Symbolism is a powerful way to add nuanced meaning to your content. In graphic design, symbols help represent your brand, connect with your audience and, ultimately, tell your story.
PicMonkey has thousands of symbols available for you to use when crafting compelling designs. To help get you started, we’ve compiled a list of popular symbols and meanings below. Happy exploring!
Common symbols and meanings
The heart is an ubiquitous symbol for love. It champions compassion, vitality, and respect. Despite well-known connotations, it’s still the subject of various origin stories.
Ribbons are a popular way to show support and raise awareness for health causes and other movements. Chances are you’ve noticed this in October with an influx of pink ribbons supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but there’s a wide variety of ribbons used to represent different illnesses and issues.
More often than not, stars carry a positive connotation. Because of their place in the skies, they can represent divinity and heavenly bodies. They’re also a sign of good luck (pretty sure Disney’s Pinocchio taught us that one).
Circles elicit feelings of wholesomeness and perfection. They’re also representative of time’s endless cyclicality. Round and round and round we go.
What’s interesting about triangles is how their meanings differ when flipped. An upward pointing triangle can symbolize power, while a downward pointing triangle is seen as unstable. Their connecting points also represent unity. This is especially relevant to spirituality.
The diamond symbolizes commitment, purity, and innocence. It’s a tangible representation of marriage, promising a devotion to faithfulness and longevity.
The flower is a multi-faceted symbol. It’s widely used to represent young life, but it’s also a symbol of beauty. Different types and colors of flowers mean different things. For example, roses are associated with love more than any other flower. A red rose might suggest love and desire, while a white rose suggests innocence and purity.
By order of Irish tradition, four-leaf clovers represent luck and good fortune. Since the four-leaf clover is a rare variation of the three-leaf, those lucky enough to stumble across one should treat it as a good omen.
Commonly recognized as a feminine symbol, the moon has a lot of meaning behind its full and crescent shapes. The moon is often equated with sleep (surprise, surprise) and, more specifically, the middle ground between consciousness and unconsciousness. It serves as a symbol for the soul.
Skull & crossbones
No trickery or multi-layered meaning here. A skull & crossbones is one of the most common symbols for death.
Why symbols matter in graphic design
Think about your favorite movie — it probably doesn't feature characters saying exactly how they feel all the time or narration that explains every second of the film in vivid, cringe-level detail.
We don't go to movies to be told what the movie is about. We want to see it. Interpret it. Live it. The same sort of thinking applies to design — symbols add layers of meaning that didn't exist before. They create what design really is: art.
And while there are universal symbols, like what we're covering here, a symbol is really anything that someone interprets on a non-literal level. Is there a ceiling? Maybe. Maybe not. But our penchant for interpretation and communication via much more than just literal thoughts and feelings is what makes symbolism such a rich part of our world.
Plenty of people live by their astrological signs and read daily horoscopes like they’re headliners in the morning newspaper. Regardless of your feelings toward them, there’s something to be said about zodiac signs’ inherent symbolism.
Water signs like Cancer, Pisces, and Scorpio represent sensitivity, intuition, intimacy, and support.
Fire signs embody the nature of their element. They’re passionate but temperamental. They act intelligently, exhibit creativity, and lust for adventure. Fire signs include Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius.
Conservation and realism inform the Earth signs of Capricorn, Taurus, and Virgo. Those with Earth signs are also loyal, committed, and practical.
Aquarius, Gemini, and Libra are all Air signs. They facilitate and appreciate intellectual conversation, are social butterflies, and value positive relationships with others.
Rabbits symbolize fertility because of their hasty reproduction rate. They’re also known for good luck, hence the superstition and belief surrounding a rabbit’s foot.
History’s most aloof animals get a bad rep for its association with witches and dark magic. Thanks Hollywood. However, cats are also symbolic of rebirth and resurrection (see: nine lives). They represent independence, liberty, and balance.
Speaking of being misunderstood...bats are another favorite witch pairing. And yes, they symbolize death but, like cats, they also symbolize rebirth. Bats live in the womb of Mother Earth (caves) and are reborn at night when they leave.
Anyone who’s read even one of the Harry Potter books knows exactly what a lion represents: strength, courage, and justice.
Whales are truly majestic underwater creatures. In some cultures, seeing a whale swimming is a sign of good luck, whereas a beached whale can be the exact opposite. Whales represent creativity. In particular, exhaling through their blowholes is symbolic of creative release and freedom.
Ironically, while you might assume that rhinos represent something bold and aggressive, they actually symbolize peace and gentleness. Power too, but power matched with steadiness and control.
Man’s best friend is loyal, protective, and unconditionally loving. Dogs represent companionship and animal-human ties.
The ram is a symbol of Aries, one of the Fire astrological signs. With characteristically strong and curved antlers, rams are symbols of determination, force, and leadership.
These bright red birds run the gamut of symbolism, sometimes used to represent passion and romance, other time ferocious leadership. Above all, cardinals stand for unbending respect.
It should come as no surprise that bulls represent strength and power. Tack onto this confidence and unpredictability. Like rams, bulls represent an astrological sign: Taurus.
Colors are full of symbolism and can represent different things to different cultures. We’ve listed a few widespread interpretations below, but know that this list is in no way exhaustive.
You’ll notice, too, that a lot of these colors feature contradictory meanings. It all comes down to how they’re used in a design. Color theory might feel complicated at first, but when employed during the design process, it can result in an incredibly effective final product.
Blue: Calmness, stability, wisdom, sadness
Red: Love, passion, anger, warning
Orange: Creativity, happiness, freedom, success
Yellow: Joy, happiness, awareness, fear
Green: Healing, nature, greed, jealousy
Purple: Power, royalty, wealth, ambition
Black: Death, grief, sadness, evil
White: Innocence, purity, perfection, faith
Gray: Balance, moodiness, formality, sophistication
Brown: Security, stability, honesty, wholesomeness
More symbols and meanings
Eggs symbolize life. They encapsulate rebirth and rejuvenation, their shape a nod to life’s immeasurable cycle, impossible to say exactly where it starts and stops.
The laurel is symbolic of victory and eternal glory. This makes sense considering laurels were used to crown victors in the ancient Olympic Games. Spiritually, laurels symbolize prosperity and peace.
The mild spiralizing effect of any spinner symbol creates mystery and illusion. It also relates to consciousness (or lack thereof). One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous films, Vertigo, employs spinners and spirals to great effect.
It should go without saying that a clock represents time. However, a more nuanced interpretation is that a clock embodies time as pressure. It’s a reminder that our time is limited, no matter how endless it may seem.
While laurels represent eternal glory, traditional wreaths symbolize eternal life. Given their spiritual context, they’re also symbolic of faith and light.
Geometric patterns come in all shapes and sizes. Because of this, their meanings vary. Straight lines and angles are indicative of order, whereas curves can symbolize connection and togetherness. Learn how to use geometric patterns in your designs.
As part of nature, leaves symbolize growth and fertility. Their meaning also changes depending on color and season. Green leaves suggest hope and renewal, while dead leaves represent deterioration and grief.
Lightning is quick and its target(s) unpredictable. It represents sudden knowing or loss of ignorance (similar to the metaphorical lightbulb turning on).
Also known as a shamrock, the three-leaf clover is the more common form of clover, with its three leaves representing love, faith, and hope.
Symbolism varies depending upon the planet, but in general, planets symbolize divine influence, as well as basic human urges.
How to create designs with PicMonkey's symbols and graphics
1. Start with a template or blank canvas
Get your design off to a quick start with one of our templates, or live the DIY-lifestyle and select a blank canvas. Both come pre-sized and ready for action. Incorporate symbols into your social designs, use them to guide eyes in infographics, envision your goals and dreams, and so much more.
2. Customize with a massive library of design elements
Once your design is open in PicMonkey, you have endless options for customizing. Start with our huge selection of graphics (obviously), then images, video, and/or text. Use your own images, or pull from our stock library.
3. Make tweaks to match your brand
Of course, you want everything you use to match your style. Make tweaks as needed with our easy-to-use design tools. Alter design colors, modify graphics, and use trendy effects to get the most out of your design.
4. Share your work
Once you're done designing, you can download for printing or digital sharing. If you’re posting on social, we recommend exporting your image as a JPG. If printing, choose a PNG file. For more information on printing great photos, take a look at our printing guide.