those that sell athletic attire, gym memberships, or exercise classes.

Add your own diagonal lines: Get creative with your use of diagonal lines by utilizing the various tools within Create.

Want to stir up excitement for your new boxing gym? Select Graphics, scroll down to Athletes, and try adding a boxer who has his leg up in a diagonal high kick to your design. The diagonal of their leg can guide the viewer’s eye to your text message that lists all the details of your upcoming fitness class.

For a subtle diagonal, you can italicize any font by clicking on a text box and selecting Style > Italic.

The Bottom Line

No matter what you’re selling, lines are a simple and powerful way to enliven your design. Explore Shutterstock’s library of images for inspiration.

Have an idea lined up in your mind? Head to Create to get started.

License this cover image via Bibadash x2.

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