From Logo to Illustration: Where Do We Draw the Line?

Yes, the pun was intended (as it seems to me that most are). I’ve been thinking, are there any differences between a logo and an illustration and if so, what are they? I am often fascinated by figuring out the distinctions that give an object one label instead of another. It is even more interesting in circumstances where the differences seem to be blurred. This is one of those cases. Fortunately, this is not a subject of great moral impact so if I don’t get it all figured out in the next couple of paragraphs that is ok.

One distinction that immediately comes to mind in distinguishing a logo from an illustration is detail. The more detail an image has, the more likely it is going to be categorized as an illustration. Of course, a very detailed illustration can be used as a logo, but you could at least make the argument that it is a bad one. It is more difficult to print or embroider your “logo” if it has a ton of detail like cross hatching. The less detail and more abstract an image is, the more likely it is to be labeled a logo. Logos are often characterized by clean lines and fewer colors. A reason it is a good idea for a company to choose a logo over an illustration for their identity is because it is easier to reproduce.

Since the differences between a logo and an illustration are distinguished by characteristics that are only a matter of degree, it seems to me that these two labels are not mutually exclusive. A logo can also be an illustration and an illustration can also be a logo. It at least may help to have the general distinctions between the two in your mind when communicating with your client or designer about designing for a company identity.