Skip to main content

Different Types of Illustration

Leon William has special expertise in illustration, visual communication, and the arts.

Styles of illustration

Styles of illustration

What Is Illustration?

Visuals create a deep, long-term impact on human minds; it's no wonder visual communication, if used in an appropriate manner, can be a powerful mechanism for rich storytelling and marketing. Illustration, as one of the most widely-used means of visual communication, has evolved over the years to assume a powerful identity in the publishing, healthcare, education, and manufacturing industries.

So what does illustration typically refer to? To be precise, illustration is usually a graphic form used to explain a concept or process to a target audience visually. You can integrate illustration in books, learning materials, animations, posters, flyers, magazines, movies, video games, and all types of print and digital media. Using illustration, you can present any idea or concept in a more interesting manner.

What Are the Main Types of Illustration?

Illustration can be classified into two broad categories:

  1. traditional illustration
  2. modern illustration

Traditional illustration mostly refers to hand-drawn artwork, whereas modern illustration uses software such as Photoshop and Illustrator.

Types of Traditional Illustration

The earliest recorded illustration appeared in the form of cave paintings that depicted major real-life events. Since ancient times, traditional illustrations have drastically changed, assuming diverse forms and instilling a feeling of uniqueness.

These are the main types of traditional illustration that we commonly come across:


This illustration gained popularity in the middle ages and was prominently used after the printing press was invented. As the name indicates, this type of illustration is created by engraving images on wood. It was widely used in China for block-printing purposes.

Pencil Illustration

Artists use a pencil to sketch their ideas, applying varying shades, effects, and line weights. They may use colored pencils or graphite lead to create unique and stunning illustrations.

Charcoal Illustration

Charcoal illustration may not appear as precise as pencil illustration. However, this type of illustration is used in stories, portraits, and cases where rough construction lines need visibility. The best part of using charcoal is that it blends excellently, which is why you can use it with differing hardness for creating beautiful effects or shadows. However, you may want to clear the mess with your fingers or use blending tools and fixatives to prevent unnecessary smudging.

Lithography Illustration

Lithography and traditional illustration styles and techniques complement each other very well. Earlier, people used wax, fat, or oil to draw on the smooth surface of a limestone plate. However, at present, offset lithography is widely used for illustration.

Watercolor Illustration

The fineness associated with watercolor illustration allows it to be used as an effective tool for storytelling. The watercolor artwork is noted for its detailing and depth. It's no wonder why it is extensively used in children's books. Artists can create extraordinary, thought-provoking watercolor illustrations using a delicate and creative combination of airy and lighter shades.

Acrylic Illustration

This type of illustration is ideal for beginners. Artists use acrylic paint on various surfaces, such as cloth or canvas, to create an illustration. Acrylic paints are available in different finishes and become water-resistant once they dry up.

Pen and Ink Illustration

This illustration type is noted for its precision, detail, and ability to create contrasts between elements. Even though pen and ink illustration is monochromatic, it is still possible to create detailed work by applying a single color with varying tints on a plain surface. Notably, fine lines with varying characteristics and densities are used in conjunction with dots for creating technical drawings or diagrams.

Types of Modern Illustration

The methods used to create contemporary illustration are somewhat similar to the methods that are applied to create traditional illustration. Modern illustration can be broadly divided into two main categories, which are discussed below.

Freehand Digital Illustration

Freehand digital illustration is created in the same way how artists use pen and ink to create traditional illustration. Artists creating digital art use stylus or tablet pen to give their imaginations a concrete shape. Artists can create stunning digital illustration styles through an appropriate use of multiple colors, tools, and brush presets. You can even address errors and implement changes quickly. With the combination of the right blends and shades, it is possible to create different effects.

With various tablet and stylus combinations, detailed digital illustration can be created. However, it needs to be noted that the digital illustration will be in raster mode, which means that you can zoom or enlarge them to a certain extent or else they will appear blurred. Freehand digital illustration is used for storyboarding, animation, recreation, etc.

Vector Illustration

Artists creating vector illustration make sure that every point is represented on coordinate axes for determining the direction of the path. Vector illustrations can be saved in PDF, EPS, or SVG extensions. Vector graphics can be zoomed and scaled to a particular extent without having to worry about pixelation. Additionally, artists can define outlines in a clearer and better way. Due to lesser flow or gradation, vector illustration can be ideally used as web illustrations, logos, etc.

Vector illustration is better than freehand digital illustration and is primarily used in print media. You can use vectors with text and typography. Besides, you can easily rotate, skew, stretch, and change the graphics for getting the desired outcomes. However, the vectors are not really used for creating photorealistic art or for adding details to an art.

How to Create a Competitive Edge Through Illustration

Illustration can be a highly effective tool for explaining complex concepts and improving user experience. Illustration can be used successfully to:

  • Instill originality in your approach: The stock photos we use are shared with others, which means we are using something that’s not unique. Images that lack originality would not generate the desired appeal and results. When you appoint an artist to create a custom illustration, you will get exactly what you are looking for without compromising quality or uniqueness.
  • Enhance the appeal of photographs: Plain photographs may fail to create the impact you want. You may consider using custom illustrations to give a more appealing makeover to your existing photos. With a few quirky touches, you can bring plain, dull photos to life and significantly change the feel and look of your website or media.
  • Make storytelling more interesting: You can make your story more compelling by incorporating engaging illustrations in the content. This way, you will be able to draw the attention of your target audience and convey your messages in an effective and interesting manner.
  • Boost brand image: You can use unconventional yet appealing illustrations to instill a unique personality in your brand. Original illustrations can boost your brand’s web presence and make it stand out from the competition.
  • Make communication clearer and smoother: Illustration allows you to demonstrate your ideas to your potential customers with creativity and better clarity.

Good Luck With Your Illustration!

Illustration is a broad concept that has evolved over time to find its application in diverse forms and address diverse needs. Suppose you are a budding or an experienced digital artist, or you are looking to understand the scope of illustration and how it may benefit you in your sphere of activity; in that case, we hope that, by now, you have been able to get an idea about the basics.

© 2019 Leon William


KatyKaty21 on June 28, 2020:

Your article is a great example of an article about the basics of illustration.

I recommend the article, which tells more about creating illustrations for sites, and why it is so important that the illustrations created are unique.