Design Series: Gradation

Gradation is a principle of design, but it is not included in all books about design.

If gradation had an opposite, it would be contrast.


  • Gradation refers to a method if creating the elements by using a series of gradual changes in those elements. Unlike contrast, which stresses sudden changes in elements, gradation refers to a step-by-step change.” For example, gradual changes from a dark to light value, or from large to small shapes would be called gradation. (Deer Creek High School Principles of Design)
  • An idea that is expressed by a smooth flow of colors, size, shape, etc from one part of the continuum to the other. (The Nature of Design)
  • “Gradation of size and direction produce linear perspective. Gradation of of color from warm to cool and tone from dark to light produce aerial perspective. Gradation can add interest and movement to a shape. A gradation from dark to light will cause the eye to move along a shape.” (John Lovett)
  • Gradation definition, any process or change taking place through a series of stages, by degrees (definition from
  • “Refers to a way of combining elements by using a series of gradual changes. Examples of gradation:
    • 1. gradually from small shapes to large shapes (an example is Ann Johnston’s quilt, Seven, which you can see on pg. 94 of The Quilter’s Book of Design.
    • 2. gradually from a dark color to a light color
    • gradually from shadow to highlight ” (Newton K-12)


  • You gradation to express depth. If you want to show a long road, put a line of trees next to it with the largest closest to you and the rest in ever diminishing size to the horizon.
  • Gradation of shading on a circle produces a ball that looks 3D for the eye.


  • “Understanding that gray lies between black and white gives us an idea of what lies between light and dark. When we think about the value gradation of any given color, we can imagine it in its darkest form as having black added and in its lightest form as having white added.” (A Fiber Artist’s Guide to Color and Design, pg.104)
  • gradation is very common in solid fabrics. If you look at the Kona color card, you will see excellent examples of gradation from one color to another.
  • “Gradation is most often used with the Design Element Color. But with a little bit of thought Gradation can applied to the six other Design Elements as well.
    • Line – A gradual change from perpendicular to curved.
    • Direction – A gradual change from vertical to horizontal.
    • Shape – A gradual change from angular to round.
    • Size – A gradual change from small to large.
    • Texture – A gradual change from smooth to rough.
    • Value – A gradual change from light to dark.

Gradation is the Principle that banishes boredom from your work. It adds movement to otherwise boring areas. I consider ti one of the most useful Design Principles and one of the most easily applied. ” (Fine Art America Blog, Dec 21, 2009)