Should I go Into Animation or Illustration? Differences and Career Options

Determining the path you want to pursue in life and setting the pace for your future can be very tricky. It is even more complicated when you aren’t sure of the most fulfilling career path for yourself, one that pays well and wouldn’t make you hate your job. Entire friends, family, and relatives- all want to give you their opinion on the most profitable field, and none of their suggestions make it any better.

illustration of cell division


One thing is for sure though, you want to be involved in a career related to visual arts because you love all things art.

You can become an animator or an illustrator, depending on the area that interests you most. If you love art, you are already on the right footing to venture into any of the two career paths. Animation and illustration are closely related, but you can choose either and specialize in it. Better yet, you can become a scientific illustrator or animator, helping break down complex concepts into simple and easily understood language through visual art.

Don’t stress your brain trying to figure out which of these two directions is most suitable for you. There is no harm in trying either animation or illustration and determining where you feel most comfortable working. However, the two are quite broad subjects that require you to understand what they entail. Read this article to get all the answers you need, starting with the definitions.

What Is Illustration?

Illustration is a form of visual art that an artist presents to tell a story or convey an idea. The artist draws an image that invites people to look at it and figure out its message without explanations or text. Therefore, an artist uses the image to break down a comprehensive topic into a milder and more memorable one. For instance, scientific artwork is welcomed by individuals who want to understand the complicated terms associated with science. An artist can draw an image of certain scientific subjects to represent what they are in medical terms accurately.

A good example is the images in your science book at school that helped you understand how a human’s internal organs look like. Those images act as a bridge between art and science, easing the complexities of scientific knowledge. If not for scientific illustrations, common scientific topics would have remained a theory in many people’s minds.

What Is Animation?

Animation is the manipulation of images to make them lifelike and give the illusion of movement. This form of visual art involves capturing the images of puppets, models, drawings, and characters to give an impression of sequence motion. Animation is very important to capture and retain images in people’s minds. Advertisers particularly relish it because they are aware of the power of animation in picture retention among the target audience. This is because the brain combines the sequence motion pictures into one moving image, considering that the human eye only retains a figure for approximately 1/10 of a second.

Scientific animation is widely used to engage individuals based on particular topics. For instance, medical professionals can use animation as a progressive and accurate documentation source. Animations help break down complex information through visual art to demonstrate medical processes and explain difficult concepts in a detailed and scientifically accurate way.

Should I Study and Work in Animation or Illustration

This is where the power of choice comes into play. Depending on what attracts you most, you can choose to be an animator or an illustrator. The two career paths help break down information and easily explain concepts, but they entail different working conditions and environments. For instance, an animator can work as part of a team designated to bring a certain concept into life. You will work in a team that uses art to tell stories through representational art. You will learn many filmmaking aspects through animation, including using props, drawing characters, storyboarding, cadence, and backgrounds. If any of these interests you, choose one aspect, specialize in it, and make a career out of animation,

Conversely, an illustrator has control of what they want to create. Illustration combines representation art (entailing things, people, and places) and non-representation art (involving patterns, abstract art, and designs). Working as an illustrator is more open-ended and flexible, allowing you to utilize certain techniques and utilize your unique artistic taste.

Therefore, one has to choose the most comfortable career path, whether animation or illustration. When you do the things that excite you, you will most likely enjoy your work and experience less burnout. You can always switch between the two if you want to, as both will challenge you to utilize creativity.

What Is the Difference Between Animation and Illustration?

The following are the main differences between the two:

  1. Illustrations are images that visualize an idea and convey a message without the help of text. They include photos, drawings, paintings, engravings, and collages. In contrast, animations are  illustrations involving a series of images in progression to simulate motion.
  2. Animation involves individuals working in a team to develop motion images and graphics in visual effects, movies, or games. Conversely, illustrators can work on their own and create pictures for publications, including newspapers, magazines, and books. They also develop images for commercial products.
  3. Illustration can involve using computers to draw images, scan them, and use software to color them. On the contrary, animation is primarily done on computers where artists mainly use software or write computer code to develop graphics.

Can I Do Both?

Yes, you can, but this solely depends on the type of illustration or animation you are involved in. For instance, if you are only interested in 2D animation, it is necessary to practice the two. This is because you may likely find getting work as an illustrator easy, and you may need to illustrate for you to animate in 2D. Animation and illustration are closely related, but that doesn’t mean that working in both will be easy.

When working as an animator for TV and screen, you quickly realize how expensive and time-consuming it may be. Therefore, burning both ends of the candle doesn’t sound like a great idea. What you need to do is focus on one niche (the one you’re most interested in) and tinker with the other in your spare time. This will gradually build your skills in both niches with time.

Animation vs. Illustration: Which Is Harder?

Animation is harder than illustration. This is because the time and attention to detail that goes into a short animation, say a 10-second video, is quite hectic. Doing animations is very repetitive; you need to replicate the art in many ways and capture even the tiniest bit of detail. Remember, you have to do all these replications while keeping the animation within the right dimensions, shape, and proportions. On the other hand, illustrations require drawing a still image on a paper of object. It also requires attention to detail but not as much as animation.

What Schooling Is Required for These Careers?

If you want to become an animator, you need a bachelor’s degree in animation programs or a closely associated field. You can also qualify to be a medical animator with a bachelor’s degree, majoring in art and a minor in biological sciences. However, the most preferred qualification for a scientific illustrator is a bachelor’s degree with a science major and an art minor.

An illustration career starts with a strong portfolio demonstrating the passion and ability to work in the art industry. You can land beginner-friendly illustration jobs with good drawing skills and a high-school diploma. However, it would be best if you still had at least a bachelor’s degree in illustration to market yourself as a professional illustrator. A medical illustrator needs to earn a degree in scientific illustration or a science-allied sphere. Most professionals in this field go the extra mile and earn master’s degrees in medical illustration due to the need to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of art and science.

Can I Switch Between These Two Careers Later On?

Yes, you can switch from being an illustrator to being an animator. And its nothing like switching from art history to physics.  The move is logical, and the transition process has been made easier with advancements in cost, usability, and software unification. It is a pretty smart move to transition between these two careers, and you can also use your knowledge to offer services in both fields- a plus in your portfolio and income.

However glorious the move appears, it has its challenges and setbacks. For an illustrator who wants to transition into animation, moving from a static image to a moving one can be arduous. While the two are closely related, they have different storytelling techniques and require different attention to detail. Therefore, an accomplished illustrator will have it rough successfully switching to animation, but the process is possible through a logical progression.

What Jobs Are Available for Illustration and Animation?

The following are the job options where your animation degree is useful:

  • Graphics designer
  • Animator
  • Illustrator
  • Concept artist
  • Web designer
  • Games developer
  • VFX artist

Your animation skills are also in demand in various fields, including medical, advertising, computer systems design, data visualization, and insurance. Other areas that require animation include software publishing and crime scene replication.

Similarly, one can work as an illustrator in the following job capacities:

  • Medical illustrator
  • Courtroom illustrator
  • Comic book illustrator
  • Fine Arts illustrator
  • Fashion illustrator


Here is an interesting comparison of 3D animation vs 2D animation:


Final Thoughts

Both animation and illustration are illustrious careers that will fulfill your desire to explore creative storytelling through visual elements. You can explore the two career paths and determine which niche suits you best. Then, proceed to carve your name as one of the most outstanding professionals in the visual arts industry.

Click on the following link to learn whether you can minor in medical illustration.

Doc J

Dr. J has worked in biology all his life and holds several advanced degrees and certificates in biology, anatomy, scientific illustration, 3d animation and motion graphics. He has always had an interest in teaching others the wonders of biology using the latest advances in graphics, including visualization, digital microscopy, animation, illustration, VR and interactive media.

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