Difference Between Painting and Illustration

Painting and illustrations have always played a crucial role in the history of the world. As many of the stories and the things that we know today about the early humans are based on the studies of the paintings which depicted stories in the caves.

Both can be understood as a form of art however they share a wide difference.

Painting vs Illustration 

The main difference between Paintings and Illustration is that a painting can be defined as the art of applying colors and paints by using various equipment whereas illustration can be defined as a visual effect that is prepared by an artist. 

Painting vs Illustration

Painting can also be defined as the exercise of applying paint on a solid surface, the solid surface which is generally used for painting is the canvas. Paintbrushes are used as the major equipment for applying paints on solid surfaces. 

Briefly, illustration refers to the interpretation, drawing, and visualization of thoughts, texts, etc. These visualizations are formed to print in media such as magazines, books, newspapers, animations, cartoons, etc. 

Comparison Table Between Painting and Illustration

Parameters of Comparison PaintingIllustration
Paper or canvas, paints, paintbrushes are some of the major equipment required for painting.

An illustration can be either made on a piece of paper with pencil, pens, etc, or can be made digitally on computers or laptops.
Value Paintings have less commercial value as compared to illustrations.

Illustrations have more commercial value as compared to paintings.
SupportA painting made by an artist can be showcased alone.

An illustration made by an illustrator can not be showcased thus it always needs to be accompanied by the text.
FocusThe main focus of a painting is on colors and form.
The main focus of an illustration is to demonstrate a picture.

What is Painting? 

The origination of paintings is said to be about 40,000 years ago. The Neolithic paintings are found in the caves, these paintings are known to be the world’s few of the oldest paintings.

In the caves of Europe and Indonesia prehistoric paintings were found. These old paintings in the caves are one of the most prominent proofs that tell us about the lifestyle of prehistoric people.

It is believed that the paintings of caves were made for storytelling.

The paintings have always been a part of the culture of the world. Painting is one of the most popular, highest valued, and oldest artworks that are prosperous till now.

In today’s modern and technological world, as art has transformed into various kinds of art such as digital art, pop art, etc., these modern arts have taken over the real essence of painting. As the paintbrushes are widely used for painting however the artists also make use of various other mediums such as knives, sponges, and even their hands sometimes.

Paintings are widely painted on a two-dimensional surface to express someone’s thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Artists make the use of various shapes, and colors to make their paintings look filled with more commotion and voluminous.

As time progressed, the methods of paintings of people and artists also changed, the mediums of painting, the forms of paintings also evolved with time. Instead of walls, now paintings are being made on paper, canvas, etc.

What is Illustration? 

The origin of illustrations dates back to cave paintings at Lascaux, Chauvet, and Altamira. At that time, charcoal and ochre were used by the Paleolithic artists to make illustrations in the caves.

A remarkable illustration was discovered in the tombs of Pharaohs. In China and Japan, these illustrations were made by using woodcuts.

At the beginning of the 1800s, magazines and books with illustrations became Europe’s wide consumers.

It led to a rise in its popularity across the globe. As time passed on, by the 19th century, the methods and equipment that were used in the making of the illustrations evolved a lot.

Printing technology was used to experiment with colors and the techniques that were used in making illustrations. The production of illustrations takes place due to an illustrator.

Charcoal and pen & ink were widely used for making the illustrations. In today’s time, there are five major types of illustrations namely information illustrations, fantasy games and books illustrations, media illustrations, and literary illustrations.

Adobe illustrator, photoshop are two of the major apps that are used in making illustrations. For the communication of natural, technical, and scientific nature technical and scientific illustrations are used.

These two illustrations are used to elaborate subjects to an audience that is non-technical.

Main Differences Between Painting and Illustration 

  1. Painting is an exercise that might or might not have a meaning to the customer or viewer. While the illustration is generally used to elaborate text. 
  2. Paintings are widely made on walls, canvas, and paper while illustrations are generally done in commercial areas such as comics, magazines, books, animations.
  3. Paintings are made to be hung on walls, to be showcased as a piece of art while illustrations are typically designed to be published in magazines, comics, books
  4. The major medium that is used for painting are paints or any liquid medium whereas in illustration the major mediums include woodcuts, charcoal, etc. 
  5. The first painting was made at least about 45,500 years ago and the first illustration appeared in a cave in 15,000 BC.
Difference Between Painting and Illustration


Many people might confuse painting and illustration as the same thing but they share a vast difference as depicted above. The origin of the first appearances of painting and illustration might be the same but their evolution, equipment used and the surface on which they are made shows how wide a difference they share.

Both the painting and the illustration can be used by an artist or some people to demonstrate their emotions and feelings. Both the painting and the illustration have evolved very much in their fields. 


  1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41209804
  2. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=JfcYzi5M1rUC&oi=fnd&pg=PA6&dq=what+is+illustration&ots=V-cZd3lIHf&sig=qNhvj9TVxYT3S3WyeIv5yoXPRKo
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