Difference between Graphic Design and Illustration

Both fields, Graphic Design and Illustration are closely related and often intertwined. I have been working as a graphic designer for more than 10+ years and worked with Illustrators and have been hired has an Illustrator.

So what is Graphic Design, what is Illustration? Let me share my thoughts and experience about both with you.

What is Graphic Design?

Graphic Design is the art and skill to translate ideas into visual elements and communicate a specific message. Often images, illustrations, photographs, graphics and text/words are used to convey a message.

Graphic design is basically art with a purpose. It starts with a problem that is visually solved with the use of images, symbols or even words. It is visual communication where concepts and ideas are expressed using graphic elements.

This typically involves page layout, typography, branding, and image development. Graphic designers often work on commercial projects where the end pieces intent to increase the sales of the product and create a brand recognition. Most of the time graphic design work involves the creation of advertising materials, in forms of posters, fliers, business cards, logos, packaging design, billboard design, email marketing, web design etc.


An ad for Mini Cooper takes a fun approach to car advertising 🙂

What was used here is a page layout with photography, text and logo. Simple yet effective!



What is Illustration?

An illustration is a visual presentation of an associated idea or concept. Mostly illustrations are used to provide visual features intended to explain or decorate an idea or message. It can be part of the overall layout, thus making it part of the graphic design process, but it can exist without words and still communicate the idea.

Illustrators can create commercial work for companies – for example, designing for product packaging or magazine articles. But they can simply be fine artists as well. Comic book houses, publishing houses and advertising agencies often hire illustrators to draw, color and create new designs or supporting elements.

Their work can include book illustrations, graphic novels, posters design and infographics.

Basic graphic design skills are often needed, but an illustrator doesn’t have to have the advanced knowledge of a graphic designer.


We are looking at an ad campaign created by IC4Design and marketing agency DDB for UN Women in Egypt. The ad campaign, titled Finding Her, was designed to draw attention to the lack of women in the Egyptian workforce, which is only 23 per cent female.

As you can see, the ad solely relies on illustrations but tells the story well.


Graphic Design vs Illustration

Can one be more important than the other? Are they always intertwined? Or can we easily distinguish between both? Let me answer all three questions for you.

The graphic designer isn’t more important than the illustrator, nor the other way around. Both have their place and often an illustrator has graphic design skills, but a graphic designer doesn’t necessarily need illustration skills.

Graphic design and illustration often go together, but they don’t have to. A graphic layout can be without an illustration and an illustration without a layout and text. Both still will be successful in conveying the idea or message!

And last but not least, yes we can easily distinguish between both, the graphic design and illustration. Think of it as this: if you see an ad with a photograph, a logo and some text, this is graphic design and if you see a illustration artwork this is an illustration and often you will find illustrations in graphic design work.

Trends for 2018

In recent years, illustration has been making a comeback. We can see it more and more used in advertising, packaging design and web design.

Talor & Jørgen

Landing pages that use big hero images made from illustrations, fashion ads that combine photography with digital illustrations and magazine articles using illustrations instead of photography.


Photoshop Splash screen by Elizaveta Porodina & Janusz Jurek


So if you are an aspiring illustrator, this is the best time to get your art out there and if you are an aspiring graphic designer, you can really stand out by adding illustration skills to your resume!

For myself, I have been working mostly in packaging design and I am excited to add illustrations to the design whenever I get a chance 🙂

What do you do? Are you interested in graphic design or illustration? I would love to know, so please leave a comment below 🙂


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