Everything You Need to Know About Editorial Illustration

Are you a beginner in the world of illustration? Or looking to get some illustration work, but don’t know what you want? This list of the most vital styles of illustration is a good place to start.

February 17, 2024

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Do you want to become an editorial illustrator? Or need some artwork for your publications? Either way, here’s everything to know about editorial illustration!

Many people think graphic design and illustration are the same. This is completely wrong. 

Graphic designers use design elements like shapes, fonts, colors, lines, and images to communicate a message. Artists like digital painters and illustrators focus on the aesthetic appeal and strive to create something beautiful or meaningful.

There are many uses nowadays for digital illustrations, from cookbooks to social media. However, one of the oldest and most sought-after types of illustrations are editorial illustrations.

What are editorial illustrations?

As their name suggests, editorial illustrations are illustrations found in publications, such as magazines, newspapers, books, articles, and more.

There are two main functions of editorial illustration artworks:

  1. To break up the text. Everyone knows it’s much easier to read and understand text when it’s broken into manageable chunks, whether it’s sentences, paragraphs, pages, etc. Illustrations solidify that distinction and give readers time to “breathe”.
  2. To enhance the readers’ experience. When we are able to read information, as well as see it, the impact is greater. This might be a better retention of information, or greater emotional impact through visual metaphors. 

What skills does an editorial illustrator need?

An editorial illustrator is not merely a graphic designer, nor are they the same as every other freelance illustrator on the market. How to get editorial illustration work? Here are some of the main skills required.

1. Drawing and painting

Let’s start with the most obvious. If you want to start working as an illustrator you need drawing skills. Some people choose to focus exclusively on pencil illustrations done on paper, and others like to create and edit digital paintings.

Whichever path you choose, it’s best to perfect your skills in a limited number of areas. Of course, magazine or newspaper illustrations come in a range of styles. However, your best chance of beating the vast competition of freelance illustrators is to become masterful in one style. 

Becoming proficient in digital drawing also requires knowledge of the right drawing software, as well as mastering tools such as digital drawing pads. 

2. Storytelling

The best editorial illustrations always work hand-in-hand with the text it accompanies. So, anyone who specialises in editorial illustrations, should take time to read publications.

This will improve your storytelling skills, and help you understand what kind of illustrations can accompany articles the best. Are portraits of the main characters the most useful to the reader? Or a scenic landscape where the story takes place? Or, is the best course of action to create work that depicts particularly poignant scenes or parts of the story.

3. Knowledge of printing techniques

Even illustrators that work exclusively with digital mediums, should have a basic understanding of printing techniques. This is a great marketable skill to have that can potentially open up a lot more options when you’re lookin how to get editorial illustration work.

4. An interest in current affairs

Editorial illustrations are mostly found in big newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, The Economist, and more.

While you don’t need a PhD in international affairs, sociology, or economics, successful editorial illustrators should have some knowledge of the subject matter they’re meant to represent.

This is a particularly useful tip if you want to hire an editorial illustrator. Aside from those all-important technical skills, prepare a couple of questions connected to the topic of your publication. 

Types of editorial illustrations

The best way to understand this topic better is to look at some great editorial illustration  examples. So let’s look at some great examples and how they’re used.

Magazine illustrations

Magazines often used photos, especially photos of landscapes and people. However, a custom illustration can be a really fun alternative. 

Here’s a wonderful full-page illustration that shows the author of the text. Not only does it capture attention, but it can also strengthen the brand identity of the magazine itself. 

By Lili Stanicek

Illustrated covers are a great way to peak readers’ interest, even before they have a chance to browse through the pages. Of course, this might not be the best choice for fashion magazines, but lifestyle and literary magazines can get a lot of attention from a creative cover!

By Lea Julienne

Newspaper illustrations

Newspapers use much fewer illustrations than magazines, since photos accompany text about current affairs much better.

Nevertheless, from caricatures to comics, daily newspapers have a rich tradition of illustrations that lives on. Here’s a current editorial illustration example from the Washington Post that’s both decorative and effective. An article illustration like this one can be a really great click incentive, and serve as a visual introduction to the text. 

Of course, big publications like this one are known for their witty cartoons. Of course, something of this caliber will require close collaboration between art directors and everyone doing editorial work to ensure cartoons fit the theme and convey a message. 

By Edith Pritchett

Book illustrations

You probably don’t remember all the characters’ names from your favorite children’s book. But there’s a solid chance you remember the illustrations and cover

If you ever need illustrating ideas, books are definitely one of the most useful sources of inspiration. Check out your local bookstore, or go ahead and type “book illustrations” on popular design platforms like Behance or Dribbble!

Blog illustration

Last, but certainly not least, editorial illustrations include blog graphics. While simple designs like graphs and charts can be extremely useful, illustrated graphics can make the reading experience a lot more fun!

Here are a few examples of blog graphics used by Landbot. A creative article cover is a great way to boost your click-through rates. On the other hand, in-text blog graphics can help covey vital information and improve read-through rates.

Where to get editorial illustrations?

Now that you feel inspired you might be wondering where to commission illustrations and how much do editorial illustrators charge?

Like most freelance illustrators, these creatives charge about $30 per hour. If you want to hire a full-time team member, be prepared to pay around $60,000 for a US-based illustrator.

Lastly, be sure to check out our unlimited design service! For as little as $549 a month, you can get all your creative needs taken care of  from editorial illustration artwork to website design! Best of all, the design subscription covers unlimited revisions, so you never have to sacrifice your artistic vision and creativity.

Sign up today or book a free consultation with us to find out more!

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.

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