The similarities and differences of graphic design and illustration


Graphic design and illustration are two closely related fields, each involving a variety of creative elements. Because of these similarities, we thought it would be helpful to write a post distinguishing the differences between the two.

Before we dive into the differences between graphic design and illustration, let’s define them first.

Graphic design

Graphic Design is a communicative design that projects ideas using both visual and textual content. This type can be found in physical and digital forms that often include images, words, or graphics. The work required to create a graphic design can range from a logo design to a company’s entire brand campaign. It’s a form that demands attention from the viewer so that it can convey a specific message. Here is a list of elements that graphic designers use when working on a project.

  • Color scheme: Different colors are used depending upon what emotions a designer wants to convey.
  • Typefaces: The typeface a designer chooses to use sets the overall personality of the message.
  • Images: Use of designed images brings character to the design.
  • Layouts and formats: Designers must consider what format is going to grab the audience’s attention?


Illustration is a form of fine art that creates images without the pressing need to direct the viewer’s attention. Looking for a specific item within an illustration takes away from the beauty of the whole canvas. Instead of standing alone, Illustrations often support other mediums to bring focus and added meaning to both the visual and the text.

Now that we are up to date on the definitions of these creative fields, consider a few ways they contrast with one another.


Since graphic design is a field that demands attention from its viewers, many businesses like to use graphic design for their marketing campaigns. Graphic design is typically used to reach a consumer audience. With designs that are creative and eye-catching, these elements may assist in persuading consumers to take action.

While graphic designs attract and persuade a consumer-based audience to their images and product, illustrations focus less on a specific target audience and more on audiences that might develop a personal connection to their designs. The images they create are meant to communicate an emotion to their viewers. Rather than persuading their viewer to action, as would be the case for a graphic design, illustrations do not necessarily rely on the viewer’s active response in order to prove their effectiveness.

Where are they typically found

Graphic design is created and developed through a digital software. Once it has become finalized, these designs can then be developed into an image on physical printed materials or can be posted online. Designs meant to be posted online only, however, are created through a digital format. Graphic designs can be found in a variety of different places:

Illustrations, on the other hand, can go beyond the digital world. Yes, like graphic design they can be created using a computer software, but illustrations can also be created using a sketchbook or canvas, pencil or paint. Here are some popular types of illustration that we see today:

  • Concept art: Fantasy illustration that can create a variety of interpretations based on a theme.
  • Children’s illustrations: Colorful, child-like drawings that tell a story to a younger target audience.
  • Comics or graphic novels: Images combined with text used to express ideas or tell a story.

Points of connection

Though graphic design and illustration contrast in their overall definitions, their audiences, and where they are found, they do overlap.

Both of these forms of creative art can be used with digital tools. One of the most common software programs graphic designers and illustrators both work with is Adobe. From Illustrator to Photoshop, these forms of online design software are a creative way for graphic designers and illustrators perfect their craft.

It would be easy to consider graphic design and illustration one and the same because of their similar creative styles. Though their audiences differ, professional working in both fields want to convey a message, whether that message be emotional or persuasive. Combining their strengths in your advertising campaigns could be beneficial to your company.

Are you looking to print either your illustrations or your graphic designs? We’re more than capable of taking your project to the next level. How can we help?

Expressing Ourselves

Watch this space as we use our imagination, our experience and other people’s insights to entertain and inform.

Here's What We're Saying