Artist Vs. Illustrator: What's the Difference?

Technically, an illustrator is an artist but not all artists are illustrators. Illustrators are fine artists who specialize in illustration. Find out the differences and overlap between these two careers.

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How Artists and Illustrators Differ

While illustrators are considered artists, there are significant differences between the two, including the type of work they do and the tools they use. The general term 'artist,' can refer to a wide range of careers, including illustrators. Artists use art to communicate thoughts, feelings, and ideas. The types of tools and materials used by artists depend on their job title and description. They may paint, sculpt, draw, and more. Most artists obtain a bachelor's or master's degree in fine arts. Just as there are many different types of artists, there are different types of illustrators. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), illustrators create images for use in publications, such as books and magazines. They also make images for commercial products, such as calendars, wrapping paper, and greeting cards. Illustrators also typically have a bachelor's degree that may be specialized in a particular area, such as premedical courses for medical illustrators. Illustrators may also pursue a master's degree in their area of specialization.

Types of Artists

According to the BLS, there are typically four occupational categories that artists fall into, including art directors, multimedia artists and animators, fine artists, and craft artists.

Art Directors

Art directors give creative direction on a number of projects, including advertisements, CD jackets, billboards, websites, and magazine layouts. They may also manage other artists. Therefore, in addition to possessing artistic ability, art directors must also possess good management skills.

Multimedia Artists and Animators

Multimedia artists and animators create images for use in movies, TV shows, and computer games. They use video, computers, film, and other kinds of electronic media to produce these images. Multimedia artists often create animations and special effects.

Fine Artists

Fine artists include occupations such as painters, sculptors, sketch artists, and cartoonists. They create original works of art using many different tools. For example, sculptors use clay, wood, plaster, stone, and glass to create artwork, while sketch artists use charcoal, pencil, and pastels. Fine artists also use many different techniques to create realistic drawings, such as shadowing and perspective.

Craft Artists

Craft artists make handmade objects to be sold or showcased in galleries and museums, like jewelry, rugs, art glass, and quilts. Craft artists may use recycled objects to create their handmade items, including soda cans, costume jewelry, old t-shirts, and license plates. Craft artists often employ the same techniques used by fine artists.

Types of Illustrators

There are various types of illustrators, including medical, scientific, and technical illustrators.

Medical Illustrators

Medical illustrators use both traditional and digital methods of illustration to create images of the human body. They create 3D models, animations, and images of surgical procedures. Becoming a medical illustrator requires knowledge of biology.

Scientific Illustrators

Scientific illustrators create images of plant life, animal life, planets, and atomic structures. Their images are used in training presentations as well as medical and scientific publications. Therefore, scientific illustrators also need to study biology.

Technical Illustrators

Technical illustrators are sometimes known as mechanical drafters. They use computer-aided design software, also known as CAD software, to prepare drawings and diagrams of mechanical devices and machinery. Their drawings show details of assembly methods and indicate requirements such as fastening methods and dimensions.

Illustrators may be included in the larger category of artists, but they specifically create drawings and images for various industries, including technical and scientific fields. Artists may work with a variety of tools and media, including paint, clay, animation, and more.

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