Beginner’s Guide to Top 10 Illustration Styles

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.

March 24, 2024

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What are the most important illustration styles? Even professional designers get confused about this, so we’re here to list and explain 10 of the most common styles of illustration.

Let’s say you’re a graphic designer looking to learn digital painting. Or maybe you’re a business owner who wants to spruce up professional design with custom illustrations

Where do you begin?

There are many different illustration styles, from simple icons to intricate book illustrations. We’re here to explain what the 10 most important ones are, and how they’re used.

Vector illustrations: good for logos 

Vector graphics are made up of mathematical equations that define lines, shapes, and colors, rather than pixels like raster graphics (e.g., JPEG or PNG images). Because of this, vector illustrations are resolution-independent and can be scaled to any size without losing quality. Vector illustrations can encompass various styles, including flat design, but they are not limited to it.

For this reason, vector illustration styles are perfect for creating a unique brand visual identity. For example, illustrated logos are a great way to give your brand some character.

Vector illustrations can help you create eye-catching ads. Since they scale well, you don’t have to worry about using the same illustration on different ad formats. They’re also a great asset to use on all sorts of social media designs for the same reason.

One brand that has done this is Apple. The illustration couldn’t be simpler, yet it’s become one of the most iconic logos of all time. One reason for this is that due to its simplicity Apple is able to seamlessly incorporate the logo on virtually every piece of brand design: from ads and social media, to every single one of their products!

Logo histories

Flat illustrations: good for web design

A subset of vector illustrations, flat illustration style is characterized by minimalism, and lack of three-dimensional depth or shading. In flat illustrations, objects are depicted with clean lines, bold colors, and basic shapes, often without gradients or realistic textures. 

That’s why flat design  illustrations can be a great way to improve website or app user experience. They’re clear, consistent, and scale well. 

Here’s a login page our design team has done for A-DNext. The vector illustrations are a great choice for a SaaS service like this, giving the website a crisp, modern look.

Vintage illustrations: good for books

When we think about illustrations, vintage or retro style is probably the one that comes to mind. This illustration style mimics traditional drawing techniques, such as watercolor, chalk, pencil, and others. 

Nowadays there’s lots of digital art software that allows you to recreate traditional drawing techniques in digital format. However, thanks to their retro look, vintage and retro illustrations best fit on book covers and inside posters.

There’s no one way to learn how to draw vintage illustration style. They can be done in black and white to mimic the vintage illustrations of the 1800s and 1900s. However, you can also go for a more colorful retro vibe, as is the case with these illustrated book covers.

By Toma Nguyen
By Ruth Palmer

Realistic: substitute for photos

Have you ever had to look twice to make sure an illustration wasn’t a painting? Photorealism is a popular illustration style that mimics photography. These illustrations are done in great detail, including texture, shadows, proportion, proximity and other elements you would notice in a real-life photo. 

So, what’s a good way to use these illustrations? There’s more than one. 

Do you need a hero image for your website, but can’t find a suitable stock photo? How about an enticing food illustration for your menu design? Realistic illustrations are the best way to go if you want to achieve a polished, sophisticated look with your designs.

By Kuntal Chakraborty

Cartoon and comic book illustrations: good for publications

Editorial illustrations is a term used to describe all illustrations in print publications. One of the most famous and common types of illustrations in this area are cartoons and comics.

They too come in a variety of styles. However, the specific thing about these illustrations is that the level of detail is usually limited and there’s a strong focus on perspective and storytelling. 

Watercolor illustrations: good for print design

Modern drawing software allows digital artists to recreate watercolor painting in digital media. However, this style is still mostly used on print design as a way of recreating this traditional painting (even if the design itself is done digitally).

Watercolor illustrations are used a lot more in certain industries, such as beauty and wellness, due to their gentle and sophisticated look.

Line art: the most versatile

Line art illustrations can be simple or intricate. They always consist of straight or curved lines against a background. They can be done in color, although this style of illustration is usually monochromatic. 

Since they’re made up of the most basic design elements, line illustrations can look good on different backgrounds and in different contexts. 

Here’s an example of how a design studio created recognizable illustrations with a simple (and often single) line stroke. 

Tubik studio

But don’t be fooled! Line illustrations are so much more than that. 

3D illustrations: good for digital design

A few years ago 3D became the hottest illustration and icon trend. The point of this illustration style isn’t necessarily realism. Instead, this style is a great choice for the design and tech industry.

You can add a lot more details into this illustration type, such as shading and texture. This makes it a perfect choice for a variety of digital design projects, such as websites,landing pages, apps, and more.

If you want to create impressive motion graphics, 3D illustrations are a solid choice. 

3D Abstract Composition Colorful Pastel 3D Illustration

By rastovicfilip

Surrealism and fantasy: good for video games

As you can see by now, illustrations come in all shapes and sizes. From flat illustration style to intricate digital art, such as surrealism and fantasy illustrations.

If you’ve ever played video games, this is a style you’re probably familiar with.

Fantasy illustrations are very intricate and can be used to depict intricate scenes or characters with a lot of details.

By Elsbro

Children’s book illustrations

Last, but not least it’s an illustration style everyone is familiar with. Our first encounter with illustrations is usually the drawing we do as children. So, childlike illustration design is a way to appeal to a young target audience.

However, this kind of illustration doesn’t just need to be for children. Everyone recognizes this style, so they’re likely to inspire nostalgia. Adding illustration elements in this style will give your designs a playful feel that could be the perfect fit for certain brands.

By @idrawillustrations


We hope this gives you some ideas on creting illustrations for your project and choose the right digital art styles.

If you don’t want to wade through thousands of freelance illustrators, be sure to check out our unlimited illustration design service

You get unlimited design requests and revisions at a flat monthly rate. Plus we can handle everything from custom icons and illustrations to motion graphics and web design!

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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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