Why is Illustration Different Than Design?

Illustration vs Design

What comes to mind when you consider illustration? Do you think of pencils on paper? What about typography?

Now, consider design.

Do you think of computers and other digital tools like Photoshop? Are your mental visuals starting to blur together?

I’m not surprised. By the simplest terms, an illustration is a picture of something and design is the plan of something. Instinctively, these two words go hand-in-hand with each other – You design a beautiful illustration.

If you simply type the word “illustration” into Google Images you are met with a variety of art styles.

IllustrationBlog_Google

From paper craft to digital painting. Vector illustration and traditional illustration are prominent results that can be hard to distinguish. Further muddying the waters is the broad spectrum of mediums found in illustration work. In the graphic design world, we commonly refer to vector graphics as illustrations – art created using the Adobe Creative Suite programs, particularly Adobe Illustrator. Why this becomes complicated starts and ends with how the definition changes from person to person.

Labels create walls which create buckets which define molds that creatives really never quite fit into.

Someone who illustrates digitally – using solely a computer program – is just as much an illustrator as a person who mixes mediums or only creates using traditional art tools like colored pencils or paints. An illustrator creates a picture of something, they are not confined to a singular process to claim that title.

 

From paper craft to digital painting. Vector illustration and traditional illustration are prominent results that can be hard to distinguish. Further muddying the waters is the broad spectrum of mediums found in illustration work. In the graphic design world, we commonly refer to vector graphics as illustrations – art created using the Adobe Creative Suite programs, particularly Adobe Illustrator. Why this becomes complicated starts and ends with how the definition changes from person to person. Labels create walls which create buckets which define molds that creatives really never quite fit into. Someone who illustrates digitally – using solely a computer program – is just as much an illustrator as a person who mixes mediums or only creates using traditional art tools like colored pencils or paints. An illustrator creates a picture of something, they are not confined to a singular process to claim that title.

In today’s digital world, someone who illustrates needs to be able to use a variety of tools to make their art accessible. Illustrators have the luxury to choose their medium, and that medium could be a pen or a pen tool. An illustrator may paint something by hand, but what if a client needs that painting to also have legible text or be four times its current size? You’ll need to bring that artwork into a design program. Traditional versus digital illustration is a separate can of worms, but it’s an important addition to comparing differences. Traditional illustration, in my own words, is the use of tangible art materials. It is messy and mistakes in physical mediums of paint or marker might require an artist to completely start over. Digital illustration, however, is combining mediums through software. There is room for error because your illustration is layered and easily manipulated with a cursor click. You cannot Command+Z a watercolor illustration, but you can scan that illustration into photoshop with ease!

Traditional illustrators have a unique place in a digital design world because they are not limited to what a computer can produce. They have an ability to use digital tools to their advantage to create art that can live anywhere in our world. Design can live without Illustration – Not all design requires pretty pictures, after all.

 

Ultimately, the argument concludes that illustration and design are the of same, but different. You can have each separately and allow the water that boils over to fill cups here and there in new and unique ways, but when combined it’s a perfect balance of what the world understands about art in formats that are digested like delicious morning breakfast…preferably with coffee.

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