the graphic design blog that speaks the truth

Stock Vectors are everywhere, im magazines, on TV ads, sometimes even on the clothes that you wear. On more than one occasion I have looked at a design that is meant to be passed off as an illustration or corporate identity and recognised that some of the elements used are in fact stock vectors. There is nothing wrong with using stock artwork as such, but I ask you to think again before making, in most cases, unnecessary purchases. I have compiled a list of my Top 10 Stock Vector Cliches:

10. Butterflies


They may be pretty nice to look at from time to time but these little critters seem to creep into illustrations everywhere. Often with no purpose or relevance, the beloved butterfly is thrown in as an after thought or maybe to fill up sacred white space of any collage. Stock butterflies are normally very basic & flat.

9. Beautiful Women


You are likely to find adorning a club flyer or poster, a beautiful female scantily clad with oversized body features. As far as I know this craze was started by the Hed Kandi albums back in the 90’s. It’s pretty obvious which ones are stock due to the lack of detail compared to the bespoke drawings.

8. Speakers


Another main feature of the “collage” trend is the vector speaker, which is more prominent in the music industry. Sometimes the speaker may be the centrepiece but it is more common for two or more to be placed symmetrically either side.

7. Sunburts


When creating a funky collage illustration you need a base, and the first port of call is to seek a sexy sunburst, right? I think this stems from summertime posters but now seems to feature all your round. What’s more worrying is that some designers are willing to pay for these considering how easy they are to make.

6. Drips/Splatters


Nothing says “urban & edgy” more than graffitti. Adding drips and splatters to your work (mainly typography) can achieve this feel but sadly this is one of the biggest cliches in design, and has been for some years. Try to only use in context if completely necessary. An alternative to buying stock is to create your own by using real spray paint on paper, scanning in and then tracing to vector. The results will probably look more realistic.

5. Swooshes


I think the first time I saw this kind of graphic element was back in the early 90’s when Microsoft slapped it all over their packaging (in some cases they still do). This can be seen mainly in use for website header images or presentation backgrounds. Over time the “futuristic” desired effect loses it’s appeal.

4. Ornates


Whenever I see these floral swirls I can’t help but think of the work of Si Scott, who in my opinion is the master of this technique. You will find this element applied to typography in the main but is also used as backgrounds for websites and in some cases for logo’s.

3. Skyline


Coupled with drips & splats the city skyline silhouhette completes the urban look. I have seen elements such as these used by corporate professionals on business cards and letterheads, which can look really cheap and tacky. I would suggest only use a silhouette of a city landscape when neccessary, eg. when drawing a nightlife illustration.

2. Team Silhouette


Some businesses seem to think that by using silhouettes of business professionals in quirky poses it makes them look “modern & hip” when it all does it show that the business is faceless. This not only lowers the element of trust but also makes your business look like thousands of competitors.

1. Globes


The beloved globe has a very special place in every chief executive’s heart. It’s meant to show that a business operates worldwide or is active on the “internet”. This is the most transparent stock illustration element that I can think of.

Can you think of any more stock vector cliches?



  1. 06/08/09
    8:09 pm
    I would have to say skulls and wings. Nice article.
  2. 26/08/09
    2:56 pm
    Great article. Skulls and Wings are seriously overused like Lucas suggested. Circles within Circles are just as bad though.
  3. 06/11/09
    6:44 pm
    concentric circles!
  4. 20/02/10
    12:29 am
    twinkle twinkle f'ing little STARS!
  5. 13/09/10
    9:37 am
    You've forgotten to mention swirls and floral stuff (often in combination with ornates and butterflies).
  6. 13/10/10
    7:20 pm
    How about he "reflex effect" used everywhere nowadays! I guess it was Apple's iTunes creation, used on every album art inside the play list window. Now it had spread out like a virus!!
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