Illustration: A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

Illustration: A Picture Worth a Thousand Words
Illustration is the art of creating images for the sake of visual communication.

The process of getting across an idea, concept, or emotion through an illustration has been a part of human existence since the drawings on cave walls of the first nomadic people.

Illustration has evolved with every passing era of belief, and today many illustrators no longer draw by hand but usually use sophisticated software such as Photoshop and Illustrator. But the aim of illustration -- to communicate visually -- has not changed.


Illustrators of all kinds are encouraged to have a firm foundation in two-dimensional design. They must understand how colors, shapes and text can work together to convey information and impact the viewer.

Along with traditional graphic design and art courses, instruction in computer-related software is recommended for illustrators of all types.

Knowledge of printmaking is also an asset, as many illustration careers involve publication illustration.


Illustration is needed in a variety of industries, from medical research to advertising. Illustrators may see their work published in cartoons, children's books, magazines, manuals, or posters.

Some illustrators restore ancient manuscripts. This work requires knowledge of history and an eye for detail.

Technical illustrators convey information about technical concepts. Audiences for technical illustration may be the general public, scientists, engineers, or experts.

For example, a nontechnical person reading directions for furniture assembly or a car manual needs to see how different parts function together. In this case, technical illustrations can make concepts much more clear than a paragraph of text. Engineers and scientists use technical illustrations to communicate technical specifications.

Book and magazine illustrators are skilled in using imagery to explain events and concepts to students and general readers alike.

Advertisers and promoters use illustrations to attract their target audience.

For more information on industries that rely on the skills of illustrators, see and

For more about a career in illustration, see this interview with freelance illustrator, Shawn Finley.

Top Illustration Schools

International Academy of Design & Technology - Detroit

Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design

The Art Institutes International - Minnesota

Related Articles