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What is the difference between graphic design and illustration, and which one do you need?

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Can you tell the difference? Which one is an illustration, and which one is a design?

You might say graphic design and illustration are interchangeable, like “potayto, potahto.” But it really isn’t!

Graphic design and graphic illustration are two different terms.

Though they may seem like two peas in a pod, they are more like siblings—related but with their own unique personalities and design elements.

This is why it is easy to confuse one with the other.

But why is this so important?

You will need to understand the difference between the two if you want to maximize your design subscription.

What if you only need an illustration but end up paying the price for a full graphic design service?

Or what if you need a full graphic design service but the company you’re considering is only offering illustrations?

Read on to learn the difference between the two and which one you actually need!

Understanding the differences between graphic design and illustrations

The million-dollar question: what are the differences between the two?

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To the left is an illustration applied to a design, while to the right is an illustration by itself.

The key difference lies in their primary objectives.

Graphic design aims to communicate a specific message effectively, while graphic illustration focuses on telling a story or capturing a particular moment.

While graphic design often incorporates elements of illustration, such as icons or custom illustrations, graphic illustration takes things a step further, placing the illustrations at the forefront.

Let’s explore more of their differences.

The purpose of custom illustration

Think of graphic design as a charismatic spokesperson.

They’re the ones in charge of communicating a message or solving a problem using visual content.

Think of those catchy ads you see online, the sleek branding of your favorite coffee shop, or that user-friendly website you love to shop on—that’s graphic design doing its magic.

Illustrations, on the other hand, are like a talented actor conveying a story.

It’s the art of creating images that interpret, enhance, or visually explain certain concepts, narratives, or feelings.

Remember that children’s book that made you cry?

What game do you remember with surreal artwork?

That’s the power of graphic illustrations.

The difference in graphic design and illustration styles

Now, here’s where things get a bit technical.

Graphic design plays by a set of rules—balance, proximity, alignment, repetition, contrast, and space—all to ensure the message is clear and effective.

Designers often have to combine illustrations, fonts, spacing, alignment, and other design elements to create a full design.

It’s like arranging furniture in a room—everything has to be in harmony.

Mistakes in graphic design can be costly if unchecked.

After all, this would mean you’re communicating a marketing campaign wrong!

You could easily lose website visitors who might be paying clients just because you included the wrong call-to-action or made a design too cluttered to understand.

Meanwhile, illustrations are like a jazz musician.

It’s all about the artist’s personal style and the image’s ability to convey a story or emotion to the audience.

It has more artistic freedom, more flexibility, and often more flamboyance!

You’re trying to evoke an emotion from people instead of trying to communicate a specific message.

Tools used in graphic design vs. illustration

Both of these fields have a shared arsenal of graphic design software, like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop—the bread and butter of any visual artist.

But graphic designers might also use tools related to layout and typography, such as Adobe InDesign.

Think of it as an architect using technical blueprints to create the artistic rendering.

Illustrators, on the other hand, may use drawing tablets or even good ol’ traditional media like paper and ink.

It’s like their magic wand.

Skills needed in illustration vs. graphic design

Graphic designers are visual marketing experts.

They need to understand marketing, branding, and design principles to effectively communicate a message.

They usually have a format in mind and solve visual puzzles to make sure they are effective in communicating with their audience.

Meanwhile, illustrators are like sorcerers, brewing up engaging and meaningful imagery with their strong drawing skills and creativity.

They are experts at conjuring something out of nothing to paint a colorful world.

Usage of illustration and graphic design

Where would you find these two?

Graphic design is the secret sauce to creating powerful logo designs, effective marketing materials, and attractive product packaging.

We usually don’t notice it or think about it too much, but it’s everywhere in the commercial world.

Graphic illustrations, however, are often the heart and soul of graphic novels, books, magazines, animations, and games.

It brings stories and characters in different visual media to life.

They’re used to support and strengthen the emotional impact of graphic design.

Where do designers use illustration work?

Illustrations are not limited to just children’s books or comics!

You’ll spot illustrations in tandem with graphic design in advertising campaigns, editorial illustrations, packaging design, and even user interfaces.

It can be found in various industries and applications.

It adds a unique and memorable touch to any project, making it stand out.

Whether you’re designing a website, creating a brand identity, or working on an app, illustrations can elevate your work to new heights.

Benefits of using graphic illustration in branding

When used strategically, graphic illustration can help your brand establish a distinctive visual identity and connect with your target audience on a deeper level.

Think of our illustrations at Deer Designer. We often use illustrations of our mascot Buckley, our founder Thiago, and our design team.

This helps people visualize our team and remember our brand!

Illustrations add a touch of personality and uniqueness to any brand, making it memorable and recognizable.

Whether you opt for whimsical and playful illustrations or sleek and minimalist ones, graphic illustrations can breathe life into your brand and make it recognizable.

Check out some of our illustrations here. https://deerdesigner.com/design-samples/

Keys to effective graphic illustrations

Creating effective illustrations requires a combination of artistic skills, creativity, and strategic thinking.

It also involves you collaborating well with an illustrator.

Here are some tips to have attractive, compelling illustrations:

Define the purpose and medium you’re using

Before your illustrator starts sketching or painting, they have to make sure they have a clear understanding of the message or story you want to convey.

Are you using this for your brand guide?

Do you need to add it to a flyer infographic?

Or maybe you need it to add personality to your posts?

This will guide the graphic designer with their artistic choices and ensure the illustration is aligned with its intended purpose.

Know your audience

Consider who will be viewing the illustration.

Are you targeting children, adults, or a specific demographic?

Understanding your audience will help you make design choices that resonate with them and create a connection.

Experiment with different styles of illustration

As there are so many illustration styles out there, it helps to have a set idea or peg on what illustration style you want.

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There are different kinds of illustration styles you can use for your brand.

In fact, we have a guide to the different illustration styles you can request from our designers at Deer Designer.

➡️Improve your communication skills by exploring different illustration styles

But it also helps to be open to different artistic styles and techniques.

You can give your illustrator your absolute trust so they can have the freedom to play around with various brushes, colors, and textures to find a style that complements your message and captures the essence of your subject matter.

Embrace storytelling

Graphic illustration is all about storytelling.

You can use your illustrations to tell a narrative or evoke emotions in your audience.

This will create a deeper connection and make your design more memorable.

Here’s a guide we made on the different stories you can tell with illustrations:

➡️The power of storytelling: 3 most important stories to tell in your business

Famous Graphic Illustrators and Their Work

Illustrations are a breath of fresh air in a world where everything looks manufactured, stiff, and uninspiring.

Here are some famous graphic illustrators and their incredible work:

Shaun Tan

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Shaun Tan’s illustrations are surreal, inviting viewers into enchanting worlds.

Known for his surreal and thought-provoking illustrations, Shaun Tan has created captivating visuals for books like “The Arrival” and “Tales from Outer Suburbia.”

Yuko Shimizu

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Yuko Shimizu’s illustrations are a captivating blend of intricate detail and imaginative narratives.

With her bold and vibrant illustrations, Yuko Shimizu has left her mark on various projects, including advertising campaigns, book covers, and editorial illustrations.

Oliver Jeffers

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Oliver Jeffers’ illustrations evoke a sense of nostalgia with stories filled with charm and emotion.

Oliver Jeffers’ whimsical and heartwarming illustrations have graced the pages of children’s books like “Lost and Found” and “The Day the Crayons Quit.”

Using art from graphic designers and illustrators for your brand

Knowing the difference between illustrations and graphic designs is important, especially when you’re trying to communicate ideas to your audience.

Graphic illustration is a powerful tool that can elevate your design projects and leave a lasting impact on your audience.

Putting out materials that have graphic illustrations that resonate with your audience sends the message that you care and that you are intentional.

Creating well-crafted designs, whether it’s for business cards, web design, or other design needs, can help make sure you are communicating directly with your audience with the right message.

You can bring growth to your business with captivating visuals and storytelling.

Whether you are getting custom graphic design or illustrations, it’s a major upgrade to your business.

It doesn’t have to be a major expense to hire a graphic designer, though.

At Deer Designer, you can get the best of both worlds. For as low as $399 a month, you can have unlimited graphic design and custom illustrations.

How would you like materials that capture your brand identity and speak to your audience effectively?

Book a client-fit call with Deer Designer today!

Key takeaways

  • Knowing what the difference is between graphic design and illustration can help you see what you need for your brand and whether you are getting the right design service.
  • While graphic design and illustration can work hand in hand, they have different purposes. Illustration can be a part of graphic design, but graphic design is a bigger field meant to communicate a specific message using different elements of design.
  • There is more artistic freedom in graphic illustrations, as it is purely visual communication meant to evoke emotion instead of a specific message.
  • Graphic illustrators and graphic designers use similar tools, but they require different skill sets.
  • Graphic design, in tandem with illustrations, is used in marketing and branding. Meanwhile, illustration can be used in other art forms, like comic books and games.
  • Using illustrations in branding can help make your brand more memorable and unique, as it adds personality to your brand identity.