What is Graphic Illustration?

what is graphic illustration

Graphic illustration is the best of the worlds of art and design. You see it everywhere from fabrics, advertisements, flyers, posters, packaging, websites, and many other visual communication materials. You may want to ask at this point if graphic illustration is the same as graphic design and illustration or a mix of both.

Well, it’s the latter and we’ll explain. Before we dive into what graphic illustration is, let’s discuss the difference between graphic design and illustration to get a better understanding.

Graphic Design vs. Illustration

While both are important for creative expression and communication design, graphic design and illustration differ based on their mediums, techniques, and artistic goals.

For example, graphic designing is more commercial-oriented and might adopt popular images in the design. In contrast, illustration involves creating images that represent styles.

How’s the Nike logo different from Mr. Clean?

 what is the purpose of illustration and graphic design

Aside from both being the brand logos of different companies, artists will tell you one is a design and the other is an illustration. Don’t get confused. Let’s keep going.

The ability to deliver powerful brand messages makes graphic designers indispensable in the modern world. On the other hand, most illustrators have characteristics of fine artists, and their works are open to creative interpretation. So, illustrators are often less anonymous than graphic designers as their personal aesthetic and artistic skill makes them coveted.

 what is graphic design and illustration

Graphic Design

According to Dictionary.com, graphic design is the art and profession of visual communication that combines typography, images, color, and shape to solve problems and communicate ideas.

To better grasp graphic design, you must first understand what designers call “graphics.” A graphic refers to any visual element, such as lines, borders, shapes, etc., in visual compositions, including logos, illustrations, symbols, and photographs. In other words, a graphic is all the visual elements in a composition that isn’t text.

Graphic designers work with graphics and text to enhance communication. They combine visual elements to portray a simple, cohesive relationship.

However, there is a wide range of aspects in graphic design. Most graphic designers combine more than one of these aspects. For example, we have visual identity graphic design, which involves creating brand recognition through colors, styles, shapes, images, and typography. Visual identity graphic designers create branding materials from logos to color palettes based on a prior understanding of psychology and design. Check out the detailed guide about graphic design.

what is illustration in graphic design

Then, there’s marketing & advertising graphic design. Marketing designers deal with creating marketing materials such as postcards and flyers, infographics, vehicle wraps, blog images, social media ads, banners, web banners, signage, email marketing, and PowerPoint templates.

Also, user interface and user experience (UI/UX) designers deal with designs that bring brand awareness on digital channels like web page design, theme design, and app design. Finally, environmental graphic designers create compelling spaces through architectural branding, exhibition displays, murals, and interior designs.

what is art and illustration graphic design

The constantly changing demands of the graphics design industry mean that designers must explore more fine art styles and techniques to remain flexible.

 what is a graphic illustration

Graphic design tools

A graphic designer works with several programs Adobe InDesign, Canva, and Adobe Photoshop among other manipulation, layout organization, and image creation tools.

When to call a graphic designer

  • To create a brand identity
  • To create marketing materials
  • To communicate clear visual messages.


Illustrations have been around for a long time and have metamorphosed with different ages. For example, in the early civilization and the rise of Nok culture, illustrations were used to communicate, preserve history and create images of kings and gods. The early Egyptians, West Africans, Indians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese all used illustration techniques ranging from clay to charcoal drawings for several purposes.

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graphic design illustration

Illustrations were used during the European Middle Ages to make biblical messages and scientific theories more understandable. Also, illustrations were used to communicate different concepts and information ranging from geographic to medical information, entertainment, and invention display. The form expanded its horizon as printing technology developed. So, illustration became integral to publications, posters, newspapers, and booklets, among other print materials.

 illustration and graphic design

The current understanding of illustration came as a product of need, like its predecessors. First is the need to create images that can capture specific scenes and important messages. In the mid-1940s, American illustrators used modern drawing and printing techniques to create educative illustrations on informational posters, billboards, and brochures. Also, the need to create more stylistic and emotional visual communication in advertisements contributed to the popularity of modern illustrators. The Saturday Evening Post is a prominent illustration employed by Norman Rockwell, a famous illustrator that conveyed an idea of family and everyday American life. Find the difference between Illustrator and Photoshop.

 graphic design and illustration

As film illustration began to come on board in the 1950s, illustrators moved into creating images for cartoons to entertain people.

Today, illustrations are everywhere, from educational materials to guides, brochures, book cover illustrations, magazines, flyers, posters, pencil drawings, motion graphics, websites, comic books, graphic novels, etching, concept art, character design, vector graphics, and mobile apps.

 illustration graphic design

Amazingly, an illustration artwork has the freedom to communicate ideas and emotions without words. For example, expressions on an illustrated character’s face can evoke a deep emotional connection between the target audience and the character or brand.

Illustration Tools

There are digital and traditional illustrators which means there are different illustration styles. However, most of them have classical art backgrounds and possess astute drawing skills. This is because drawings (lithography, ink drawings, charcoal drawings) are the most widely used styles of illustration.

At the traditional level, illustrators use hand tools like pencils and brushes. In the care where they digitize their works, software programs such as Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator among other tools for sketching, painting, and drawing.

When to use illustration

  • To communicate abstract concepts
  • Add mood to the quality of an image
  • Create memorable and unique visuals

Graphic illustration

While graphic design focuses on communication and illustration relates more to fine art, graphic illustration is the product of the combination of characteristics from both graphic design and illustration into a single piece of work. Therefore, it can also be referred to as design illustration, illustrated graphic, or illustrated graphic design.

Graphic illustrators understand to combine the principles of fine art and communication to create stylistic pictures. They also incorporate other visual elements that create an emotional connection between users and brands or products. That is to say, graphic illustration also uses color, shapes, layouts, and form to organize original artwork.

Like in graphic design where elements interact to create meaning, graphic illustrations also mix colors, shapes, texts, and forms with fine art techniques and personal aesthetics for meaningful expressions.

Usually, a graphic illustrator will have a myriad of skill sets ranging from art history, drawing, painting, business, digital illustration, and marketing. They possess these skills to use artistic rendering to create images that depict a scene, convey a profound idea and engage multiple senses simultaneously.

Graphic illustration can be found in motion designs, animation, video games, and many more. As such, you’ll find graphic illustrators in several industries including film, advertising, publishing, digital media, and many more.

Tools for graphic illustration

Graphic illustrators use several digital tools and digital programs to execute their designs. Amongst these tools are:

  • A PC (preferably a Mac) with fast processing speed and crisp display. – all designers need this, anyway.
  • Pantone reference library.
  • An electronic drawing tablet.
  • Adobe creative cloud

When to call a graphic illustrator

  • To create original visual images from scratch
  • Combine complex elements into a single simple design

Examples of Graphic Illustrations

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Bottom Line: Graphic Design vs Illustration Vs Graphic Illustration: Which One Should You Use

While many designers of the 21st century often combine these creative fields, the key differences between the three forms are the concepts they use, the solutions they design, and their processes.

So, deciding which to use between these three graphic forms will depend on your goal. For example, if you’re creating a marketing campaign where you need to communicate your brand’s uniqueness with images, logo design, and colors, a graphic designer is what you need.

If you need to create an illustrated character in your marketing communication such as a mascot as the face of your company, then you need an illustrator. However, if you need to create a more stylistic approach to your marketing strategy in addition to other brand design elements, then you can approach a graphic illustrator.

Overall, graphic designs, illustrations, and graphic illustrations are indispensable parts of marketing, digital design, branding, and advertising among other industries, making them overlap and often hard to distinguish. With this article, we’ve provided you with a good understanding of what each means so you can better communicate your goals to art directors and better capture your target audience.

September 15, 2022
10 min read
13 reads

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