Designer or Illustrator: Whom to choose?

The book cover defines the words knit together inside its pages. This decision represents the reader’s expectations as well as the ability of the author to sell his book. Because the cover of the book is what intrigues the reader enough for him to make the purchase.

While the author strives to compel the reader through his writing, the creator of the cover is responsible for reflecting his vision in a single depiction. To accomplish this, the artist goes through an intense, creative process.  

How to make the choice?

Every factor must be weighed in, all requirements measured, and the genre of the book must be analysed before arriving at a decision. This is because the art that would be splayed across the cover is what will promote the book to its maximum capacity.

The artist embodies the skills of a good communicator and an imaginative designer whose ideas for a writer’s work coincides with the latter’s vision. Therefore, a choice needs to be made according to the tone of a book — whether to hire an illustrator or a designer manipulating photographs.

Who is an illustrator?

Genre expectations

For every book cover designer, the genre of the book becomes important. After a thorough exploration of the author’s requirements and the reader’s expectations from a book of the genre, the designer concludes what’s going to be displayed on the cover. The expectations from any genre thus lead the artist into creating a compelling visual summary of the book.

For example, a sci-fi or an epic fantasy creates room for the dramatic play of imagination that attracts readership. As designer Lauren Panepinto says, “The audience loves illustration, is out looking for the next big exciting dynamic painting of a space scene, generally the more dynamic the better, and that’s what sells that genre of book.”

Thematic imagery

These distinctive themes, such as the space or epic fantasy genres give the illustrator an opportunity to merge the real with what is considered the improbable in the current situation. Therefore, he can be trusted to create something extraordinary right from the first raw sketch.

The illustration thus becomes a unique representation of the dramatic imagery that the genre promises. This sets the tone for the story and attracts the attention of a “target audience” and captures their interests. Thus, this genre gives the artist an opportunity to explore novel techniques of design and set something unexpected on the book cover.

Stages of illustration

An illustrator’s method of work begins with conceiving a relevant scene from the book after devouring the entire manuscript. It consists of repeated sketching and the ground littered with balls of paper before the final design is settled upon. This is followed by refining and detailing to suit the writer’s needs and create a final, eye-catching product.

Who is a designer?

Illustrators and designers are not the same

Designers cannot be considered illustrators. Even though their work is linked to presenting the cover of a book, the two jobs are different in nature and carry separate expectations.

While an illustrator might create something that would belong completely to the author and make the book distinctive, the designer would manipulate pre-existing stock pictures to create a design that the book cover would retain.

Make no mistake, the individual processes of both require equal artistic exhaustion to create a book cover that adds to the representation of the final book. For them to evoke the reader’s interest, the designer must create his metaphor through the visual medium and translate it effectively. (More on finding the Best book cover designers.)

The working process

The designer works according to the brief given to him by the author. It becomes necessary for him to align his views with that of the writer and bring uniqueness to his work.

Therefore, through the entire process, he must keep in mind the overall impact of the book cover. The designer is required to pay careful attention to the detailing such as the setting, concept, characters, typography, etc.

For every designing artist, it becomes significant to thoroughly go through the entire manuscript and come up with something unique. This enables him to pick at the details hidden between the lines and take the reader by surprise.

The following design by KillerBookCovers ( ) is an example of a designer’s work process –

Why the designer?

The photo-manipulation skills of the designer allow him to respect the demands put forward with respect to the book’s genre. For example, a non-fiction would demand realism that connects with the reader or a thriller would seek minimalistic suspense on the cover.

This allows the designer to play with existing concepts of book cover designing and alter them to fashion a cover that lures the reader.

Jack Noel, a celebrated book designer explains in one of his interviews that the designer needs to be organized when dealing with all the people involved and at the same time, “play around a lot when we’re making covers – you have to in order to keep your designs fresh”.

Why choose one over the other?

Affecting factors

In the case of book cover designing, there are several factors that affect the choice between an illustrator and a professional photo-manipulating designer. One of the most important factors taken into consideration is the genre of the book and what the target audience expects from it.

The author would make the choice by evaluating his own vision for the book and weighing in the pros and cons that each would have to offer. For instance, while the book cover acts as a marketing device for the book, budget often tends to become an issue while selecting the relevant strategy.

Expense divisions

An illustrator designs an image that would have an impact on the reader and sway him towards buying the book, but the cover would be created right from scratch with immense effort and brainstorming. Hence, it becomes a more expensive option costing approximately $800 which would be the minimum cost.

Moreover, the illustrator might not possess the relevant designing knowledge of text placement and typography. This would result in the author ultimately having to consult the professional designer and add significantly to his decided budget.

This becomes an advantage for the designer who can manipulate stock images. These images are available on the internet for as less as $1 and the whole process would cost the author about $200. This makes it the option that is more economically viable, especially for self-publishing authors (To know more about how self-publishing is different from traditional publishing click here). They wouldn’t be able to afford elaborate photo-shoots, which then becomes the choice that’ll end up costing the author much more than he pegged for.

Additional issues

Further, there are multiple problems that arise with using stock images. The author can never truly exert his rights over them and anyone could re-print the design of his book cover, no matter how novel it may be.

Even if the sales in the book exceed 5 lakh copies, a special license would have to be obtained regardless. This might cause legal issues and continuous doubt that the cover can never explicitly unique and remarkable.


Hiring either an illustrator or a professional designer has both advantages and disadvantages. However, they add note-worthy eloquence to the cover of a book and highlights its genre, thus enhancing the readership and working in the author’s interest. They beautifully represent the story that lies beneath the cover, and yet manage to make it unforeseen, thus protecting the heart of the book in its chest.

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