Screen Printing:

The Design Throwback

Bold colors and modern may be reminiscent of the 1980s and 1990, but think sleek — not 'Miami Vice.'

By Jennifer Foy, Contributing Writer

Figure 1. Adding illustrations to a photograph can create a dynamic arrangement between the image and the elements.

September 21, 2018

In 2018, we’ve seen some design trends emerge that will carry through into 2019. They have appeared in fashion, home décor and gifts. Some prominent trends are moving away from minimalist and quiet designs and, rather, now express individualism in brave color schemes and bold, geometric patterns.

You should be adding such designs to the product lines you offer, no matter if it’s apparel, signage or gifts. Color gradients also are back — and that includes more than pastels. Vibrant gradients or color transitions against a contrasting background or over a photograph can be seen everywhere. You may recognize many of the isometric and geometric designs from the 1980s and 1990s, while some of the typography will be reminiscent of the 1990s. Think modern and sleek, not “Miami Vice.” What’s old is new, but be careful; otherwise, you’ll be left holding that scrunchie — yes, they’re back — wondering where your sales went.

Color Trends
Combine unconventional color schemes — even neons — with bold, handwritten-style lettering for an on-point design. Geometric and isometric patterns using triangles, circles and squares in a thick stroke outline are common shapes. Short lines that create a confetti type of pattern give backgrounds texture. Other designs using polka-dot patterns bring back pop art, such as that from Roy Lichtenstein.

If you aren’t sure where to start with color pairing, find Pantone’s “Fall/Winter 2018 Top Ten Color Palette.” The shades of purple, yellow, orange and more will give you a suitable starting point for working with a new set of bold colors. Apply two of these colors to a polka-dot pattern background, for example, and you’ll be halfway there.

You can create simple versions of these patterns, but if you lack skill or time, consider working with a freelance graphic designer or visit stock imagery sites online. If you choose the latter, don’t forget to read the license agreement for each site or downloaded image. Also, check out to find a designer or try a site like that offers templates and artwork at an affordable price when using in a commercial manner.

Working with Photos
If you are working with photographs, there are a few different ways to approach or stylize them to mesh with current trends. Find an illustration — whether it’s accents, elements, patterns, shapes or a drawing — that matches the feel or look of the photograph.

For example, if you’re working with a photo of a person swimming in the ocean, add fish illustrations around them or in the water with them. Figure 1 shows a boy holding a leaf with a colorful fall foliage background, with illustrated elements and words added. It changes the feel of the photo, making it more dynamic.

Colorization is another option, and it can be achieved in two ways: by adding a single color or doing a color gradient (also known as a color transition) over the entire image. You can do this in Adobe Photoshop or Corel PhotoPaint by converting an image to grayscale first, then changing the color mode back to RGB (or CMYK if you’re not decorating products via dye sublimation).

The next step is to add the color or gradient to another layer on top of the image. If you’re not so sure about all this color, just look at Instagram’s logo rebrand that took place more than a year ago. And that’s not the only logo with lots of bold colors. Other brands — Dropbox, for example — are adding more color-combination variations to their branding identities rather than undergoing a whole identity redesign.

More Design Trends
Looking at design trends, you’ll also notice a lot more hand-lettering typography styles. Fonts that resemble chalk, spray paint and markers will continue to become more popular and evolve, providing a serious contrast to more geometric-shaped typefaces. They support the authentic, human characteristic that most brands want; it’s as if someone is speaking directly to customers in an ad or design.

This also ties in adding illustrations to photographs, creating more of a custom and creative look that highlights the individuality of the person depicted.

If you haven’t already noticed, flame stitch patterns, Memphis-style design and jungle art all have evolved to intersect with pop art and pastels. If you want to add color and incorporate these trends into your work, but are afraid you’ll overwhelm customers, start by adding a few colorized T-shirts or apparel pieces and changing out a few more items throughout your shop one week. After another week or two, switch out more.

It’s not necessary for all of your products to address these trends, but showcasing many of them in your offering will make customers aware that your shop is current with the times and capable of more than they may realize when it comes to apparel, gifts and décor.

Jennifer Foy is the creative director for Unisub and SwitchCase brands at Universal Woods Inc., a manufacturer of blanks for dye sublimation. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jennifer at or visit