Best Mediums for Illustration

When getting into the world of illustrative art there are a number of different mediums available. Choosing the right medium for your style and your expected result is a matter of experimentation. Below are the main mediums used in illustration including both the pros and cons of each type.

Acrylic paint: Cheap to use in bulk and easy to obtain, acrylic paints work well for a variety of illustration projects. Best used with an acrylic medium to make the paint move more easily across the paper, acrylic paint has a limit when it comes to color depth. Depending on what your final illustration is meant to present, the quick drying acrylic paint may not always be the best choice.

Airbrush: the art of airbrushing has been around for a couple hundred years already and is perfect for t-shirts, fabric illustration as well as some forms of advertising. A solid background in color theory and pigment is important to create the right results. Speak with a professional airbrusher regarding what types of equipment to buy. There’s a lot of choice out there and the general rule of you get what you pay for still applies. This is probably not the best medium to start your illustration career with as it takes a lot of practice and experimentation. Results can be mixed and the type of materials you work with can make all the difference to the color and clarity of the finished artwork.

Cartooning: a popular illustration method for the media, the Internet and the printed page, cartooning consists of creating images, characters, pictures and scenes on a cell or sheet of quality art paper. Cartoonists use pencils, crayons, marker pens and paint to create fantasy style or animated looking images for a variety of uses. This is a great way to get into illustration as well as express creativity and humor.

Charcoal: made from burnt wood, charcoal is a classic art medium that provides a haunted or poignant look to an illustration. Great for shading, landscapes and background scenes, charcoal can help you cover a large surface rather quickly. It’s a cheap medium and one every artist should master. The problem with charcoal is the mess that comes with it. Learning to use charcoal involves learning to smudge only when you want to and to clean up your illustration before finishing.

Pen and Ink: Often the first step to becoming a professional illustrator and a traditional way to create crisp bold images, the pen and ink medium is ideal for both the beginner and the professional artist. There are a number of different types of pen out there as well as paper that work well for illustration. This is an affordable place to experiment with skill levels, textures and pen types.

Software: Today’s cyber concentrated world abounds with illustration software and at least one of the main programs should be on your illustration resume. Some of the most popular (and thus most recognizable by amateurs as well as potential employers) are Corel Draw, Paint Shop Pro, Vector Graphics and Adobe Illustrator. The Internet has sites that allow you to download freeware versions or trial versions of the software before buying. This will ensure you find the right one for your needs and skill level. Take the time to complete this step as illustration software is not cheap.


In most cases an artist creates illustration for an employer or under contract and must used the requested medium. It makes sense to have a good basic knowledge in all the different types in order to expand your range and keep you employed.