Graphic Design vs. Illustration: Understanding the Key Differences

Post by
William Griffiths
Graphic Design vs. Illustration: Understanding the Key Differences

Graphic Design vs. Illustration: Understanding the Key Differences

The world of design is always changing and evolving, as you’d expect to be the case with an industry that is still considered ‘young’ when compared with many others. As time goes on, and the internet continues to grow and develop alongside platforms such as social media, companies are taking a look at how they can stand out amongst the crowd.

More often than not, they’ll opt to go down the route of graphic design - but that isn’t always the case. Illustrations also play a significant role in a field such as this one, and it’s regularly seen as a strong alternative for those who are looking to branch out. So, with all of these questions circulating regarding the two, we thought it’d be helpful to cut out the middle man and discuss the graphic design vs. illustration debate.

There are many different angles you could come at this from. In our view, they both have positives that can be noted, but it all depends on what exactly you’re looking for. With that being said, let’s dive into it!

What is graphic design?

In graphic design, the aim is always to make something clever, attractive and stylish. That can come in many different forms, but above all else, you want to end up with a finished product that is fit for marketing, personal use, branding and more. It’s all about creating visual content to get across whatever message it is you want to your target audience, and, more often than not, it’s done in the most unique way possible.

It comes down to composition. You want to piece everything together based on what it is you’re trying to achieve, and you want to do it in a manner that will leave people coming back for more. From the layout to the typography and beyond, graphic design covers every inch in as much detail as possible, with the end game being a satisfied customer.

What is graphic illustration?

The word that comes to mind when we think of illustration is “art”. That sounds like a broad stroke, but it’s true. An illustration often feels like an interpretation of an artistic piece, perhaps that’s been drawn by hand, that has been created in a manner that allows for an emotional reaction. It’s about creating moments for viewers to enjoy and remember.

Drawings, paintings and crafts all tend to fall under this jurisdiction, but in the last few years, illustrations have made a big impact in the digital world. Instead of many different elements being used as a way to carve out something marketable, an illustration often focuses in on one overriding topic or subject matter, transcending the usual graphic design process.

The big differences between graphic design & illustration

It’s a simple question with an answer that seemingly isn’t very simple: What are the biggest differences between these two? Graphic design and illustration are both different, but they’re also both very effective, depending on how exactly you choose to utilise them.

So, without further ado, let’s put an end to the graphic design vs. illustration debate once and for all.

Turnaround time

With graphic design, the applications and tools that can be used to fine-tune a piece of work are out of this world. It’s not even that they’re necessarily going to blow you away, but rather, it’s that there are so many options. With graphic design, and especially within the unlimited model, you could be looking at sending off a request on Monday and getting it back by Wednesday with only a few small edits required - if any at all.

On the flip side, an argument could be made that illustrations are more time-intensive. The end result is quite clearly something to marvel at, more often than not, but it will almost certainly take a fair bit of time to get it right. With that in mind, it really comes down to what kind of operation you’re looking to run and how urgent the matter is.

Telling a story

Graphic design exists to stand out amongst the crowd. The goal is to draw you in, show you something fresh and new, and do so in a quick and decisive manner. It’s all about the allure and wanting to capitalise on what the latest trend is and how it can be used in a satisfactory way. That’s not a bad thing, either, especially when you take a look at how rapidly our attention span has dropped since social media really rose to prominence.

As for illustrations, the heart of the piece is often at the root of everything. It’s all about the soul and transferring the meaning of a picture or a setting into truly special artwork. There’s a lot more that goes into it than that with regards to the actual process of creation, but an illustrator wants to tell a story - and they often want to do so above anything else.

Relationship with the audience

When you look into the eyes of your target audience, or you read what they have to say or hear their opinions, what is it you want to get back? It really does vary, but often, it comes down to action vs. emotion. With graphic design, you’re probably trying to get a reaction that leads to some kind of action, whether it be investing in a new product or checking out a brand’s website.

With illustrations, it feels as if the instinct of the creator or designer is always to push for emotion. Sure, they’ll want them to maintain a high interest in what they’re doing for weeks, months and years to come, but the way they do it is through emotion. It’s about finding something beautiful and, from there, using it to spread your message even further.

The use of text

For better or worse, graphic design uses text a great deal - especially if you’re looking to advertise and draw people in. It may not be the first thing that springs to mind during the creation process, but you can bet it’s going to be a factor. Typography is critical and often a big selling point, and it’s regularly at the core of what a team is trying to accomplish.

For illustrations, it’s often about the picture that you’re trying to paint (pun not intended). There are so many different creative elements to consider, and they don’t need words to get the point across. It isn’t even a necessity, either, but it’s definitely noticeable, and it’s probably what limits it when throwing out comparisons to graphic design.

The modern world

In graphic design, the nature of the work and the way the world functions means that it is rapidly evolving. It takes in brand new design elements with the hope that they can stay up to date with what’s trendy and what people are talking about. Plus, and this is perhaps the most crucial point of all, the digital landscape is absolutely vital when talking about its future.

It’s a little bit different in the illustration realm. It’s all about old school, traditional arts and crafts, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. When you go back to basics, you can discover so much more about yourself as a creator and learn about what’s “coming back around”, so to speak. What was cool 30 years ago could be again in the blink of an eye.

Diversifying your portfolio

Logos, brochures, presentations, business cards, billboards, and more. You name it, and there’s probably some way in which graphic design is in the mix. It doesn’t matter which way you slice it, graphic design can come in handy in a multitude of different manners. With the right structure in place and the correct pricing, you could end up with great value for money.

With illustrations, the options just feel a little bit more limited. Don’t get us wrong, there are still plenty of ways in which it can be used in the public domain, such as through flyers, books, posters and other advertising means. Still, it just isn’t as naturally expansive and accessible as graphic design, which is probably why so many people lean that way when picking between the two.

Graphic design vs illustrations - the final decision

For us, graphic design is always going to come across as the clear winner when determining what will give you the biggest chance of finding success. There are more avenues to go down, there’s a bigger roster out there to choose from, and it’s far more modern. The latter, for many, is a game-changer more than you think.

While that may be the case, graphic illustrations are always super easy on the eye. It makes for a stunning visual and a piece of art that you’d happily hang on your wall morning, noon and night.

There’s a lot to take into consideration, and to be blunt, there’s plenty of room for everyone.

Need help with graphic design? Contact Hatchly!

Within the context of our own company, illustrations don’t tend to be something that we focus on. Instead, here at Hatchly, we offer a string of graphic design services that allow you and your company to put your mind at ease when it comes to consistent, exciting designs. We want to make something that’ll work not just for you but for any incoming clients.

With a dedicated team of professionals behind us, we are on hand to give you as much assistance as you could ever need. Whether it’s a fully-fledged revamp of your entire image or just a piece of marketing to help take you to the next level, we’ll be there to offer our guidance and support every step of the way.

Within something like graphic design, it can be easy to stumble across those who are looking to do a quick job and move on to the next - but that’s not what we’re about. With our communication skills, expertise in the area and proven track record, we can really make a difference.

So, if you’re interested in learning more and fancy a quick chat about what the future could hold, feel free to get in touch!

William Griffiths
Founder & Creative Director

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