Difference Between Author & Illustrator

Authors and illustrators are storytellers who rely on their artistic talents. The main difference between authors and illustrators is the medium they use to tell their stories to an audience.

Comparing Authors to Illustrators

Authors and illustrators can both contribute critical elements needed to tell a story in print form. Authors use the written word to communicate with their audience, while illustrators produce two-dimensional images.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary* (2016) Job Outlook* (2014-2024)
Author Bachelor's Degree $61,240 (for writers and authors) 2% (for writers and authors)
Illustrator Bachelor's Degree $50,790 (for fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators) 3% (for fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Authors vs. Illustrators

Authors and illustrators are creative. In their own ways, they are both involved in telling stories to an audience. While authors write detailed narratives to share their story with an audience, illustrators may present a story in a single image, or in multiple images that they've drawn. Authors and illustrators may work together to collaborate on projects such as children's picture books or comics. Authors can spend many hours working alone and developing ideas in their mind that they share through their writing, while illustrators may meet with a client, visit a location or read material related to a project to determine the best images to produce for their project.


Most authors are self-employed. They are often able to work from home and set their own hours, although they may need to adjust their hours when facing a deadline. Authors may also need to travel to meet with their publishers. It is possible to become an author without formal training, but employers hiring authors require a bachelor's degree. A self-employed author may use their body of work to try to secure more lucrative or appealing contracts, or a permanent position with a publisher.

Job responsibilities of an author include:

  • Identifying the audience for their manuscript
  • Developing characters for their manuscript
  • Establishing the plot for their story
  • Researching relevant information for their story or for non-fiction works
  • Organizing the information for their manuscript
  • Writing and editing the manuscript


Illustrators use their artistic talents to produce pictures. Although the primary requirement for this profession is to have artistic talent completing a bachelor's degree can increase job opportunities for aspiring illustrators. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 50% of crafts and fine artists, which includes illustrators, are self-employed, and they may work in a home-based studio. They often work to deadlines, which means that there may be times of the year that they have to increase their hours. While it is common to think of illustrators being artistic and creative, the competition for illustrators means that those who are capable of managing a business, operating a website, promoting their services and fulfilling the needs of customers are most likely to succeed.

Job responsibilities of an illustrator include:

  • Meeting potential customers to discuss projects
  • Developing draft proposals related to a customer's project for their approval
  • Preparing a budget for projects
  • Drawing images
  • Billing clients
  • Modifying images using computer software

Related Careers

Aspiring authors may also be interested in pursuing a career in journalism, since reporters also spend a lot of time researching and writing. Those with artistic talents who are considering pursuing work as an illustrator may also be interested in graphic design, since graphic designers also use their artistic talents to produce images.

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