There’s a big misunderstanding when it comes to using graphics and illustrations. And that’s that they are one and the same thing that can be used interchangeably.
But, they are not the same. Lumping a graphic and an illustration together is akin to putting a photograph and a painting in the same category. Yes they’re both art forms, but that’s where the similarities end.
Think of a painting. It’s emotive, expressive and sometimes abstract. It is an artist’s interpretation of a person, place or thing and often evokes strong feelings and even differences of interpretation on the part of the viewer. Now think of a photograph. It’s a precise image and an exact replica of what is seen through the camera lens.
And so, like a painting, an illustration is more of an abstract concept that creates emotion. Whereas a graphic has a harder edge and delivers concepts in a concrete, matter-of-fact, way.
A big idea that needs to make a statement may be best represented by an illustration that carefully blends colours and depth to set the right tone and mood. The illustration creates a visual representation that helps enhance or interpret the text. Such a choice may however require some interpretation on the audience’s part.
A practical concept with many details may be best represented by a graphic that delivers an explicit message in a clear and concise manner. The graphic still has an illustrative component but it’s at a higher, more general level. Such a choice is a more direct form of communication, which leaves little room for interpretation.
To know when to use one versus the other, you need to understand your message and your audience. Although there is no right and wrong answer, it comes down to what feels right in answering your objective.