Abstract Design with Sketch

If you’re a graphic designer who takes their work very seriously, you probably won’t end up using Sketch as a means to create conceptual design or artwork. You’re probably just like me and are going to use industry standard tools like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. But I wanted to push the limits of what Sketch could accomplish, and that is the reason for this experiment.

One thing that I absolutely admire about Sketch is its ability to be more than just a design software, but a design system. Which makes sense, since Sketch was originally designed, and is still used today, to create UI and UX interfaces.

Using this core feature, I was able to create some pretty amazing designs faster and more efficient than any other design software I have ever used. But it’s not without problems, some of which cause critical roadblocks in the handoff process. There are some workarounds that I will discuss, but they may discourage other designers from using Sketch in the ways that I orginally intended.

Experiment 1: Hyper Gradients

One of the more frustrating things with Illustrator is the gradient tool and panel. Choosing the colors, direction, and color stops always feels like I’m boxing with Illustrator itself. Gradients in Sketch are extremely intuitive and easy to use, so I wanted to see what I could come up with by combining a few core elements.

The effects featured in this experiment were created without the use of extensions. I only needed the native vector, gradient, shared style, shadow, and blending modes.

I started by drawing two freeform shapes and overlapping them in places. The objects themselves only have one gradient fill with a hyper shadow applied. And when I say hyper, I mean something with a blur of 100, which is crazy.

Combining these two objects with a blending mode was as simple as experimenting with different color combinations and shadow colors. The result was pretty spectacular.

I decided to take these a step further by applying gaussian, zoom, and motion blur.


The end result

Ultimately these work very well as desktop or mobile phone backgrounds because I can export them at any size or resolution. Sketch was able to handle a total of 312 artboards in a single Sketch file. The only time I noticed a significant drop in performance on my Macbook Pro was when I was exporting many of those artboards at once. At one point, Sketch was using up about 5GB of memory.

The actual Sketch file for this project ended up only being 20mb, which is insane. And you can have all of this insanity in one nice neat little package, source file and all. Since I know most of you are cheap bastards like myself, you’re more than welcome to download it for free. But if you want to throw a couple bucks my way, I won’t complain ☺️

Experiment 2: Looper Lines & Cover Page Templates

For this experiment, I actually utilized several extensions including Looper, Sketch Select, and Renameit. Looper is the key extension for this experiment as it allowed me to randomize several elements within constraints. The other two are merely for organizational purposes.

I wanted to see if I could create some cover page templates very quickly using one set of designs. I had an idea in mind of using some curved and wavy lines, something you would most likely see in the business or medical field.

This element was achieved by drawing a roughened circle and duplicating it using Looper with random rotation. Since Sketch doesn’t have a “Roughen” effect like Illustrator does, I created a freeform vector object using a perfect circle as a reference. I then changed all of the points to mirrored curves.

Before running Looper, I applied a nice blue gradient to the line to give it some visual weight. Once I configured Looper, this gradient was rotated along with the object itself, giving it some nice variations.

Using this completed element, I then set out to create some simple cover page typography. This was all well and easy, and something I could copy onto some other layouts.

Using this same method, I ended up creating six different layouts. Some of these layouts used varying other line elements that I experimented around with Looper, while maintaining the look and feel of the first element.

Now comes the fun part 😏

Before hyper-duplicating these artboards, I set out to create 12 different gradients that I thought would look good for this project. This was pretty easy because I had already created so many from the hyper gradient project.

Using Sketch’s grid tool, I duplicated the artboards into 12 sections. From there, all I had to do was use the extension Sketch Select to narrow my selections to target only specific artboards and Looper lines and apply a different gradient. The result was pretty amazing.

In total, I had essentially created 72 page templates from an initial 6 in as little as 20 minutes.

Taking this one step further, I decided to use one of the templates that I created for this project and experiment with some different line elements for some eye-catching general-use backgrounds. This was done by simply taking and duplicating the Looper lines, manually selecting the individual lines, and playing around with the line tool.


The end result

Overall, I was pretty pleased with how these had turned out. They work very well as digital designs, but print was another problem altogether.

Exporting these out into any workable format was a bit difficult. PDF versions of these artboards worked just fine, but I had absolutely no control over how these PDFs were being rendered. I like it that Sketch has the ability to export into this format, but PDFs are more than just an export option. They are an extremely complex file format, and would be much better suited to have these built in Illustrator simply for that reason alone.

EPS and SVG exports were hit or miss. Most of the time, EPS format was just plain unreadable. SVG worked well enough if opened in Illustrator as long as the elements weren’t too complex. The artboards above couldn’t be opened in Illustrator without crashing because of the shadows applied to the lines, I’m assuming. SVG was a breeze for everything else, and that’s the only distinguishing effect I could find.

Either way, these files would need to be manipulated outside of Sketch in order to be print-ready. Which isn’t all that bad if you know what you’re doing. I just wish Sketch had the ability for print export.


After all of this time I put into these projects, I still have to ask myself: would I do this all again using Sketch as my main design software?

And that answer is no.

If I just needed something quick and digital, sure. I would just straight into Sketch without hesitation. Anything more than that, I would rather stick with Illustrator and take my time. It may be frustrating, but there’s a reason Illustrator is an industry standard.

Other than that, you’re more than welcome to download these page templates for yourself. And of course they’re free, but please send me money because I am broke and I would absolutely not waste it on tacos and pizza 😇

Thanks again for reading.