Photography Versus Illustration in Web Design

For over a century, photography has been extensively used as a primary descriptive medium in sales and marketing. On the other hand, illustration has been used since the dawn of man to convey something visually. Cavemen drew illustrations to tell a story or relay messages on cave walls. Both visual mediums have also been used in websites for as long as we can remember. There has often been a debate whether to use photography or illustration in web design.

Different kinds of designers are out there and each have their own field of specialty or preferred approach to designing. Knowing when to use photography or illustration for your web design project is a must. This is especially so for those who are new to the world of design or aspiring to be a designer. The same is true using photography or illustrations for print to deliver a message or to simply represent a brand.

The Difference Between Photography and Illustration


A photo speaks a thousand words. This is taken to a whole new level when photos are manipulated to become beyond realistic using image editing software. Depending on a designer’s preference and skill, he can edit a photograph to visually imprint an idea or convey a certain message to the target audience.

Photography Web Design

Photos are ideal for representing something that is tangible or real. This applies to a product or service which the target audience can easily relate to. The main goal for the finished output is to stimulate desire or awareness, which in turn should result to the target audience making a decision or purchase.


Illustrations come in the form of painting, drawing or any other illustrative art. In digital design, designers use vector software to create illustrations. From a cartoon-like design to abstract textures, the possibilities are endless for a creative designer. Illustrations are ideal when you want to portray a brand by making it look unique and stand out. The goal is to leave a memorable impression on the target audience.

Illustration Web Design

When to Use Photography & Illustration in Web Design

It’s important to know the reasons and differences when using photography versus illustration in web design. When take the right approach, it will make a significant impact on reaching out and influencing the target audience.

Photography in Web Design

When you’re designing a website for a company that has tangible products, using photography is the way to go. Photos give the viewers a sense of reality, something the audience can immediately associate the brand or product with.

Photography Web Design example

Using high-res photographs or striking full background imagery of products in action creates a greater impact on the website user.

The correct use of imagery effectively represents a sense of professionalism. It helps build a realistic context in the minds of the audience. You can do a custom photoshoot to grasp the concept, look and feel of the imagery you want on your site. In other cases where photoshoots are not feasible, designers can purchase stock photos that best represent the product or brand.

Illustration in Web Design

Using Illustration in web design allows for a more freely creative approach to delivering a message. Illustration also engages the viewer’s imagination and it stimulates a sense of curiosity.

Illustration Web Design example

For example, you’re trying to design a poster or packaging for a children’s product. Using illustrations of cartoon -like characters or illustrations of something fun, colorful and eye catching would instantly attract attention and make a memorable impression on the target audience.

Illustration in web design is especially useful when you’re designing for a company or product that has a distinctive or unique perspective. The same approach is also best for something that is not yet a reality like a conceptual product or a project that needs funding before it is materialized.

Using Both Photography & Illustration in Web Design

There will be instances when you want to incorporate both photography and illustration in your web design. When doing so, it’s important to always take note of the theme, function and target market of the site. Make sure your approach portrays and appropriate visual communications for what you are trying to depict.

Photography and Illustration Web Design example

Mixing photography and illustration can be fun. This duo is popularly used in visualizing processes like a cooking recipe or step by step guides. It’s also great for when you want to splice reality with fantasy or bring out the imagination in an ordinary situation. In this approach, remember to keep a balance between photography and illustration in order to ensure that your target audience understands the association and you can still effectively communicate your message.

Jeremy Hibionada

For years I’ve been using Photoshop as my primary design tool for everything, from print design to web design.