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Article: Different Types of Illustration That You Have To Know

Different Types of Illustration That You Have To Know

To become a great illustrator, you must understand a particular creative style.
Let's find out different types of illustration that you need to know!
Created by SLD |

There are reasons for people to say, "Men are visual beings," The "visual beings" term doesn't only apply to males, but also the entire human beings. It's not that humans only see what lies in front of their eyes. More appropriately, this condition refers to the ways human beings learn best: Through design and visual communications. 

Illustrations are some of the well-known methods of visual communications. People have used different types of illustration for storytelling, marketing products and services, and more. Hence, we can easily find pictures on books, animations, posters, magazines, flyers, video games, or other educational materials. 

Illustrations themselves are a series of designs for explaining some concepts to the target audiences. The aims are to make the sketches more interesting. You can illustrate the concepts through traditional and modern ways. Next, we'll help you to uncover the types of illustration in general.


Traditional vs. Modern Types Of Illustration

Differentiating between traditional and modern types of illustration depends on the design tools that the artists use. Artists use their hands to design artwork when they apply the manual illustration types. On the other hand, computer programs such as Photoshop or CorelDRAW are the design tools for modern design types.

The histories of the traditional design types can be traced back to the ancient eras when people painted on caves, stones, or other natural canvases. Since then, the manual methods have changed to be more diverse while still being unique compared to modern design types.

Woodcutting is an ancient traditional design method that is frequently used for block-painting purposes. Other traditional types of illustration include designing or sketching with pencils, charcoals, lithographies, watercolors, acrylics, pens, and inks.

Meanwhile, we can refer to modern types of illustration as contemporary illustrations. Two types fall into these categories, which are freehand digital illustrations and vector illustrations.

The freehand digital illustrations are the design methods where artists click on the combinations of multiple colors, tools, and brush presets through their tablets or styluses. Lots of storyboarding, animation, and recreation industries prefer these types of design. 

On the other side, vector design or illustrations are the methods where artists manipulate the axes' coordinates. These actions are to determine where each of the vector points will go. People who design the vectors also want to make sure every lining elements are on point. We often find these types of illustrations on web illustrations, logos, and other printed media.

Created by Marija Tiurina |


Overviews Of The Traditional Types Of Illustration

Traditional doesn't mean dull, even though they may have long histories. Instead, designers often refer to the conventional types of illustration of illustrating concepts as manual drawing or something around the "manual" word. 

These types of illustrations are unique in that these illustrations give natural vibes - something that you won't get in modern design types. First, we'll dive into the woodcutting method, one of the oldest illustrating methods.


Woodcutting As One Of The Traditional Types Of Illustration

People have recognized woodcutting as a form of traditional design method since the middle ages. True to its name, when you see an artist doing a woodcutting technique, it means that the artist engraves specific pictures on a wooden base. 

Oakwoods are the most popular wooden bases for woodcutting due to their incredible durability. At some points, artists can design their illustrations on more non-mainstream wooden surfaces, such as the Colorado blue spruce or any ash woods. Softwoods like aspens are not recommendable since they are prone to break down.

Pencil Illustrations, The Alternatives To The Wooden-Based Design

Indeed, wood-based illustrations are some of the long-lasting traditional types of illustration. Sketching using wooden pencils is not an exception. When artists use wooden pencils to apply shades, put on manual special effects, and put weights on the pictures' lines, they use the technique named pencil illustrations.

Pencil illustrations depend on the ways the artists sharpen their pencils. The sharper the pencil tips, the thinner the graphic lines and the lighter shades they create. This design method applies to the black-and-white pencils, color pencils, and graphite leads.

Charcoal Illustrations, The Alternatives To The Graphite Leads

Charcoal illustrations are the types of illustration that offer impressive alternatives to the graphite leads that artists can use in the pencil-illustrating technique. Charcoal-based illustrations can blend to create stunning effects and shadows with different hardness levels. Such abilities make these techniques great for any design that involves stories and portraits.

Created by Børge Bredenbekk |


Lithography Illustrations

Lithography illustrations are yet other traditional types of illustration that have lasted since the old eras. People used to have limestone plates or other smooth surfaces as the design bases to apply lithography artworks. From there on, they use waxes, fats, and oils with different colors to design.

These days, we can see the lithography illustrations applied in the offset versions. The offset design is well-known in the mass printing industries, such as in companies with custom clothes as the main products. These lithographies offset the images from the metal plates to rubber blankets or rollers before they "touch" the final print media.

Created by Roman Sustov |


Watercolor And Acrylic Illustrations

Watercolor illustrations are the types of illustration that come to mind when speaking about details and depths. These types of illustrations are common in children's books or other interactive storytelling media. 

The more delicate and creative the artists are, the more likely they combine different shades of watercolors to create an extraordinary and thought-provoking design. On the other side, the watercolor design can be complex for beginner artists. 

Thus, acrylic illustrations that emphasize using acrylic paints to create a unique design are beginner-friendly ones. Unlike watercolors that tend to appear more on paper-based surfaces, new designers can use the acrylic painting techniques in clothes, canvases, and other types of the design surface.

Created by Nagano mami |


Pen And Ink Illustrations

Watercolor or acrylic illustrations aren't the only design media with the details as their middle names. Pen and ink illustrations are the other traditional types of illustration that have precision and detailed elements as their two strengths. 

These types of illustration can even replace pencil illustrations, specifically when the artists have grown bored with the pencil-drawn artworks.

Like a design that uses a pencil as the primary design media, a design that uses pens and inks tends to be monochromatic. However, an artist can apply tints in different density levels. 

The two purposes are to create the contrast between the design elements and to create a detailed artwork. Artists often mix with dots to create diagrams when illustrating the concepts using the types of illustration that involve using pens and inks.

Created by Vadim Briksin |


Overviews Of The Modern Types Of Illustration

Artists or designers usually refer to the modern types of illustration as contemporary illustrations. 

The modern or contemporary illustrations are essentially the same as the traditional ones in that both of them require canvases. Even the outputs are the same, which are the pictures. The online processes are what make the modern illustrations different from their traditional counterparts.

There are two types of modernized design. The first one is the freehand digital design, which we'll discuss further over the next point.

Freehand Digital Illustration

We often find the application of these types of illustration in storyboards, animation, recreational ads, and more. Essentially, freehand digital types of illustration are the illustration types that are similar to the traditional pen and ink illustrations. 

Again, the online versus offline methods of processing is the thing that differentiates between the two types. Artists can find the "pens and inks" in the freehand types in the tablets and styluses. Therefore, tablets and styluses become their digital canvases.

Some tablets and styluses include a design pen in the packages. Artists can use this design pen to point to the design elements for freehand digital drawings. However, the real "pens and inks" lie in the software's brushes selections. 

Some brushes are default, which means the designers can use them without spending time and money looking for the brushes. Other brush types are only available on certain websites, and designers have to render them. That way, they resemble the design brushes. 

The appropriate combinations between multiple colors, tools, and brush preset, will make designers capable of creating astonishing effects on their freehand digital design. As designers or artists, you can zoom in or out your artworks and make sure they don't get blurred.

Created by Guihuahuzi |


Vector Illustrations

Unlike their freehand counterparts, vector types of illustration don't have much gradation flows. Their lines are also more clearly defined than the ones in freehand artworks. As a result, we often find these types of illustrations in several webcomics or logos. 

Texts and typographies are two elements that often go well together with vector illustrations. Sometimes, these two design elements can take up to 40-50% of the whole design canvases. Even though some artists can draw people's faces and partial bodies using vector techniques, these types of illustrations are not for photorealistic arts or for decorating other art elements.

Such exceptions apply because, in doing vector design techniques, the artists rely on the accuracy of each point and line. Precisely, each point should touch different degrees of coordinating axes so the artists can determine where each design will go next. Failing to execute these can result in skewed lines and inappropriate element applications.

Vector illustrations tend to be colorful, even though they tend to have more solid colors when compared to freehand digital arts. Many times, gradations and shadings are almost impossible to apply in a vector design. 

However, unlike freehand digital artworks that can blur if you zoom in or out too much, the vector illustrations are more flexible than you can zoom, adjust, and skew the scales and the lines without worrying about the pixels. 

PDF and SVG are two of the most popular extensions for these types of illustrations. Even so, some designers prefer to save the design in JPG or EPS.

Created by Riccardo Guasco |


Mixed Traditional And Contemporary Types Of Illustration

Previously, we knew that artists or designers used pencils, pens, inks, paints, charcoals, and other manual tools to conduct traditional types of illustration. Artists or designers who use a combination of tablets, styluses, design pens, and online tools such as preset brushes are doing the modern or contemporary illustration types.

You may ask, "What about if we look at the different design types based on the tools that the designers use?" In reality, some artists can mix the tools in the traditional and contemporary arts. The results are on par with the artists who rely only on one design method.

Artists can get modernized illustrations while applying traditionality in some of their design steps. For example, they can use a combination of pencils, pens, and inks to sketch their initial designs. Then, they can scan the sketches and open up their scan results using the design software their devices have.

After the software displays the scan results, artists or designers can either go with the existing artworks or start a new blank page. Most will go for the latter since the latter permits more brush movements, color gradations, saturation adjustments, and many more elements. After all, the design can follow if the decorations and brushes are alright.

Nobody knows if an artist can go backward in executing their illustrations. In other words, artists can't have traditional outputs while applying contemporary illustrations in the process. If there are any of them, the illustrations won't likely be satisfactory.

Created by Kate O'Hara |


Different Types Of Illustrations Based On The Purposes

Traditions and modernities aren't the only aspects to differentiate between types of illustration. There are other ways to see different illustration types, and the design purpose is one of the ways.

Today, we can find many kinds of designs for commercial purposes. Some of them are for editorial, advertising, fashion, and technical illustrations. There are times when these types of illustration mix together, such as when the artists or designers sketch the concepts for fashion editorial industries or fashion advertising industries.

Editorial illustrations are the arts that we find in books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and personal websites. Advertising types are the arts in promotional materials to convince potential buyers to buy the companies' products.

When we see fashion sketches, we'll think about the flows and lines for models with different sets of clothes. In sketching the models' clothes, the designers usually prepare around two or three illustrations. So, they can provide choices for both the models and the agencies. 

Such ways make them resemble advertising illustrations, where there are lots of preview samples before they reach the final agreement. 

The technical types are the pictures for making complex things simpler to understand. These types of illustrations are more frequent in the science and education industries. 

Created by Vera Edvards |


Some More On The Different Illustration Types

Concept arts, infographics, and packaging illustrations are the other three illustration types we're going to uncover in this article. The roots of these artworks come from the purposes they have. 

Packaging illustrations are the types of artwork that help companies to define their brand and product personalities. Since these illustrations are attached to the products or services that the companies sell, the primary purpose is to catch the buyers' attention. Therefore, packaging illustrations are strongly related to advertising materials.

At the same time, we can find the illustrations for products' packagings on technical materials. Even so, their presentations are usually smaller, and they tend to come with different types of artwork, pictures, and more, particularly on infographics.

It is not uncommon to find technical and educational materials loaded with infographics more than other types of material. Diagrams, tables, pie charts, colored texts, and pointed arrows are some elements that are usually present in infographics. 

Nonetheless, we can apply infographics to other illustrations as long as every symbols, logos, and other elements in the infographics are easy to understand. For example, infographics in fashion industries help in determining what kinds of material the dresses will have.

The third artwork that we're going to cover is the concept arts. These illustrations are usually for video games, movies, or other recreational materials. The environments, the characters, costumes, and other additional items, are the elements that build the concept arts.

Unlike other kinds of arts, concept arts don't have to be beautiful or designed creatively. It is the appropriateness for the characters and the rest of the elements that counts when creating concept arts. In the end, the companies will only use one concept that is closest to the art directors' demands.

Created by Max Degtyarev |



No matter what kinds of illustrations you are working on, the tools you use, the purposes you serve, and other materials you use to realize your illustrations, you need to find the competitive advantages in you.

By instilling originalities in your works, you'll be able to boost your brand images and incorporate engaging image content for telling the stories behind the photographs. Not stopping there, you can make communication flow smoother between you and the people you're communicating with. 

Finally, use this article on the different types of illustration as your inspiration to determine which kinds of illustrations suit you, your personality, and your brand best.

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