09. Illustration

Illustration has the ability to solve problems and communicate powerful messages to your audience – don’t underestimate the power of using illustration in your Annual Report.

Best practice

Key points:
  1. Prepare a clear brief and include design reference.
  2. Select a style of illustration that suits both the design direction and the key messaging.
  3. Before purchasing illustrations decide if they are for a one-off usage or will be used on other collateral.

Illustration can help to add clarity and communicate complex ideas in a way that generic corporate photography cannot.

Using illustration

Illustration can have advantages over photography.
  • illustration can create an environment that does not exist in the physical world
  • illustration can 'strip back' content causing the reader to focus on the items you consider important
  • illustration can show a process or concept in a simple easily understood way.

There are two ways of purchasing illustration for an Annual Report:
  1. The first is to purchase copyright-free, royalty-free or rights-managed illustrations. There are a myriad of websites that offer illustrations. The positives are that the majority are extremely professional, available instantly and copyright/royalty free. The negative is that you cannot control who else is using the same illustration or when — hence a competitor could publish the same illustration for the same purpose at the same time. It is a risk.
  2. The second is to commission an illustrator to draw an original illustration to suit your brief.

If you have very specific requirements you can prepare a brief for an illustrator as part of the initial design brief. The brief will need to cover a range of areas that are specific to illustration such as useage rights, reproduction types etc.

Download a guide to briefing an illustrator fact sheet.


Every illustrator works in a slightly different way – especially when they are developing original artwork.
Here’s one common approach:
A designer includes a sample illustration within their design proposal.

They will try to find an illustration that compliments their design – it will probably not be the ‘actual’ illustration but a sample of the same technique, or colourway.

It’s important to analyse the design and illustration separately to decide if they fit the brief.

The design direction may be approved, but the illustration technique may not be liked/appropriate. In this case, a discussion about types of illustrations/appropriate techniques and likes and dislikes should help resolve the issue. At this stage it may be useful for the designer to submit a few alternatives for discussion.

Once the design direction and the illustration technique are approved, the illustration brief needs to be honed. At this stage the designer may introduce the illustrator directly into the discussions, or they may choose to be the intermediary. Either way is right, it depends on the project and the amount of involvement the client expects.

Decisions need to be made on how you are going to use the illustration. Use will dictate cost. (see Buying illustration).

Once the illustrator has been chosen, it is usual to see further examples of their work at a briefing session. This meeting should also include discussions on client expectations and deadline. If it is a high-cost item, it may be wise to include the key decision-maker in the discussions.

The illustrator will usually prepare thumbnails or rough sketches before final work is undertaken. The accuracy of these sketches depends on the illustration technique and the illustrator’s methodology. Discussion at this stage ensures that that the final illustration will fit the brief. Again, it's all about managing expectations.

Buying illustration

There are three ways you can buy illustration:
One-off usage
Purchasing a one-off usage for an illustration is straightforward. The illustrator will develop, design and draw the illustration to your specifications, but is free to onsell it for other usages at a later date.

Similar to one-off usage, however this allows for the illustration to be used in other media. For example the illustration could be used on the Annual Report cover, a website and a poster. This type of usage may also include a further print run of the material in the short-term future.

Again, the illustrator will develop, design and draw the illustration to your specifications, but is free to onsell it for other usages at a later date.

Purchasing copyright
Purchasing the copyright of an illustration means that you are entitled to use the illustration on other collateral for an unlimited time. This does not necessarily mean you are purchasing the actual artwork - that will need to be negotiated separately – but it does mean that you can reproduce the artwork as needed.

It will usually cost at least 100% more than the usage cost, because the illustrator is selling off any future revenue they may get from that illustration.

An illustrator will not do a lesser job for a one-off usage, and nor will they do a better job if you are purchasing copyright. It is purely an exercise in identifying the future dollar value of the illustration.

If there is more than one illustration needed, illustrators may estimate per illustration, or per project. This is usually open to negotiation.

Looking for an Illustrator? Check out - lllustratorsaustralia.com or jackywinter.com