January 06, 2019 | Written by Marco Pennekamp

Word Fight: Drawing vs. Illustration

A drawing of HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu.

Together with this caption, the image above could be called both drawing and illustration. 😉 (Source: Anna Black)

If you’re like me, the difference between a drawing and an illustration may have confused you before. Now you really want to know it, so in the next few paragraphs, I’ll clear out all doubts!


Merriam-Webster defines drawing as (emphasis mine):

The art or technique of representing an object or outlining a figure, plan, or sketch by means of lines.

A drawing is a picture that has been produced with this technique. Other dictionary definitions emphasise:

  • that a drawing is made with pen or pencil;
  • and that a drawing does not present the colors of an object.


Merriam-Webster defines an illustration as (emphasis mine):

Something that serves to illustrate, such as a picture or diagram that helps make something clear or attractive.

Other dictionaries emphasise that illustrations usually accompany written works such as books, magazines and newspapers.


The key difference is:

  • Drawing is the technique of representing an object with lines.
  • Illustration serves the function of clarification.

Pictures that exemplify or clarify an accompanied text can be called an illustration. If it’s a colorless representation of an object made with lines, you can call it a drawing, too, like the cover image above.

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