Brands are investing in custom images for their branding and marketing materials. And the top two types of design for commercial use today are custom illustration and graphic design. As entrepreneurs and marketers, how do you know which one to choose for your projects?

In this article, we’ll cover the differences between graphic design and illustration and why custom illustrations are better if you want more storytelling in your visuals. We’ll also give you a list of the top 12 common types of illustrations you can use commercially. If you stick until the end, a special 25-percent discount will be waiting for you in exchange for unlimited custom illustrations. 

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Custom Illustration v.s. Graphic Design: What are the Differences?

Simply put, graphic design is more for commercial use, while illustration is more about fine art. But that doesn’t mean brands can’t use illustrations for their marketing campaigns. It only means illustrations don’t work for all projects, unlike graphic design. 

Custom illustration is more conceptual compared to a more technical graphic design. Illustrations revolve around fine art and brand ideation. Both graphic design and illustration convey particular messages. 

However, illustration comprises more compelling storytelling than graphic design. Illustrations do a bang-up job of visually representing written text or complex concepts. Custom illustrations may be used for both literary and commercial purposes. Moreover, they’re also common in children’s books and covers. 

Illustrations are widely used to interpret ideas or stories. Custom illustrations dwell more on creative interpretations like this example from Penji:

custom illustration by Penji

On the other hand, graphic design relies on technical methods. For instance, the layout and composition should be based on graphic design principles. Although illustrations still follow some sets of rules, the outcome is based on the illustrator’s ideas and creativity to convey the message better. 

Graphic design dwells more on solving problems and is mainly used commercially to communicate with target audiences. Here’s a sample book cover graphic design from Penji:

Penji portfolio

Both graphic design and illustration can be used on:

  • Branding
  • Logo
  • Websites
  • Apps
  • Advertising
  • Publication
  • Typography
  • Icons
  • Hero images
  • Merch

Illustrations provide a more creative approach to telling your brand’s story. Plus, illustrations can immerse us into the story and characters deeply and emotionally. This type also tells a narrative that evokes emotions. Therefore, use custom illustrations if you want a more fresh and impactful take on all branding and marketing materials.

Related Post: Use Custom Illustrations to Transform Your Marketing and Web Visuals

12 Types of Custom Illustrations

Custom illustrations are difficult to create yourself. Before you start tinkering with DIY illustrators, think long and hard about the time and effort you’ll waste, especially if you lack proper training and experience. 

Custom illustrations are best left to the experts. Although custom illustrations might come with a hefty price tag, options such as on-demand services are available. Penji, for example, offers unlimited custom illustrations and graphic designs at an affordable flat monthly rate.

Once you’ve chosen reliable illustrators, you can decide what types of digital illustrations you want for your visuals. Here are 12 types to get you started. 

1. Watercolor illustrations

custom illustration example
Image: Cargo Collective

Technology and other online tools now allow illustrators to create watercolor illustrations by using several techniques. The primary goal of custom watercolor illustrations is to give different levels of transparency. The overall look is feminine with lots of soft colors and brush strokes. 

It’s also airy with a certain depth you won’t get from other types of illustrations. Watercolor illustrations are commonly used for fashion and feminine brands as well as children’s storybooks. 

2. Conceptual illustrations

custom illustration example
Image: Clip Studio

Concept or conceptual illustrations have an umbrella of various types such as gaming illustrations, fantasy illustrations, animation, and more. Illustrators create unique characters that are based on a theme. These characters can portray a story for various uses such as advertising, games, videos, and movies. 

It can sometimes be based on cultural references or the artist’s stylistic skills. Overall, conceptual illustrations are based on methodologies that show either a literal or metaphorical meaning. While concept illustrations can depict several interpretations, the outcome has a high visual interest that compels viewers.

3. Comics illustrations

custom illustration example
Image: Creative Bloq

The first cave paintings that narrated a series of events were seen in 15,000 BC in France. Then the first few comic strip compilations were published in the 1900s. Soon after, comic books arose in the 1930s. To date, comic books are prevalent for leisure and educational purposes. The use of cartoon-like imagery is popular in comic illustrations to convey a story, an emotion, or a scenario. 

By definition, comic illustrations are composed of images, and characters, coupled with other visual details and text to tell a story. They are usually laid out in a series of panels, with a consideration of proper arrangement to convey a narrative. Apart from that, comics are also combined with some speech elements like speech bubbles, onomatopoeia, and other captions for the dialogue.

4. Branding illustrations

custom illustration example
Image: CG Frog

Custom illustration for branding is part and parcel of running a business. Without branding assets, a company can never connect with its target audience. Compared to other types of illustrations on this list, branding illustrations depend on a particular style. This style should correspond to the brand’s style guide for better communication within a brand’s target market.

An example of branding illustrations is logos. When creating logo illustrations, the artist uses the brand’s colors, icons, typography, and overall style to depict a clear identity. If a couple of design elements are out of place, the logo can seem confusing for audiences. There are two reasons why logos should be well-executed, and they are:

  • To make a brand’s visual language clear
  • To ensure branding consistency

Additionally, creating logos entails various factors to make it timeless such as simplicity, scalability, uniqueness, and more. That said, it’s best to entrust logo designing to experts like Penji. Professional illustrators from Penji know what it takes to create a logo that will sit well with a brand’s audience. 

5. Portrait illustrations

custom illustration example
Image: A Good Son

Creating portrait illustrations requires the skills of an artist who comprehends the use of lighting, shading, colors, shadows, highlights, and angles. Portrait illustrations involve showcasing the person’s best traits or characteristics. This is displayed through visual cues or elements like gestures, facial expressions, or any physical characteristics that make them unique.

Portrait illustrations can either be abstract or realistic. Either way, the most essential component should be distinct and recognizable to the viewers.

6. Product illustrations

custom illustration example
Image: GreenDrop Recycling

If there’s one way you can showcase your brand’s offers, product illustrations are your best bet. They can be used on websites and business apps to create a better user experience.

It all starts with a design brief, analysis, and research on the product’s features and benefits. The illustrator then considers the audience’s pain points or problems and how the product can resolve their issues. This process makes it easier for artists to create excellent product illustrations that highlight the product’s value. 

Some factors to consider when creating product illustrations are:

  • Product definition
  • Product value
  • Target audience
  • Company’s vision and mission
  • Brand identity and language
  • Features and benefits
  • Competitors

Overall, product illustrations should be visually appealing, and communicate the brand message to the consumer.

7. Photorealistic illustrations

custom illustration example
Image: Creative Bloq

Photorealism or photorealistic illustrations can make viewers think twice about the realness of the image. This type of custom illustration can blur the line between imagination and reality. These illustrations can be completed with several techniques such as brush or pencil. 

Moreover, illustrators who make photorealistic illustrations should be extremely meticulous to detail. Every line, shape, curve, or shade contributes to one mind-boggling image. The artist needs to comprehend colors, forms, shadows, lighting effects, and perspective to create an image that’s reminiscent of a real photo.

8. Mascot/Character illustrations

custom illustration example
Image: Graphic Mama

Creating mascots is useful for branding. Mascots or character illustrations are considered one of a company’s branding assets. Having mascots also puts a friendly face behind the logo. 

Additionally, these types of illustrations offer a more genial and lighthearted approach. This can attract more audiences due to its welcoming and funny nature. Custom mascots or characters are also considered cartoon illustrations. While these are sometimes used on children’s literary pieces, cartoon illustrations can also be applied in your marketing campaigns. 

9. Fashion illustrations

custom illustration example
Image: Fashionista Sketch

For fashion and feminine clothing retail brands, fashion illustration foresees the outcome of designer clothes. Fashion illustrations help designers see the fit, feel, and form before creating the actual clothes. This way, there will be less waste produced due to errors or miscalculations during production.

The designers must take into account the light, shadow, form, and texture. Also, they must use various types of illustration media such as pastels, pencils, watercolors, or markers. Overall, fashion illustrations are mostly used by fashion designers, even big brands like Vogue use fashion illustrations. In 1947, Vogue published the first illustration on the cover of one of its magazines. 

10. Typography illustrations

custom illustration example
Image: FHCI Graphic Design

Some companies rely on typography alone for their branding and marketing assets. And why not? Typography could be an excellent design that conveys a brand’s message as long as every technical detail is considered. 

Custom typographic illustrations pertain to the arrangement and style of numbers, symbols, and letters. The overall look should offer a cohesive design that’s visually appealing as well as legible. 

The first step is to select the typeface, layout, color palettes, and techniques, such as kerning and leading. Illustrators must also know how to use white space and scaling to ensure the typography looks good on different media types. When these techniques are considered, the outcome is elegant and appealing imagery that can stand alone without other elements.

11. Picture book illustrations

custom illustration example
Image: Behance

Custom illustration is popularly used in literary works such as children’s books. In children’s picture books, expect to see a lot of visuals and text. The visuals are mostly to make the children paint a picture of what the text says. On the other hand, picture book illustrations are also accompanied by words to develop the children’s comprehension, vocabulary, and communication skills. 

12. Line art illustrations

custom illustration example
Image: Wikipedia

Line art illustrations are pretty straightforward and typically drawn on a plain background. They consist of distinguished curved or straight lines without shades, hues, or colors. Although the lines can have various colors, they are often monochromatic. 

This type of illustration is typically two-dimensional or three-dimensional. Line art illustrations have a long history as it started decades ago in black-and-white print publications. 

How can I turn a photo into an illustration for free?

If you plan to use custom illustrations for personal and commercial projects on a tight or zero budget, use DIY tools. You can turn a photo into illustrations online for free by using tools like Picsart. 

Picsart is free to use without signing up for an account. Visit their website, and you will be taken to a user-friendly image editor. 

Once in the editor, click the Uploads button and choose a photo you want to transform into a custom illustration. For this example, I chose a dog.

free image editor

Then, go to the Effects button at the top toolbar. You’ll see a bunch of options you can experiment with. Or you can go to Artistic Effects and choose your preferred outcome. For this example, I chose the Watercolor effect, which gave me this illustration outcome. 

free image editor

As you can see, there’s not much difference between the original and illustrated photos. This is the disadvantage of doing the design process yourself. If you want a more professional-looking illustration from a photo, work with the experts from Penji. Check out Penji’s portfolio

What is the importance of marketing illustration? 

One of the goals of marketing campaigns is clear communication with your target audience. Using custom illustrations helps simplify complex ideas, products, or services. Illustrations also help emphasize small details of your message by highlighting drawings through colors, shapes, icons, mascots, and other elements. Custom illustrations help scale your design and visualize abstract concepts, helping target audiences understand your brand better.

What are the benefits of custom illustrations? 

Custom illustrations help your brand stand out because they’re distinct and emphasize on-branding details. These custom illustrations reflect your brand’s personality and identity, making these images solely yours. You’ll no longer be worried about stock photos or free illustrations online that other brands or competitors also use. 

Custom illustrations strengthen your brand identity and build authentic connections with target audiences. Communicating clear ideas that people can comprehend increases engagement and boosts brand awareness. Finally, using custom illustrations for branding and marketing offers versatility because these images can be used in various ways and mediums.

How to use illustrations in branding and marketing? 

You can use custom illustrations in various ways when shaping your branding or pushing out marketing campaigns. Here are a few ways you can use custom illustrations in marketing and branding:

  • Website hero images
  • Banners and posters
  • Onboarding screens and manuals
  • Blog article images
  • Email newsletters
  • Written manuals and tutorials
  • Infographics
  • Logos and website UX/UI
  • Creative brand storytelling
  • Brand avatars and mascots
  • Product packaging

How do I create a custom illustration?

For non-designers and non-illustrators, it can be challenging to create custom illustrations from scratch. After all, you need some experience in drawing or illustrating to create these engaging images to add to your brand. That’s why businesses or companies prefer outsourcing illustration work to designers or illustrators. Professionals have the know-how and expertise to produce personalized illustrations for brands.

Where are the best places to find custom illustration work?

Instead of paying for a course to learn how to illustrate, here are the best sites to find illustrators:

  • Minty – Minty matches with the best illustrators based on a short brief. From there, you can hire and communicate with the illustrator without leaving the app.
  • Behance – Behance allows you to find illustrators by browsing the marketplace or posting a job advertisement. Most illustrators on this portfolio site have completed around 2 to 8 projects. 
  • Toptal – You can expect high-quality work from Toptal illustrators. Only 3% pass their rigorous vetting process, and you can be matched with illustrators who have worked with top brands!

Although you can find the best illustrator to partner with on these sites, there’s still one excellent and more cost-effective solution to get your illustrations: Penji. Penji has an amazing team of illustrators ready to take on your project. Whether you’re requesting a mascot illustration or a comic style, there will be an illustrator to help you with your goals. You can do this by subscribing to Penji and letting our illustrators take care of the rest!

Lucky for you, Penji offers a 30-day money-back guarantee to try out its seamless design process. Here are a few of Penji’s illustration samples:

penji portfolio
penji portfolio
penji portfolio
penji portfolio

If you sign up now, we’ll slash 25 percent off your first month. Enter promo code GETPENJI25 and submit your first custom illustration request!