Can Graphic Designers Also be Illustrators?

Graphic design and illustration are two different creative fields of work. While graphic design focuses on communicating concepts and resolving issues through visual compositions like color, form, typography, and so on. Illustration is less about communicating to a specific audience and more about personal creative exposition. Not all artists can jump from one creative field to another, however, some are multi-talented and able to dip their pens in multiple fields.

It is possible for a graphic designer to be an illustrator. Fortunately, there is overlap between these two fields. This tends to be the case mostly with those that are creatively or artistically ambidextrous.

It’s even possible to learn while working in one of these fields because graphic designers and illustrators at times work side-by-side to accomplish a single task. Quite a few creatives will switch fields amid their career depending on what is most profitable. Keep reading to discover a few factors in accomplishing the leap from one industry to the other.

How Can a Graphic Designer Become an Illustrator?

There are creative fields that are closely related enough that there is not only overlap but the possibility for an artist to go from one field to the other. This transition may not be seamless and may require a learning curve of some kind, but it can be done in the case of graphic design and illustration.

When transitioning from graphic design to illustration there are a few factors to consider and some helpful tools that will help make the move a bit easier.

  1. Kind of Illustration
  2. Focus on Style
  3. Finances
  4. Continued Learning

In considering these factors, you will be better equipped to not only decide if a career change is in your near future but how to take the first steps to make that dream become a reality.

1. Kind of Illustration

Even within one creative field, there are many kinds of work under the umbrella of that field. When considering moving from graphic design to illustration, it is important to figure out what field of illustration you are wanting to delve into. Here are some examples of the extensive list of jobs you can do using illustration:

  • Courtroom Illustrator
  • Film Storyboarding
  • Comic Book Illustrator
  • Fashion Illustrator
  • Medical Illustrator

Narrowing the list of potential professions may prove difficult and may require dabbling in a few of these industries to know what suits you best or what you are most passionate about. Once you know what job in illustration you are interested in you can move to the next factor, honing in on your style of illustration.

2. Focus on Style

Style is multi-layered when it comes to illustration. You want to think about the medium you’re going to use, techniques, and your personal brand. There is traditional illustration and modern illustration, this is the place where you might want to start your decision-making.

Once you know if you want to go traditional or modern you can move to technique or medium. There are quite a few ways in which you can illustrate.

  • Pencil Illustration
  • Wood etching
  • Watercolor Illustration
  • Charcoal Illustration
  • Acrylic Illustration
  • Pen & Ink Illustration

After deciding what medium or mediums you would like to use, then it’s a matter of branding your specific style of this medium. What is going to separate you from other illustrators who use this same medium or work in the same industry? As a graphic designer you are working within the confines of guides of style or brand identities but as an illustrator, you will have complete control of your style of illustration, which will be the very thing that potential clients will contact you about.

3. Finances

One of the biggest pieces of advice for any career change is to check your finances before transitioning. This may require that you stick to your current field for a little while longer while simultaneously storing up funds for some rainy days you may experience at the beginning of your new career.

When it comes to a switch from graphic design to illustration this advice should most definitely be heeded. Illustration is not as lucrative of a career as graphic design, perhaps because the demand for graphic design is greater, especially in this internet-driven culture. Therefore, there may be a lag in between paychecks that would require you to dip into your savings to fill the gap.

In an ideal world, you would want to save at least six months’ worth of the current salary you are making. However long it takes for you to save this amount, it is worth the peace of mind you will be getting in exchange for your time and effort.

4. Continued Learning

Though you may have been doodling in your notebook for years before deciding to make the move from graphic design to illustration, there is always room to improve your skills or learn new skills. This could be done in a few different ways.

It could look like taking a few classes on the weekends to tighten up some of the weaker spots of your illustration or learn a different technique you might be interested in. It could also look like utilizing new tools and software or websites that will assist you in creating your illustrations and getting them out into the world, like


Whenever you decide to make the transition from graphic designer to illustrator and however you make it, the most important thing to do is to follow your passion. Figuring out what job you want, what technique you want to use, saving for the move, and where you want to display your work are secondary to first saying yes to a new career path.

The level of difficulty is not only predicated on your level of talent and experience in illustration but your dedication to learn and grow in the field. The ever-evolving nature of art will surely see you through my phases of your style to the one that will have clients knocking down your door. The first step is just to simply say yes.