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An illustration is a decoration, interpretation or visual explanation of a text, concept or process, designed for integration in published media, such as posters, flyers, magazines, books, teaching materials, animations, video games and films. ~Wikipedia ……. But we think
Illustrators are people who do illustration, like how designers are people who do design.
If your question is essentially “What is ‘illustration’, and how is it different to graphic design?“, that’s a good question. It’s a difficult one to define. Most people just have a gut feeling for where the line is between graphic design and illustration. My understanding has always been:
Illustration is the art of making images that work with something and add to it without needing direct attention and without distracting from the thing they illustrate. The other thing is the focus of the attention, and the illustration’s role is to add personality and character without competing with that other thing.
Graphic design is the art of making images that attract direct attention towards themselves and use attention for a specific, deliberate purpose. They do compete for attention with other things, and a good designer will be able to control which elements win attention in what order on a busy page.
Illustrators and designers use similar tools and have similar skills and training. Most illustrators are competent designers and most designers are competent illustrators. There’s a lot of overlap between the two disciplines. It’s common to see courses with titles like “Graphic Design And Illustration”.
In terms of skills involved, illustration is generally more expressive, art-y, about images that create a subjective mood, and graphic design is more deliberate, science-y, about images that achieve an objective goal.
A good children’s book illustration adds depth to and enhances the very simple text without competing with it. Graphics are often designed to give an abstract impression of mood and personality (usually in a more carefully controlled, analyzed and deliberate way), for example a good corporate logo has to meet a lot of very specific requirements about how it is to be used and function, as well as giving the impression of an abstract ‘personality’ of the company.