Tip of the week: how to choose between being a designer or an illustrator

You may be starting your career or may be on a crossroad of choices after having experimented with art and design. Most individuals at this juncture in our industry (specifically artists at early stages) have a choice to make between being an illustrator or a designer. Only later in life with more experience one can tug both boats if they want and if the need is presented. This is true with most small business owners in the area of design who happen to be good artists.

Graphic designer at work. Color samples.

So let us quickly understand first the Difference between an illustrator and a designer:

An illustrator is an artist, creating pieces of illustrations in form of computer art, paintings, sketches, illustrations with watercolour or use of mixed media etc. The tools can be many. Illustrators are fine artists and are quite creative in their approach with art itself, rather than its presentability or its direct communication with the commercial world where designers are more concerned. So an illustrator is essentially a fine artist.

A designer on the other hand is a person who makes visuals and assembles art from either other sources (like illustrators, photographers) or his/her own work in case it’s simple (logos etc) and the intention of this assembled art is to convey a message, be it commercial or social. A designer is usually targeting a consumer or a community. So when you see a carton or a commercial product box, pamphlets, invitation cards etc, they are made by designers. While the elements of the art most probably is drawn by the illustrator.

So in essence, an illustrator is an artist who makes the art and the designer would present the art to address a commercial or non commercial purpose. The question is, which work should you choose? Here are a few pointers you can pick that can lead you to make the choice easily.

Designer drawing a car

Making the choice between being a designer or illustrator:

Are you an artist: Do you like drawing, sketching, painting etc.? If yes and if you have been given a true feedback that you are good at it, then there is no question, you would love to be an illustrator. If you love doing the art in detail, no need to look further and dive right into the artist sphere!

Are you a good communicator? There are people who are mediocre in art but extremely able in getting the message through. They have the sense of communication design that can pull the attention of ad blind audience, make people stop and see and make people think after they see. If you are one of them, then being a designer is what your destiny may be.

Sense of colors: If you know how to match and bring things together, have a great sense of colors then you can be a designer. If not and yet you are artistic, then be an illustrator.

Sense of organising: Designers are very well organised naturally in life and artists are usually unorganised. No offence but what comes to mind when thinking about a great artist? A messy studio with a man with big beard and paint laden apron with a complete upside down life but excellent, loveable work of art! So you can gauge yourself on this parameter and think where you belong!

Commercial thinking: Where an artist will fail to see opportunities in the commercial sense, a designer would grab the opportunity and encash it. So if your commercial abilities are sharper than your artist within, be a designer, if otherwise, be an illustrator.

Growth, qualification and pay: Both have around the same growth prospect, with illustrator having a little more headroom. An illustrator is also usually paid a bit more in normal circumstances and illustrators can do with high school passing while designers usually are found with more collage degrees. However there are exceptions to these and this is just an average statistical conclusion I found with my research.

Ask yourself: Close your eyes, consider your strength and weaknesses, and ask yourself who you would love to be. Imagine being one over another and choose what your heart says. Let your soul decide! Whatever you do, do NOT flip a coin!

So which one is it gonna be? Maybe later after experience, you can do a bit of both. Do leave your kind comments. Thanks for reading!

Photo credits: Piscari, Scyther5.

Your article must be written in English

May 19, 2019


Thank you, I agree.

May 07, 2019


Oh man, I totally disagree. I have been a graphic designer for decades and my daughter is an illustrator. We are both artists. Very few people can do both on a professional level. Those that do generally end up as graphic designers. The reason? Jobs. Look on any career site and you will see that it is not even close.

May 01, 2019


Very helpful comparison and interesting article.

April 28, 2019


good article

April 24, 2019


Nice article ! thank you...

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