Illustrations v/s Images – Which One Should I Choose?

31 Mar


'A picture is worth a thousand words', they say. It can add volumes to a content piece, whether it's an article, a research paper or marketing collateral. It is the most common go-to format for most designers in today’s digital world. However, there are illustrations too with their countless styles which can be highly beneficial for a design strategy. They can tell your brand’s story by using vivid imagination to shape your audience’s response.

So, how do you decide between illustration vs image which one to choose for your business when they each have their own constraints and advantages? 

In this blog, let’s look at both the visual formats and discover how best to use them.  

When Can  Images Work Best for Your Business?

By nature, photos are more realistic and grounded. If you are selling a specific product, it makes more sense to depict it in a literal way through photos. Most big companies avoid using illustrations to sell products such as food or clothing to establish a real connection with their customers at large. For example, if you are a mobile phone company it’s best to put images of the phone models you sell instead of using illustrations. This helps build peace of mind and reliability for users. 

Using Images: The Best Practices

  • Consider using large-background photos to grab the attention of the users right away. Let your content be based on the image you use to avoid poor readability or information overload.
  • Using photos subtly draws less attention to the images and more on the content. That's another smart way to use photography to get more viewers interested in your website.
  • There are navigational images too that are clickable and have become quite popular. With sites like Pinterest creating an image-based layout, there are many avenues you can explore here. 

When Does It Make More Sense To Use Illustrations For Your Business? 

From abstract textures to cartoon characters and mascots, the world of illustrations is huge and exciting. If you wish to depict something beyond real life or a subject open to imagination, illustrations are the ideal choice. Think Harry Potter catching the Hogwarts Express from platform 9¾. The illustrations to depict this fantastically can be endless while letting your imagination run wild. If you think about it, illustrations feed on the shortcomings of photos and vice versa. 

Using Illustrations: The Best Practices 

  • Illustration skills can take your personal brand to unprecedented levels. Say, using a stylistic drawing or sketch to represent your brand. 

  • You can consider creating a mascot or unique character as a tangible face of your brand. For example, the quirky ‘Chimp’ of Mailchimp’s illustrations that encapsulates the brand, carries across their styling and gives it a consistent voice. 

  • Abstract illustration styles are effective to develop a visual identity and a memorable impression on the minds of your users. It also adds an interesting element to a webpage and guides the user's eyes by utilising various styles.

Depictions Built On Futuristic Thinking

Want to show how a futuristic product or a business concept would look like? Just illustrate. Self-flying cars that the automotive and tech giants are working on can be a good example for illustrations where photographs can’t do justice. 

Illustration vs. Image: Which One Works Best For You?

When in doubt, you can try to answer the following questions. That’ll give you some clarity and push you in a clear direction. Though remember, keep your overall marketing strategy and business goals at the root of your decisions. Your personal taste must not affect the larger objective goals of your project.

  • Do I have a specific product to sell? 

Yes? Then use a photo to display your product clearly.

  • Do I want to sell something less tangible? 

Go for illustrations to capture its theme.

  • Who is my target audience?

Generally, older people may prefer the reliability that comes with a photograph. On the other hand, younger people tend to get more fascinated with the ideas of a great illustration. 

  • What are my competitors using? 

If you want to shake things up a little, try illustrations to hold your own. 

Depictions that are Realistic and Creative

Looking to combine the best of both worlds? You can go for photo-illustrations. This lets you play around a realistic concept combined with hard-hitting illustrations, Similar to this pic, where you can introduce a member of the team creatively. Use the real image of the person surrounded by illustrations that depict their interests and other attributes to get the user’s attention.

What’s the Verdict?

Well, there is no clear winner. And, that’s not exactly a bad thing. You can use a mix of both high-resolution images and tailor-made illustrations just like many other websites do. Just remember, images work best if you are a professional company with a specific product to promote as they make you look realistic. However, if you want to stand above the rest and the subject of your content is abstract in nature, you can go for custom illustrations. 


Ques 1: What are the different types of illustration?


  1. Pencil illustration.
  2. Woodcut illustration.
  3. Charcoal illustration.
  4. Watercolor illustration.
  5. Acrylic illustration.
  6. Ink illustration.
  7. Freehand Digital illustration.
  8. Vector Illustration.
  9. Advertising illustration.
  10. Scientific illustration.

Ques 2: What is the most popular type of illustration?

Ans 2: There is a broad range of illustrations available, like Retro, Comic, Flat, Vector, Cartoon, etc. One illustration is not better (or more popular) than the other—it all depends on its purpose.

Ques 3: Do I need to copyright my illustrations?

Ans 3: Yes, when the work is tangible (such as a painting, sculpture, or drawing) or in digital form.

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