Background images are the unsung workhorse of any layout for web or print. Instantly transform any design through background texture, color, and depth.
Regardless of the type of project you’re working on or the industry you’re designing for, a well-chosen background image will enhance the style, message, and visual tone of a website, poster, social post, or ad.
This is your guide to choosing the best background image for anything you’re making, from geometric backdrops perfectly suited for tech and pharma companies, to subtle natural textures that improve the appeal and professionalism of Instagram Stories and Powerpoint presentations.
Why Are Backgrounds Important?
We’re all familiar with the concealing benefits of a virtual background on Zoom. But when it comes to creating designs, backgrounds are often a neglected afterthought.
Pro designers know better—the right background image will do much of the hard work for you. A seamless 3D background can add depth and interest to responsive websites, while even an ultra-simple canvas or papery texture adds luxurious tactility to designs, making print and web layouts feel more aspirational.
Choosing the right background image is key. Look for seamless styles that offer flexibility in sizing, color schemes, and textural effects that enhance other design elements such as logos and type. Backgrounds that feature photographic or illustrative elements will also enhance the theme or message of your design.
A great background will draw the viewer’s eye towards the important elements on your design rather than distract. Even vibrant, busy backgrounds can still help to channel focus onto the areas you want, as long as you carefully consider the layout.
What Makes the Best Background Image?
Backgrounds cover the largest area of a layout, so they have a huge influence on the appearance of the design as a whole. But don’t let that scare you! There’s no need to feel overwhelmed with the task of selecting the perfect background. With a few simple tips in mind, you can be sure to choose one that works beautifully every time.
Here are some qualities to look for in the best background images:
- Look for images that are appropriate and relevant to the subject and industry you’re designing for.
- Incorporate any existing brand elements, such as using the same color scheme or similar graphic styles.
- Leave sufficient space for text and other elements, such as logos, buttons, or graphics.
- Frame important elements on your layout, drawing attention to calls-to-action or key messaging.
- Improve the legibility and look of typography, logos, or graphics through color contrast. For example, a dark background will make white text easy to read. Or, an orange background paired with blue text will look effortlessly attractive because two colors sit opposite each other on a color wheel.
- Enhance, and not distract from, the look of your existing layout. For example, if you’re unsure about going for anything bold or patterned, try a subtle textured background instead, and see your entire design quietly but instantly enhanced.
Types of Background Images
Backgrounds come in a huge variety of styles and colors. In fact, technically any image can serve as a background image. But just because there are seemingly endless options doesn’t mean you have choose at random. There are a few features that distinguish these images from each other. Knowing these will help you identify the right type of background image you need to look for.
1. Seamless, Edgeless, or Patterned Backgrounds
Seamless backgrounds are either very large images, or images that can be tiled without the tile edges being visible.
3D designers intuitively look out for seamless textures when creating large-scale renders of furniture, products, or buildings. That’s because these backgrounds can cover large surfaces without any visible tiling or pixelation, creating a uniform look.
You can make use of the same trick. For website designs, seamless backgrounds are useful because the background needs to stretch responsively to various screen sizes. They’re also a go-to for large-scale print work such as banners and posters.
Edgeless backgrounds are a little different. These types of backgrounds might contain a subject, such as a person, as part of the image, but they have a solid color or gradient-edge backdrop that allows the image to be extended. You simple have to add more of the same color to the perimeter of the image. These edgeless images are much easier to edit and adapt into larger backgrounds than images with busy backdrops.
Patterned backgrounds contain repetitive, tiled elements that can also be adapted into larger frames. Vector patterns are particularly useful because they are customizable. You can extend the dimensions of the pattern and also adjust the color quickly and easily in Adobe Illustrator.
2. Texture Backgrounds
Textured backgrounds are the most subtle of background images, but they are valued by designers for their ability to make layouts feel more high-end and tactile. Layer canvas, paper, and woven textile textures in calming shades of white, beige, and gray under or over layouts to add depth and interest. Speckled, gritty, or noise (think graininess) textures mimic the effect of tactile print materials in web designs, making websites and apps feel more organic.
If you want a texture background, look for images that can be easily blended into an existing layout by adjusting the transparency. Neutral white and cream tones will blend better than bright or dark colors.
3. 3D Backgrounds
Real-world surfaces are irregular and textured, which creates shadows and highlights. 3D background images imitate this, using contrast between darkness and light to create an image that is tactile and dynamic. Giving the illusion of depth on a 2D design makes it feel more real, and more immersive as a result.
4. Surface Backgrounds
Backgrounds that feature surfaces, materials, or set pieces are extremely useful for showcasing product mockups. The key is to find surfaces that speak to the mood and function of the product. For example, a marble or metallic surface is the perfect background for luxury goods, while a wooden or linen-covered surface makes for a rustic and cozy backdrop for coffee or stationery products. Brick or concrete walls are useful for demonstrating prints or furniture products.
These types of background images allow you to flexibly change out backdrops for product photos, without the need to recreate a photoshoot from scratch. This is particularly handy for ecommerce websites or magazines that are constantly reworking digital product displays for seasonal-themed showcases.
Follow these tips for selecting a background for your online store.
5. Color Backgrounds
If you’re working from an existing brand color palette or simply want to transform a dull layout, a colorful background image is an instant way to bring life and vitality to designs. A color background is also a useful technique for tapping into a psychological power color.
An orange backdrop can give a design a sense of energy and well-being, making it a good fit for health- or fitness-themed layouts. Dark and moody black backgrounds give a sense of mystery and envelopment, making designs feel more serious and dramatic.
The best thing about color backgrounds though is how simple they are. It might seem like a plain choice, but a streamlined solid color can still add personality to your designs. Try out pastels, neons, earth tones, or plain old black and white for the HEX code that makes your heart (and your brand) sing.
6. Backgrounds with Visual Cues
Gradients that highlight an area of your design in bright color. Patterns that help direct the viewer’s eye towards one side of a layout. Both are examples of how backgrounds can act as visual cues, leading your audience to focus on what matters, whether it’s a CTA button or a new product.
The visual cues can be subtle or overt and intentional. One trick is to search for “mockup” images, which feature a built-in place for your product, text, or other element to live in.
More simply, you can just look out for background images that have variation in color, shape, or contrast, creating natural areas for placing text or graphics.
The Best Background for Your Industry
Whether you’re creating a website for a fashion retailer, a print ad for a corporate service, or a social image for a food product, there’s a background that will work perfectly!
For inspiration, look at a range of designs from the sector you’re working on, and note the common features of backgrounds used by the designers. A few common background types used by different industries are:
- Technology companies often default to geometric backgrounds in blues, silver, and inky black, which stylistically reference computer equipment and digital networking.
- Medical companies, hospitals, and pharmaceuticals companies opt for clean backgrounds with glossy highlights and a clinical palette of white and blue or green.
- Food and beverage makers often use color references to highlight the flavor of the product, such as zingy orange or yellow for energy drinks, festive red for alcohol products, or green for plant-based snacks.
- Fashion retailers often favor backgrounds with a luxury edge or a nod to textiles, such as marble, warm metal, leather, or linen.
- Beauty businesses frequently use fashion-forward textures and graphics in pastel colors. Their backgrounds can reference the tactile qualities of cosmetics such as watercolors and powders.
Once you’ve researched your sector and made a note of the common colors, materials, and styles used in the backgrounds of other designs, you can use these as a checklist for finding your own perfectly tuned background image.
The Best Background for Your Project
If you’re creating a design with a specific purpose in mind, such as a mail flyer, Powerpoint presentation or social media post, you need to consider how the type of media can influence your choice of background. It’s important to select your background depending on the scale, format and purpose of your layout.
Below, find background suggestions for a range of common design projects, from websites to e-vites.
Flyers and brochures will benefit from a background that is used uniformly across the different faces or pages of the layout, making the design feel more consistent. A useful technique for keeping readers engaged, the consistency of a background color or graphic means viewers are more likely to read your design from cover to cover.
Look for backgrounds with print-friendly CMYK vector designs or high-resolution photography, but avoid neon colors that can appear dulled when printed.
With most web designs now being designed as responsive layouts, in which images expand to accommodate small or large screen sizes, it’s important that a website background offers you the flexibility for expansion and contraction without distorting or pixelating the image.
Different websites, from corporate services to ecommerce, will suit different types of background style, but overall it’s good practice to find a background that allows adequate space for copy, offers a seamless or edgeless format for responsive design, and provides sufficient color contrast against type to promote accessible design.
Websites can also cope with brighter background colors, such as neons and vivid pastels, which will look bright and beautiful on RGB-emitting screens.
Social Media Backgrounds
Designing a post image for Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook? These types of images can quickly get lost in a long queue of scrollable content, so a stand-out background will help you to capture and hold the attention of easily-distracted users.
Powerpoint slides have a landscape format, meaning that you’ll need to look for backgrounds with have a horizontal orientation. When viewed on computer screens or projectors, presentations tend to appear starker and brighter, so avoid very bright or garish colors that might cause eyestrain.
Subtle graphics that allow you to layer text-heavy frames and photos without creating a visual headache are a tried-and-tested formula for slide design. Take a look at our edit of the best enlivening background images for Powerpoint presentations.
Background Images for Invites and E-Vites
Enhance printed invitations for baby showers and weddings with romantic floral backgrounds or Art Deco geometric backgrounds. Or, glamorize invites for parties, restaurant evenings, and other events with metallic or neon backgrounds. E-vites can also be given more print-like depth and texture with canvas or vintage paper backgrounds, making them appear more expensive.
- 4 Amazing Tools to Design an Invitation and Step Up Your Card-Making Game
- 64 FREE Flower Images to Layer on Your Designs
Think bright, bold, and simple when choosing background images for podcast covers and DJ backgrounds. As podcast covers appear as small thumbnails on mobile devices, any subtlety or small detail in a background will be lost on the viewer. Instead, stick to simple, graphic shapes or illustration, or a simple wash of multi-color with a trend-led texture such as watercolor or powder.
Conclusion: The Best Background Images for Every Project
The humble background image can be a neglected afterthought when creating layouts for print or web, but a well-chosen background is capable of doing so many useful things—from adding depth, texture and interest to bland layouts, to acting as the unifying element for disparate designs.
Whether you opt for a subtly textured backdrop to up the luxury factor of your ecommerce design, or choose vivid neon graphics to liven up a presentation, there’s a background image to suit every purpose. Happy hunting!
Cover image by contributor Zamurovic Photography.
Learn more about designing new backgrounds with these articles: