Caveman painting

Digital Illustration Styles

by Andrew Hoare · updated June 2019

What is this article about?

In this article, we’ll explore some of the modern digital illustration styles. This will give you a better understanding of the different illustration styles available and help you identify a style and illustrator for your next project.

From the first caveman drawings, illustration has played an important part in telling stories and in sharing ideas. There are a number of types of illustration, including pen, pencil and charcoal illustration. We are going to focus on digital illustration, which can be used in advertising, video games, books and more.

Digital illustration styles

Freehand digital illustrations allow for smooth lines, light, shadow and complex backgrounds. Digital illustration is typically hand drawn using a tablet and Adobe Photoshop or Adobe illustrator. Here are the styles that we will be discussing:

Anime

Anime (short for animation), is a style of artwork originating in Japan. An anime artist will use colourful images, diverse art styles, wild hair and exaggerated visual effects. An anime comic book is called manga. Anime is based on video games and manga. Here are some examples:

Anime girl secret agent

Artist: The Illustrators

Anime illustration

Artist: Karolina Heikura

Anime characters in a castle

Artist: The Illustrators

Caricature

A caricature is a rendered image showing the features of its subject in a simplified or exaggerated way through sketching, pencil strokes, or through other artistic drawings. In literature, a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.

Caricatures can be insulting or complimentary and can serve a political purpose or be drawn solely for entertainment. Caricatures of politicians are commonly used in editorial cartoons, while caricatures of movie stars are often found in entertainment magazines.

Eddie McGuire caricature, playing a guitar and an explosion in the background

Artist: The Illustrators

Broken down Ford on the way to Brisbane

Artist: The Illustrators

Malcolm Turnbull caricature, sitting on a brown leather couch

Artist: The Illustrators

Cartoon

Someone who creates cartoons is called a cartoonist. Cartoons are one of the most popular styles for children's books and picture books. There are hundreds of different non-realistic cartoon styles. Here are some examples:

Karate chicken cartoon
Happy girl with arms wide open
Illustration of a cute baby with a big head

Children's Book Illustration

Children's books are a great way to bring ideas to life with pictures. Some children's books consist of nothing but pictures. The visual images help children learn and understand the words of the story. Picture books are an important part of learning how to read, developing language and vocabulary skills.

Four rabbits playing instruments

Artist: The Illustrators

Two eleves and a human butterfly

Artist: The Illustrators

Old style man and women illustration

Artist: The Illustrators

Comics

A comic book is made up of individual scenes (panels) of comic art. Panels are designed with a brief narrative and the dialogue is normally contained in speech balloons. Comics can be funny, dark or even weird. Many show captions so readers know what a character is saying or thinking. Here are some examples:

Comic book example
Spiderman comic book example
Captain America comic illustration

Commercial Art

Commercial art is used for advertising products, services and ideas. The primary goal is to drive sales and awareness. Artists design commercial art for logos, packaging, billboards and magazines. An illustrator will design the images for mass-production to help sell products and raise visibility.

Illustration has some advantages over photography: an artist can create a person or character who never existed, bring a dead person back to life or invent a fictional character. Illustration can simplify and explain confusing or complicated subjects. Here are some examples:

Octopus with sunglasses ready to cut sushi

Artist: J. Budryte

Stylish man and woman taking a photo

Artist: Paul Grelet

Mission Impossible Pig jumping down a throat

Artist: Therese Larsson

Concept Art

Concept artists create original characters for advertising, video games and movies. They build worlds that are used to inspire the development of broadcast media and promotional material. Concept artists create the preliminary artwork, graphic design and marketing material. Here are some examples:

Alien warrior with big gun

Artist: The Illustrators

Halo Master Chief illustration

Artist: John Liberto

Boy with supernatural powers

Artist: The Illustrators

Fantasy

Fantasy art is primarily used in fantasy books, posters and movies. Fantasy art can portray gods, dragons, demons and magic. Here are some examples:

Goblin portrait illustration

Artist: The Illustrators

Fantasy girl with bow

Artist: The Illustrators

Dwarf illustration with Axe

Artist: The Illustrators

Fashion

Fashion illustration is drawing clothes and accessories for commercial use in the fashion industry. It is mainly used by fashion designers to preview and visualize their ideas. Fashion illustration is also used for advertising and in fashion magazines as part of an editorial feature. Here are some examples:

Book cover with warewolf breaking out of chains

Artist: Marta Madison

Truck looking confused on a dirt road

Artist: Marta Madison

Book cover artwork with illustrated images of an army man and women

Artist: Marta Madison

Fine art

Fine art is primarily created to express yourself rather than for commercial or practical purposes. Fine art involves creative expression and it may not have broad appeal or traditional beauty. It might convey an idea or an emotion. Here are some examples:

Fine art

Artist: Rich McLean

Fine art

Artist: Rich McLean

Fine art

Artist: Michael Christmas

Line art

Line art is typically a black and white drawing with little or no solid areas, colour or background. Line art can be used by itself or in combination with other coloured images. You can find examples of line art in books and literature. Here are some examples:

Cartoon boy and girl kissing
Dog line art cartoon pointing leg
Cartoon boy playing a guitar and singing

Realism

Realism is realistic artwork that accurately depicts characters, perspectives and detail. This is the most complex style of illustration and can take days or weeks to complete. Here are some examples:

Ben Elton portrait

Artist: The Illustrators

Portrait of Bob

Artist: The Illustrators

Portrait of an old man

Artist: The Illustrators