What is the difference between an illustrator and a graphic designer?

Are you a graphic designer that creates advertisements and logos but also loves doing watercolor illustrations?

Are you a character illustrator but also make money designing business infographics?

This kind of crossover is common in the world of art and design. Nevertheless, most of us relate more to one niche than another. Even if we consider ourselves as more of a creative than only a graphic designer or an illustrator, the roles and definitions are quite different!


What is a Graphic Designer

A graphic designer is a person who designs visuals that need to convey a message, sell a product, promote or explain something. They have a deep understanding of how to communicate an idea through visuals that include both text and images. Graphic design is sometimes also called Communication Design.

Graphic designers know how to use the combination of colors, shapes, typography and visual hierarchy to get a response from the viewer. They need to know how to grab the attention of the observer and make them act upon it if necessary. The best graphic designers have studied some aspects of marketing to better know how to use their skills for business.

The usual tasks given to a graphic designer are the creation of logos, design of business cards layouts of magazines, flyers and brochures, book covers and product packaging. They are usually on their computer using vector editing programs and layout editors like Illustrator and Indesign.

There is so much graphic design around us that most people don’t even notice. It is literally part of our daily lives. Every single piece of packaging of every product you use has been done by a graphic designer, every logo, every billboard every album cover.

Sometimes if a piece of graphic design is so outstanding in its message and visual impact it makes its way into the realm of art and can even be considered a piece of art. This is the kind of work that inspires other graphic designers to improve their skills and learn from their peers.


What is an Illustrator?

An illustrator is a person who creates illustrations and art pieces to be used as part of a design, inside a children’s book or even on product packaging design.

Illustration sits more in the realm of art than of design. An illustration is a visual that tells a story, that gives the viewer a pictorial representation of something. Even though both graphic designers and illustrators study the same basics of color and balance, the intent is different.

Illustrators usually work on paper first, before digitizing their work on a Wacom pad or straight with the mouse. They use art and sketching programs to create digital illustrations. Most illustrators have gone to art school, not design school.

Illustrators are good at drawing and sketching their ideas. It’s common to see an illustrator with a notebook and pencil at all times. Sometimes illustrators are also fine artists that paint on canvas or even create sculpture and ceramics.



 How to graphic designers and illustrators work together? Can one person be both?

Illustrators sometimes work closely with graphic designers in creative projects that need an artistic angle.

It’s possible for one person to be both a graphic designer and an illustrator. This usually happens when a person has a strong artistic background. This is a common situation and happens mostly with freelancers.

In the end, most will veer more in direction than the other, with the few exceptions of those who are artistically ambidextrous and can easily do both.

Usually, these types of creative people find that they can make more money with graphic design than with illustration. If an illustrator is recognized by their unique style then they can be successful only with illustration. It’s a game of chance and gives and takes for most artists.

In a large creative agency, the graphic design and illustration departments might be completely separated. The graphic designer receives the illustrations from the illustrator and adds them to the layout of whatever they are working on.

Just another creative

As more and more creatives are filling the freelance market with their self-taught skills, the lines between graphic designers and illustrators is becoming blurred. There is another label which fits in this conversation, the graphic artist.

A graphic artist is like an illustrator but geared more towards graphic design. Mostly digital and with a marketing angle, graphic artists have a specific style and are usually known for it. In comparison to illustrators who tend to tap onto different styles according to their client’s needs.

After years of working in the graphic design and illustration fields, I can personally say that in the end, we are all “just another creative.” For people that do the other jobs inside a business, the lines between our roles blend even more and they don’t even know if we as graphic designers can draw or not.

Are you just another creative? Or do you consider yourself purely a graphic designer or illustrator?