Illustration Genres and How to Tell Them Apart

Illustrations can bring your ideas to life, but it's important to find the right illustration style for your needs.

Gabriela Ross

Probably you've heard the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." And it's true! Especially when you're using illustrations in your creative projects and designs. The effectiveness of an illustration can make your message clearer for your audience.

From simple cartoon characters to highly detailed realistic artworks, one illustration is not better than the other—it all depends on its purpose.

And as you can imagine, there is a broad range of illustration styles and types, but here are some of the most popular and what you can use them for. Let's get to it!

How to differentiate illustration genres?

Illustrations evoke diverse emotions in people. The role of illustrations can range from being humorous to serious, light-hearted to dark, figurative to abstract.

Since illustration genres are a broad topic with many variations, we'll divide it into two main groups: Traditional and modern illustrations.

Traditional are the ones we know as hand-drawn, pencil, watercolor, charcoal illustrations, and basically all the types of illustration that are not digital.

Modern illustrations are growing in popularity every year. Most of these are created with graphic tablets because of the accessibility and comfort they provide. Plus, these can imitate different illustration effects and techniques such as drawing tools, brushes, pencils, and more.

Every genre or type of illustration has its particular style and character. Whether it's traditional or modern, it can help give your project a unique look and feel.

10 illustration genres and examples

Illustrations help explain ideas in ways that text alone cannot. To the architect, an illustration is a blueprint; to the journalist, it's an image designed to connect emotionally with readers and viewers.

Illustrations are so universally accepted and understood because they help us communicate in ways that words cannot. Now let's review some of the popular modern genres:

1. 3D illustrations

Three-dimensional illustrations (3D) are one clear example of what we mean when we say illustrations bring your ideas to life. A 3D illustration it's like looking at the exact representation of something, just like an object, product, or scene. This style is perfect for product development and virtual reality (VR).

Image featuring two 3D illustrations walking.
Illustration by Uv Zhu.

2. Children's illustrations

This genre is very, very diverse. It can have simple illustrations or focus on shapes and color, or more realistic characters. Mainly because children's illustrations vary depending on the ages, you're talking to.

Since there's always something happening, you'll want to communicate the right scene at a glance. And again, that's precisely what illustrations are for!

Children's illustrations with animals painting and playing around.
Illustration featuring Fuzzy Friends by Manuela Langella.

3. Cartoons and comics

We're guessing this one needs no explanation.  Maybe this style will bring back memories from your childhood. At least it happened to us while writing this post. Oh, how time passes by!

Let's dig a little more into cartoons and comics: Not always, but mainly, this style goes combined with text because it follows a specific script. Sometimes cartoons and comics can describe a scene with one image only.

This genre is often used for themes like crimes, adventure, horror, light humor, romance, and superheroes like Marvel or DC Comics.

Image featuring illustrations of people reading comics
Illustration by Andrea Pittori.

4. Concept art

Concept illustrations are mainly used in films, animations, fantasy illustrations, and gaming to create characters, items, and environments. Concept art is used as well to show the progress of a project. For example, if you want to show it to clients, partners, investors, or in advertising.

Fun fact: Disney Animation Studios was the first famous studio to use the term concept art in the 1930s.

Image featuring iIllustrations from Disney characters
Illustration from The Art of Moana © Disney

5. Editorial

Editorial illustrations are usually created for books, magazines, and similar publications. This style is focused on representing the content in an appealing way for the readers. Sometimes editorial illustrations tend to be metaphorical.

Image featuring two covers with illustrations from the frankie magazine
Illustrations from Frankie magazine, issue 99 and 86.
Image of the cover of a magazine with illustrations.
Illustration from The Intelligent Lifestyle Magazine.

6. Fashion

Yes, the list goes on! And here's when you should work on your best look!

Fashion illustrations focus on body silhouettes, colors, and textures. This style shows the look or outfit itself. Many renowned brands use illustrations for their social media posts to stand out with an authentic style and a certain aesthetic.

Image featuring a woman's dress representing fashion illustrations.
Illustration by Katie Rodgers.
fashion illustrations of women in different outfits.
Illustration by Jenny Walton.

7. Flat

Flat illustrations are here to stay! These are all about perspective and image depth. You can see this style in apps, websites, and all kinds of digital designs.

Let's take this illustration featuring Croods as an example:

Image featuring illustrations from a group of people with colored T-shirts.
Illustration by Vijay Verma.

8. Line art

Also known as line drawing, line art illustrations are sometimes used in a one-color background, as white or black, for instance, focusing on simplicity, and it outlines the shape of the object or theme of the illustration.

Line art is a very minimalist style that's gaining more territory every year. Now it is even used as inspiration for jewelry designs and tattoos!

Image with two characters with floating elements around them representing line art drawings.
Illustrations featuring Big Shoes by Elina Cecilia Giglio.

9. Posters

You might identify this one from commercial examples, advertising, or political and social themes. This style began in the late 1800s and early 1900. It started to gain popularity for promoting films, tho it has evolved through time. Now you might see posters like this recreated for social media posts, educational content, concerts, public events, and home decoration too!

Poster illustrations with four examples.
Left to right: The famous "Chat Noir" by Theophile Steinlen, pride posters by Nubia Navarro and poster illustration by Zimm Wang.

10. Retro or vintage

Retro or vintage illustrations in some cases can have very similar styles to the posters we saw above. These illustrations try to capture and represent a past era. It comes in handy for brands or products that want to appeal to traditional design elements or, basically, the good old days!

Pro tip: If you're looking for a design niche, this can be a great option to develop your style!

This work by Mary Kate McDevitt is an example of how you can create retro or vintage illustrations. These images below show her hand-crafted iconic style, which has gained her a spot as one of the most recognized artists of this genre.

Image featuring retro and vintage illustrations.
Illustration by Mary Kate McDevitt.

We've covered 10 different illustration genres by now. Hopefully, this article has shown you that there are several ways you can use illustrations throughout your blogs, packaging designs, apps, websites, or for a book! The possibilities are endless if you're willing to try new things.

If you're ready to add the final touch to your next creative project, remember to use customizable illustrations so you can genuinely boost your message and engage your target audience.

Get your illustrations out there!

Now you're prepared for your next creative adventure!

Remember that illustrations can tell a story just like text, even better if you ask us! But they don't fall into one genre. Knowing the types of illustrations and how each style is different will help you use each one best.

We'd love to see what you're up to. Add #madewithBlush to your posts on social media so that we can take a look and share it too. And if you think we're missing another illustration genre here, let us know on Twitter at @Blushdesignapp.

Remember to have fun with your next creative project, and include some illustrations!

image with all to action to get the Blush Pro trial for free.