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Illustrator vs. Designer: What's the Difference?

July 8, 2021

There are many careers for people interested in art and design. Illustrators and designers are two types of creative professionals who use different skills and work on different types of projects. If you want to pursue a career in art or design, knowing the difference between illustrators and designers can help you choose the best career path for you. In this article, we explain how illustrators and designers differ and explore the different types and skills of illustrators and designers.

What is an illustrator vs. designer?

Illustrators and designers are both creative professionals. The job responsibilities of the two, including creating work for clients, can overlap. Some of the skills of illustrators and designers are also the same, as both can benefit from communication skills, professionalism and other skills that involve working with clients. However, there are important differences between the two career paths, including different job titles, projects and responsibilities.

Related: 35 Career Paths You Can Pursue in Art

What are the types of illustrators?

There are many types of illustrator jobs that you can consider, either as an employee for a company or as a freelancer. Some of the types of illustrators include:

  • Animator: An animator is a type of illustrator who creates illustrations that can be placed in a series to create movement. They can create animations for movies, video games and other purposes, and they're typically skilled in both hand-drawing and using animation software.

  • Tattoo artist: A tattoo artist is responsible for drawing and tattooing designs for their clients. Tattoo artists are usually skilled in hand-drawing, digital drawing and operating tattoo machines.

  • Concept artist: A concept artist illustrates concepts and ideas so that other artists can develop them into finished designs. Concept artists can work in many different fields, including video game design and architecture.

  • Courtroom illustrator: Courtroom illustrators are responsible for illustrating scenes that take place in courtrooms that don't allow cameras. Courtroom illustrators must have strong drawing skills and be able to create illustrations quickly.

  • Medical illustrator: Medical illustrators are responsible for illustrating medical books, journals and documents. They must be trained in anatomy and other medicine and science disciplines so that they can create accurate medical illustrations.

Related: 19 Jobs in Illustration

What are the types of designers?

The design field contains a variety of different career paths. Typically, design careers require a college degree, and degree programs can vary by job. Some types of designers are:

  • Web designer: Web designers are design professionals who design and build interactive websites. Web designers combine visual design skills with user experience design and web development skills.

  • Graphic designer: Graphic designers are responsible for creating designs for packaging, advertisements, logos and other products. Graphic designers are typically skilled in using graphic design software programs.

  • UX designer: User experience (UX) designers are design professionals who create layouts and flows for websites and applications. They are typically skilled in both design and software and web development.

  • Video game designer: A video game designer is responsible for designing video game components like settings, characters and visual effects. Video game designers combine skills in design and computer science.

  • Fashion designer: A fashion designer is a design professional who draws and produces clothing. Fashion designers typically have skills in drawing and design as well as knowledge of trends and textiles.

  • Interior designer: Interior designers are responsible for designing the layouts and elements of buildings. Interior designers usually have degrees in interior design and combine design skills with math and other skills to create their designs.

Related: 9 Types of Designer Jobs for Creative People

Skills for illustrators

Useful skills for illustrators include:

  • Drawing: Drawing is an essential skill for illustrators. Often, illustrators use both hand-drawing and digital drawing skills, so it's useful to learn how to draw in both ways.

  • Creativity: Illustrators also need creative skills to help them come up with unique ideas for illustrations and projects. Creative skills include open-mindedness, communication and problem-solving.

  • Color theory: Color theory is another useful skill for illustrators. Color theory involves how people perceive color and how colors interact with one another. Understanding color theory can help illustrators create effective and aesthetically appealing illustrations.

  • Art principles: It's also important for illustrators to understand the principles of art, which include shape, balance and space. Understanding these principles can help illustrators create professional illustrations.

Related: How To Add Artist Skills to Your Resume

Skills for designers

Top skills for designers include:

  • Design software: It's important for designers to know how to use design software programs. Designers use design software frequently to create finished designs for their clients, so knowing how to use design software is an essential skill for this career.

  • Attention to detail: Attention to detail is a key skill for designers. Having strong attention to detail can help designers create high-quality finished designs.

  • Typography: Designers can also benefit from typography skills, as they often incorporate company names and phrases into their designs for their clients.

  • Elements of visual design: It's essential for designers to understand the elements of visual design, including line and space, in order to create professional-looking designs.

Related: Creativity Skills: Definition, Tips and Examples

Tips for choosing between illustration and design

Illustration and design careers use many of the same skills, but there are differences between the two career paths worth considering to make the best career decision for yourself. Here are some tips for choosing between illustration and design:

Think about your skill set

One tip for choosing between a career in illustration and a design career is to think about your skill set. Some of the skills involved with illustration and design overlap, but each career path also includes its own skill set. Compare your skills with the skills involved with both careers to figure out which is the best match.

Consider your interests

Another tip for choosing between design and illustration is to consider your interests. Illustrators and designers can work on different types of projects, so it's worth considering what kinds of projects you'd be interested in working on and what clients you would like to partner with.

Related: Top Arts Careers for All Types of Artists

Think about your style

You can also think about your artistic style to help you decide if illustration or design is a better choice for you. If you've developed a specific and recognizable artistic style, then illustration might be the best fit for you. If you're open to creating a range of designs with different styles and purposes, then you might enjoy being a designer more.

Network with other art professionals

Another tip for choosing between design and illustration is to network with other art professionals. Talking to professional illustrators and designers can help you learn more about both career paths and get insight into the day-to-day tasks of both jobs, which can help you make your decision.

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