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Graphic Design vs Illustration: What’s the difference?

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What does it feel like to be surrounded by art and design from all sides? You juggle between the two every day for your living. Do you struggle to identify both because they look similar? Both are distinct but so easily misunderstood as one. And how is it related to the title – Graphic Design vs Illustration? Illustrations are about creating art, whereas graphic designs are commercial. Let’s take one at a time to understand better.

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First, let’s take a look at illustrations.

If you use Google almost every day, you must have seen Google Doodle too. The visuals used, along with the text ‘Google,’ are illustrations. It explains and decorates the words in books, newspapers, and online. From an emoji or a design pattern in gift wrapping paper, you can make the user interface more appealing.

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Illustration: Then and Now

Traditional Illustrations: Travel back to Lascaux cave paintings from the prehistoric time; you’ll find how people used classic illustrations. It was the invention of the printing press in the 15th century; these replicated on a large scale.

While the invention of the printing press triggered the explosion of information, people felt that the printing cost was too high.

However, In the 19th century, things changed for good. The illustrated materials between the years 1850 and 1925 became famous. This period was called ‘The Golden Age of Illustration.’ American periodicals were full of artwork displaying information and entertainment. Innovations in photographic technology also contributed to the illustrations. New processes, such as line-engraving and the half-tone, freed artists from the restraints of earlier methods and encouraged them to contribute to popular publications.

But by the 20th century, photography invaded the illustrators’ domain. Photographs replaced illustrations of non-fiction. Famous shots started getting featured on the glossy cover pages.

Even today, this dichotomy between fine art and popular art exists, but it’s more defined than before. Based on the type of illustration, these were the techniques used –

  • Woodcutting illustration: Woodcuts are made by carving images into woodblocks. After cutting the shapes out of the wooden block, you can discard the unwanted areas.
  • Pencil illustration: A form of elaborate visual art where you use a pen or graphite pencil.
  • Charcoal illustration: In this art form, you use a carbonized stick or wood to finish the drawing.
  • Lithography illustration: You draw in a flat stone surface using greasy oil or blank ink.
  • Watercolor illustration: You use color pigments and water to create softness and depth.
  • Acrylics Illustration: Acrylics are permanent compared to watercolor. Such artwork doesn’t turn yellow with age and are water-soluble.
  • Pen and Ink illustration: You can use pen and ink to draw and later transfer it to the digital space.

Modern-day illustration: The use of illustrations continues to remain relevant to this date. From the public display signs, magazine covers to merchandise, illustrations have given voice and meaning to life.

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Modern-day illustrators use

  • Freehand digital illustrations: Illustrations made using the freehand method can be zoomed only to a certain extent. You can use it for storyboarding, in animation, recreational art, or illustrating a cover.
  • Vector graphics: Here, you use mathematical equations to draw a design. You can rescale any limit without a change in the resolution—your computer design with the help of the X-axis and Y-axis as a reference.

How can you use illustrations in branding?

In the flood of contents, it’s the brand image that helps you to stand out. You create a brand image using different elements – logos, color palette, or typography. It provides an anchor to the audience to hold on.

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Do you want to give human elements to your idea? Use illustrations to create a world that you want to see or make your audience understand. Images in an illustration system have a unifying mood or style, which makes them readily identifiable even as they represent different aspects of a product or service. Use these elements to evoke the emotions of the viewer.

Brand loyalty is a massive game-changer for your business. Your brand loyalty is not just about your product’s appearance. It also depends on how well you communicate with your users. In a digital-driven era, you can do it in the following ways –

  • Don’t compromise with the quality of your work.
  • Define your values and mission clearly.
  • Give a consistent experience of your brand
  • Make your user experience standout
  • Acknowledge the customers who are loyal to your brand

Which tool should you use?

All you need is the right illustration tools to get started –

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Ira Design
  • Stubborn Generator
  • Vector Illustration Creator
  • Gravit Designer
  • Smash Illustration
  • Inkscape
  • Color Hunt
  • Grabient
  • Krita
  • Vivid Js

So, what’s graphic design?

Graphic design is an art form where you create content to communicate messages. You apply visual hierarchy, page layout techniques, typography, and pictures to meet users’ specific needs. Your focus is on displaying elements in an interactive manner to optimize the user experience.

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Types of graphic design:

  • Visual identity or brand identity graphic design – Logos, typography, color palettes, etc
  • Advertising graphic design – Banner, brochure, flyers, etc
  • User interface (UI) graphic design – Webpage, apps, WordPress, games interface
  • Publication graphic design – Books, newspapers, magazines, etc
  • Packaging graphic design – Cover, label, container, box, etc
  • Motion graphic design – gif, animation, trailer, presentation, promo video, advertisement, etc

Techniques used in graphic design:

  • Use the rule of thirds for composition
  • Use gradients to show the progression
  • Don’t lose your page to bad coloring
  • Create space between letters
  • Give alignment to your elements
  • Show depth using blur
  • Follow the color scheme
  • Set the mood using the right fonts

Tools you can use:

  • Photoshop
  • Pixlr
  • GIMP
  • Design bold
  • ProofHub
  • Pixelmator
  • Marvel
  • CorelDraw
  • Paletton

Both illustrations and graphic designs are two different creative forms. Illustrations help you relate abstract concepts without being restricted by reality. You can break the rules of representation because it’s creatively never-ending.

On the other hand, if you are working with an intent to spread a particular message – your brand story, use graphic designs. Use specific elements and structures to create a brand identity and communicate with the audience.


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