Graphic Design vs. Illustrations

graphic design banner
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at two of the most commonly confused terms — graphic design and illustrations.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on telegram
Share on reddit
Share on email

The concept of art started as cave drawings as people picked up charred wood and started drawing hotties and jokes on the walls. You might have heard that we recently uncovered the world’s oldest male genitalia graffiti in Greece, dating back to 207 AD. So, maybe art has evolved, but men’s sense of humor hasn’t? 

The stone that is said to have the oldest male genitalia graffiti in Greece.
Photo: Helena Smith – Guardian

Art and design have now become much more differentiated and accessible, which is why you might have heard people use the concepts interchangeably from time to time. Drawings, illustrations, and graphic design are all different aspects of modern commercial art. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at two of the more commonly confused ones — graphic design and illustrations. 

Graphic Design vs. Illustrations – What’s The Difference?

Graphic designing is more commercially viable than illustrations. While the former focuses on beautifying the ‘peripheries’ of an individual, the latter has a more concrete appearance. Illustrations are similar to drawings except they need text to accompany them and explain to the viewer what they are looking at. 

In the beginning, you might have heard of illustrations being a very special place for newspaper publishers and editors. However, as the internet popularized the concept of graphic design, illustrations started blending into the background, eventually making the difference less obvious over time.

What is Graphic Design?

An example of a graphic design that incorporated different elements such as a girl and a heart with a graphic background.
Photo: Example of background graphic design

Graphic design is the preferred mode for beautifying anything (and we mean anything). It is the art of using abstract visuals to communicate an idea. It involves the use of typography, imagery, color, and form to create something appealing to the eyes. 

Illustrations can be designed but designs cannot be illustrated. Think of graphic designing as adding spices to something. You can add salt and black pepper to a piece of steak, but would you add steak directly into salt and pepper? (Well, you can, but will you be able to eat it then?)

Both illustration and graphic design focus on creative interpretation, but illustrations send off a relatively more specific message compared to design (drawings are the most specific option out there). With graphic design, the goal is to communicate to a specific audience. 

It embodies marketing and branding strategies – something that would otherwise be represented as blocks of text. When was the last time you enjoyed a website that’s all plain text? It needs a proper design, right?

Types of Graphic Design

Graphic design is used widely in the digital and print worlds. By print, we mean a wide range of prints, even fabric prints. However, fabric design is known as visual design, and there is a slight difference between the two. 

Examples of graphic design include:

  • Posters
An example of a poster with the Eiffel Tower on it and a garden of pink flowers.
  • Fliers
An example of a flier for a music festival named Trillectro. The date, venue, and time are included in the flier.
  • Fabric
A set of fabrics that incorporates different patterns as their designs.
  • Business cards
An example of a business card with a modern design that used a shape and minimalist fonts.
  • Packaging
An example of a packaging that used a pattern as its design with only two colors, red and white.
  • Billboards
An example of a billboard with a graphic design.
  • Envelopes
An example of an envelope with a rose and styled border as its design.
  • Logos
An example of a logo that used a tooth with eyes and mouth as the main components and a single color light blue background.
  • Websites
  • Email marketing and more. 

As you can see from the examples above, graphic design revolves around visual identity. You get to highlight your brand’s personality, the general story, goals, and emotions you intend to promote. The more consistent you are with your graphic designs, the better.

Take Kit Kat’s red, for example. An advertisement with red and chocolate bars is enough to tell audiences which brand is being promoted. You don’t even need to put in the slogan “take a break” in many instances! Check this ad design out. 

A KitKat advertisement poster that assembles the bars as piano tiles.

Before getting to the chocolate itself, you get a pretty good idea of what it’s about.

Graphic design is much more subjective than illustrations, and everyone might not like every design. Take clothes, for example. There are many unique designs out there, each with a different appeal; this is precisely why graphic designers usually make more than one design. 

What is Illustration?

Illustrations are drawings’ distant relatives in a way, portraying your message in an illustrated manner with the help of text. They explain an idea or tell a story along with providing decoration.

Illustrations tend to offer a much higher degree of engagement compared to drawings or graphic design, which is why it was preferred in newspapers back in the day and on websites now. Here’s an example to consider. 

LOL illustration. 

You can find digital as well as traditional illustrations in the form of:

Pencil illustrations. Their defining feature is soft lines and sharp edges.

An example of a pencil illustration of an architecture design of a city with buildings and a ship.
Photo: Adobe

Ink illustrations. These show contrast and create a highlight-and-shadow element.

An ink illustration of an abstract design with a vague meaning.

(You are not alone, by the way. Even I don’t know what this illustration is trying to convey.)

Charcoal illustrations. Pitch black illustrations with a highlighted white contrast. These illustrations give off a ‘faded’ look.

A charcoal illustration featuring a bulky creature with his face and one arm present.

Lithography. These illustrations were used in old newspapers and magazines. You can even find them in some recent books!

Sample of lithography in forms of very intricate and detailed borders.

Then, there are the illustrative paintings that use watercolor, gouache, and acrylic to tell a story. You can find these illustrations being made by a painter across the street as well as on digital platforms. 

Watercolor illustrations. These illustrations give off a soft feeling of femininity and serenity.

A watercolor illustration of a tribe man.

Gouache paint illustration technique. These are richer illustrations often used commercially for posters and comics. There are many old gouache illustrations out there, especially in India.

An example of an old gouache paint illustration of a temple with a master and two monks.

Acrylic illustrations. These are very versatile paintings that often create an abstract view of something. Perhaps the sunset or a beachside. With the help of text, it might highlight that bad day you had at the beach the other day.

An acrylic illustration that features a lady sitting on a floor and beside a vase.

A very extreme illustration type is known as “carved” illustration in which the subject is carved on wood, stone, marble, or some other material. 

You can find illustrations almost everywhere these days in published and digital media. From books to posters, magazines, newspapers, and even graffiti (yes, it is also considered illustration, albeit some find it a nuisance). 

Unlike graphic designs and even drawings, illustrations bring a sense of freedom to viewers as well as to the designers. They can exist without words, but they may have a large assortment of meanings without context. This is great for psychology majors or those trying to tell that a picture can tell a thousand tales, but not so much for storytelling. 

Graphic illustration – Mixing the Old With the New 

Graphic illustrations are a blend of graphic design and classic illustration, hence giving off a contemporary outlook. It puts more emphasis on the communication of a very specific message. Think of it as an illustration being defined by a unique design. It is quite frankly the best of both worlds and suitable for you if you are looking to print something on your product. 

Here are a few examples.

A graphic design of an island with a minimalist design.

Talk about destination islands, right? This graphic illustration tells its own tale in its own style. 

An example of a line vector graphic illustration that features a face of a man.

A line vector graphic illustration. 

A graphic design with a globe face surrounded by happy children.

For when you need an anime planet for children… whenever that need may arise. 

On a bit more professional note, graphics illustrators need a broad set of skills, like drawing, painting, sketching, digital illustration, marketing, creativity, and business skill, to create. 

Finding a Suitable Match for Your Needs

The world we currently live in is filled with uncertainties and ambiguities, and the line between graphic design vs. illustrations can become blurred very quickly. However, art remains a prevalent form of representation of your message and skillset. 

In times like these, choosing whether you need a good design or a remarkable illustration to present your message can be difficult; so, why not choose both? Graphic illustration is a great way to present your message uniquely.

It also presents chances to leave Easter eggs for your audiences, perhaps a hidden message for the more observant ones. If you would like a custom illustration, graphic design, or graphic illustration made, we are ready to help you out. Get in touch with us, and we’ll gladly help you understand the difference between the two and help you make an informed decision about which one is right. 

Read On!

Table of Contents

Order Now >>​