The scope of creative jobs has widened over the years, helping professionals explore a diverse range of career opportunities. Organisations will hire graphic designers to create appealing designs for packaging and advertising purposes and illustrators are highly sought-after by novelists, marketing and advertising agencies and more. With the growing demand, an increasing number of students are pursuing graphic design and illustration courses.

While graphic design and illustration are two different creative fields, they have similar elements too. Students who are interested in the creative sector might not be able to distinguish between the two, making it difficult for them to decide which option is best for their career. This blog will focus on what each profession entails, how they differ and the junctions where they overlap. Read on to get a better insight.

What is graphic design?

Graphic design can be defined as the art or practice that helps you communicate your messages and ideas with the use of visuals. It is widely used by organisations to sell, advertise and promote their brand, products and services.

Creating a captivating design is not just about developing an idea, it also involves understanding the key elements and their purpose in design. The key elements of graphic design, which ensure that an idea is aptly translated into a visual, are:

  • Line: A line is the most basic and important element of graphic design. Graphic designers use lines as connectors, dividers to separate content, and headlines. Designers will use lines to draw the viewers’ eye to a specific location of the design.
  • Colour: Graphic designers use colour to create the mood for the design and brand that they represent. Colours have a significant impact on the tone of the design; they can be used as a standalone element or added to other elements of design such as lines, shapes, typography or textures. While sometimes a single colour can have a strong effect, graphic designers use a combination of colours to further alter the impression.
  • Space: Negative or empty spaces can either add to the appeal of the design or make it completely ineffective, based on the design. The key to a perfect design is the optimal use of negative space. For example, to create a strong impression, you can use a single word at the centre of an otherwise blank space. Similarly, if your design has more than one element, turning the blank spaces into shapes, will give the design a more defined look.
  • Shape: Shapes such as circles, triangles and squares emphasise a particular part of the design. Shapes are defined by their boundaries, such as lines and colours, and designs are essentially a cluster of shapes that are interacting with each other.
  • Typography: Typography is one of the core elements of design which allows you to communicate your ideas or messages with more than just shapes and colour. Words help viewers understand the message that other design elements cannot convey. Depending on the purpose of the message, you can set the font to match the tone of the design.
  • Texture: Incorporating texture as part of your design gives viewers a three-dimensional experience on a two-dimensional website. It helps to make the design more appealing and immersive.

What is illustration? 

An illustration can be defined as a visual explanation or interpretation of an idea, process or concept. Illustrations are usually used in magazines, books, posters, video games, films and animations.

Some of the trending technologies that are used in the illustration sector include:

Vector Graphics: This illustration technique creates computer graphic images which are defined by 2D points. This illustration style creates digital images made up of lines and curves in a two-dimensional or three-dimensional space. Vector graphics are mostly used for zooming purposes, preventing the image from becoming blurred when expanded. The images created through this illustration technique can be therefore be enlarged without making any compromise with the image quality. This is because vector images have clearly defined outlines.

Freehand Digital Illustrations: Freehand digital illustrations are similar to drawing directly onto a canvas. With this technique, illustrators use a pen tool or stylus to create digital illustrations with a range of colours, brush pre-sets and tools. This illustration technique is widely used for recreational art, storyboarding and book illustrations. While editing, shading and blending are easier with freehand digital illustrations. the images created can appear blurred after being enlarged to a certain extent.  

Job role of a graphic designer:

Graphic designers are responsible for creating engaging graphics to be used across a variety of media platforms. Your typical duties within an organisation would include:

  •   Studying design briefs and assessing the requirements;
  •   Scheduling projects and defining budget constraints;
  •   Defining concepts for visuals;
  •   Preparing rough drafts and presenting ideas;
  •   Designing logos, illustrations and other graphics using designing software or by hand;
  •   Identifying and using appropriate colours and layouts for each graphic design;
  •   Collaborating with copywriters to produce the final design;
  •   Testing graphics across various media platforms;
  •   Analysing the feedback and modifying designs accordingly;
  •   Ensuring that the final design copy and graphics are visually appealing and in line with the brand’s image.

The average annual salary commanded by a graphic designer is £29,201.

Job role of an illustrator:

Illustrators are responsible for creating original visual images for a wide range of products, services and brands. Within an organisation, your duties would include:

  •   Understanding the needs of clients and identifying the target audience;
  •   Discussing the brief and drawing up a contract with the client accordingly;
  •   Creating visual ideas that are in line with the brief;
  •   Developing rough visuals and getting it approved by clients;
  •   Developing illustrations using drawing, sketching, painting and photographic skills.

The average annual salary commanded by an illustrator is £34,557.

Graphic designers vs. illustrators 
 Graphic designer  Illustrators 
 Focus on the entire design and its various   components  Focus on creating specific images
 Create designs that combine animation, text and   other design elements to develop a cohesive   message  Create images that can independently communicate a   cohesive message
 Work on a range of projects such as print ads and   product packaging  Illustrators are usually employed by publishers to work on   book illustrations, magazines and journals

While these two professions might seem similar, the area of focus are sustainably different. The choice of a graphic design degree or illustration course should depend on what interest you more – creating an overall design or focusing on a single image and experimenting with it. Make sure to research the opportunities each course has to offer and then choose which option suits your interests the best!


This article was written by Meghdeep Patnaik and edited by Amelia Hayward-Cole.