Types of illustrations

Illustrations can be an effective substitute when photographic images are unavailable, are difficult to produce or would not adequately show the required detail.

This section covers:

General illustrations

General illustrations are used in educational, commercial, government, literary, gaming and media publications. They use a variety of narrative, informative, decorative or conceptual approaches.

These types of illustrations can be created in different media, including lead or coloured pencil, inks, paints, chalks, pastels, collage or mixed media. They can also be produced using computer programs such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop or 3D Studio Max. The style can also vary enormously, from rough sketches to 3D rendered graphics.

Illustration: S Wernik, Armchair Productions

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Technical illustrations

Unlike general illustrations, technical illustrations use strict conventions to show information. One of the main characteristics of technical illustration is the use of specific projections to display subject matter – for example, orthographic, oblique and isometric projections; different types of vanishing-point perspective projections; and exploded-view projections.  

Technical illustrations are used to show architectural, engineering and manufacturing information to specific audiences. They also communicate complex subject matter to a nontechnical audience, such as illustrating product information or explaining a mechanical procedure.

Source: Department of Environment and Energy (2017). YourHome: Australia’s guide to environmentally sustainable homes, 5th edn, Department of Environment and Energy, Canberra.

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Scientific illustrations

Scientific illustrations use drawings and renderings to visually communicate scientific concepts to a specific audience.

Scientific illustrations follow strict conventions. They are particularly useful for showing perspective (the representation of reality determined by the position from which it is observed) and scale (the proportional ratio of a linear dimension of the representation to the same feature of the original). They are also useful for showing complex or essential attributes of a system.

Illustration: Levent Efe

Disciplines that use scientific illustrations include:

  • astronomy
  • botany
  • medicine
  • physics
  • zoology.
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