Illustration by Alonso Molina

At a Crossroads: Visual Development vs. Illustration

So you’re very much into drawing, coloring, and painting, and, more often than not, you find yourself dreaming up of characters and worlds to create. You’re also about to go to college and you really would like to get into an art school with a program that would allow you to pursue your creative passions, but also give you practical, real-life opportunities.

You think you’re a shoo-in for Illustration; it does seem to fit your profile. But then, you find out about Visual Development. It’s kind of the same, but not really? What to do! Which to choose!

Calm down, we’ll help you clear the air. Take a deep breath, and then take a good look at the differences and similarities between the two, starting with some basic definitions.


An illustration is a visual accompaniment or explanation of finished concepts or text. Illustrators work in media such as magazines, newspapers, movies, video games, and animation. They may create comic strips or contribute to promotional materials such as brochures, flyers, and posters.  

Illustrators also work in conjunction with writers in the production of educational materials and books. Some specialize in scientific or technical illustration to help explain complex subject matter in a way that makes it easier for nontechnical audiences to process. Illustrators with the ability to work quickly and accurately also have the option of going to work for a news agency as a courtroom sketch artist.

Specialty illustrators include those who work in the medical field or in botany. For instance, botanical illustration is still widely used in seed catalogs, textbooks, and field guides. Medical illustrators typically find work with textbook publishers, consumer publications, pamphlets and brochures designed for patient education, mobile health apps, virtual reality simulations, and courtroom exhibits.

Visual Development

Visual development artists are big picture players who work to develop the visual ambiance of films, videos, commercials, animations, and other kinds of productions. They work behind the scenes to help construct backgrounds using tools such as props, lighting, shadows, and colors.

While illustration is certainly a component in the skill set that successful visual development artists bring to the table, it’s only one piece of their overall paint box — they also use animation and design skills, and they generally work in 3D using programs such as Maya and Photoshop.

One of the current career hotspots for Visual development artists is the mobile technology field. Other possibilities include web design, video production, film and animation, and game design. It’s a fast-moving field that’s ideal for those enjoy change and love the challenges involved in having to think on their feet. Most visual development artists actually work in animated film and television shows.

That’s just for starters, though. The creative fields of Illustration and Visual Development are vast and varied. As many aspiring art students struggle with selecting the right specialty at the beginning of their journey toward a creative and fulfilling caree, it’s only natural to have questions and to gain as much information as possible in order to make an informed career path decision.

And you should.

So go ahead, ask those questions. Academy of Art University’s Admissions team can help get you sorted out. Request for more information or complete that application to get your journey to an art degree started.