In graphic design, images help explain text by evoking associations and adding meaning. However, an image alone isn’t enough to convey a strong message. It needs other graphic design elements to give it context and round out the layout.
What is imagery in graphic design?
Imagery is a visual representation of items, people, scenery, and ideas through photos, illustrations, drawings, and graphics. In graphic design, images are part of visual language, which helps communicate information quicker than text. In fact, studies show the human brain responds to visuals 60,000 times faster than the written word.
The goal of images in graphic design is to help consumers understand the product or service being portrayed. Graphics that contain high-quality images bring more sales and improve customer satisfaction. Also, studies show customers are more likely to buy from companies that invest more in graphic designers and high-quality images.
However, finding quality images is always a challenge. We recommend using one of the stock photo sites for graphic designers. But more on those later.
Types of images in graphic design
There are four types of images in graphic design:
A photograph is a visual representation of an object, person, place, or idea using one or more photographs. Photos convey information about people, places, objects, and ideas. They can be static or dynamic, still or animated.
You can take photos by taking them yourself—you need a camera, a lens, and a lot of time. A cheaper and time-saving alternative is stock photos; you pay a few cents for a professional photo.
Illustrations are drawings that depict objects, people, places, or ideas. They can be static or animated, created with pen and ink, pencil, brush, crayon, marker, charcoal, pastels, crayons, watercolors, gouache, graphite, chalk, or any other drawing tool.
Like photos, illustrations are also available in stock image libraries.
Drawings are the simplest form of illustration. They can be drawn by hand or created using software like Adobe Illustrator.
Graphics are images that are simplified to where only shapes and symbols remain to represent the subject. They’re simple enough to be easily understood by anyone.
Technically, there are two types of images or graphics: raster and vector.
Raster images are understood to be any JPEG, PNG, or TIFF file you find on the Internet or in print ads, or perhaps even the indispensable picture of your cat. Raster images comprise millions of tiny dots called pixels, each of which has a specific color and/or tonal value. Together, these pixels (and the shading surrounding them) make up the entire image.
Raster images lose quality when scaled and are therefore not suitable for large prints, such as billboards. If you use raster images for large prints, use the highest resolution possible. I, therefore, recommend using high-quality images from a photo agency or a camera with a large sensor.
Photoshop and InDesign are the most popular programs for working with raster graphics. They also accept vector formats, but their file formats are raster formats, and vector files are converted to bitmaps to make them work in the software.
Vector graphics are graphic objects created using commands and programs from geometric shapes in a 2D or 3D space. They can be scaled arbitrarily without losing quality and are often used to create logos, icons, illustrations, and web page elements. They’re also much smaller, which makes them easier to use in web designs. Common image formats for vector graphics are: SVG, .EPS, .PDF, .AI (Adobe Illustrator file extension), .CDR (Corel Draw file extension), and .DXF.
The two most popular software packages to work with vector files are Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw.
Importance of images in graphic design
In graphic design, images play an important role because they visualize texts and concepts that cannot be expressed with words. A good graphic design comprises images that evoke an emotional response in the viewer and provide additional information.
Graphic designers use images to create visual stimuli, convey messages, and tell stories. Below are some reasons images play a big role in graphic design:
1. Visual attractiveness
Images have the power to attract attention. They highlight certain aspects of a design or project. For example, if you want to highlight a certain feature of a product, you can include a photo.
2. Tell stories
Images convey ideas and feelings. If you want to illustrate a story, you could use a picture of a child playing with toys. Or if you want to show the progress of a project, you could include a series of pictures showing the distinct steps.
3. Convey messages
Use images as a medium to convey a message. For example, if a client wants to send a message to potential customers, they could use an image of their products to show what they offer. Therefore, images also play a crucial role in advertising.
4. Connect the design
They connect all the other elements in a layout and can clarify the information presented in a layout by adding meaning and making associations. Proximity, white space, alignment, and contrast are some of the most important factors to consider when designing a layout.
How to use images in graphic design?
Images are used in a variety of ways in the design of different media, such as print ads, websites, product packaging, brochures, and advertising. Sometimes they’re used as the only form of visual communication. In other cases, they’re combined with text, animation, video, audio, and other multimedia elements.
Designers often use images to set a scene or convey a mood to an audience. They can be used as illustrations or photographs to add context to the written word. Some designers even use images as a substitute for words to convey complex ideas.
Where do graphic designers get their images?
Graphic designers use stock photo sites to get images for their designs. The stock photo site they use depends on the budget and needs.
In order of the best ratio to price, quality, and features, we recommend the following three stock image websites.
1. Adobe Stock – the best for graphic designers
Adobe Stock is great for graphic designers because of its valuable integration with the Adobe Creative Cloud. Instead of browsing online galleries and downloading photos, the library is integrated with your favorite Adobe apps like Photoshop and Illustrator.
Although Adobe Stock is slightly more expensive (only about 10% more expensive than its competitors), many designers save money with Adobe Stock. The main reason is that they don’t download superfluous images (or other assets) because they have the opportunity to test them in their designs before buying them.
Price: from $0.26/image with subscriptions, $8.00/image on-demand.
- Integration of visual content into graphic design tools.
- There are over 200 million high-quality, royalty-free stock images, illustrations, and other assets.
- 1+ million free images.
- Generous 30-day free trial during which you can get 10 or 40 free standard assets.
2. Shutterstock – the most popular
Everyone knows about Shutterstock, mainly because it’s the largest image database with over 360 million items. It’s not particularly good for graphic designers, but it’s well-known and offers a wide selection of images.
As I showed in my comparison, Shutterstock has become increasingly unpopular, while Adobe Stock has built a respectable user base.
Price: from $0.22/image with subscriptions ($0.18 with my promo code), $9.16/image on-demand.
- 389+ million images and videos.
- 10 free images during a 30-day trial (Pay attention to the terms!).
- Also offers premium images via Offset.
I don’t particularly like Dreamstime, even though it’s the cheapest stock photo agency and offers over 200 million images. My biggest problem with Dreamstime is the image quality; many images are over-saturated or over-processed.
Nonetheless, Dreamstime offers images for as low as $0.158/image, but you’ll have to use my 30% discount to get those prices. Also, you’ll get the cheapest extended licenses, which start at $26/image, while they cost over $50.
Price: from $0.20/image ($0.158/image with my discount).
- 15 free images during a 7-day trial. The free images are watermarked (I don’t see the point either).
- 200+ million images.
4. Canva Pro – an all-in-one solution
If you’re a graphic designer, you’ve probably heard of Canva. It’s an affordable, all-in-one online graphic design platform. Like Adobe Stock, the library is integrated into the drag-and-drop editor, so you can easily browse through images.
Canva’s pricing is misleading, however, because Canva isn’t as cheap as it seems. Access to the Pro Editor costs $9.99/month, making it just as expensive as Photoshop. However, you also have to pay for each image you use (starting at $1/image), which ends up costing you more than Adobe Stock.
Price: $9.99/month for editor, from $1/image.
- Drag-and-drop editor simplifies graphic design for beginners but limits the creativity of professionals.
- Integrated library of 70 million stock images.
- Great blog full of design resources.
How to Select Images?
Selecting images for graphic design is difficult. In fact, you must pay attention to five crucial details.
1. Choose high-quality
When choosing images for your graphic design, make sure you use high-quality images. The image should be sharp, clear, and not distorted. It should also be large enough to fit in the space where it’ll be used. If possible, try to get permission from the owner before using an image for commercial intent.
2. Avoid “stocky” images
When choosing images for graphic design projects, avoid chunky images. They’re boring and lack personality. Instead, choose images that are unique, vibrant, and interesting. This way, you can create a much stronger visual identity for your brand.
3. Match the color palette
When choosing images for your graphic design, it’s important that you consider the color palette of your project. It’s recommended that you use images that complement each other. For example, if you’re designing a website for a restaurant, it would be wise to choose an image that matches the colors of the menu.
If you’re designing a logo for a business, choose images that represent the company’s brand. In any case, avoid images with bright primary colors. This may sound obvious, but when working with designers, this step is easily overlooked.
4. Use royalty-free images
Royalty-free images are the safest way to go. They cost anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars, but you can be sure you won’t get sued. Alternatively, you can use Creative Commons images from free stock photo sites, but they aren’t verified. Also, they don’t offer a liability release, a guarantee that protects you from lawsuits.
5. Choose images that show people
When choosing photos for your graphic design, opt for images that feature people rather than landscapes or abstract subjects. It’s been proven that people more easily identify with an image of another person than inanimate objects. Also, people are more likely to remember faces, which makes your design more memorable.
Are images and graphics the same?
Images and graphics are two terms used interchangeably. However, they have different meanings. An image represents a real-world object or scene. A graphic is a visual representation of information.
Why are images used?
Images are used to communicate ideas, information, and messages. They are used for web pages, advertisements, brochures, posters, magazines, newspapers, books, and other forms of media.
What is the difference between an image and a digital image?
The fundamental difference between traditional and digital images is the sensor type. A photosensitive film captures an “ordinary” image and is then developed onto photographic paper or digitalized. Digital images are captured with a digital camera, where the original signal is already digitalized.
Do graphic designers need a camera?
Graphic designers don’t need a camera because they can use stock images, which are cheaper and more practical. If you get a camera, you need to create your own photos. That includes learning how to use, perfecting your photography skills, which takes years, spending hours on a location, and then editing the image. Instead, most graphic designers prefer to pay a couple of cents for stock photos.
Is photography a part of graphic design?
Photography and graphic design are two different creative expressions. However, many graphic designers are also photographers and vice versa. But if you pursue a career in one, spend as much time only on that one goal instead of diving your attention and time.
How do graphic designers get photos?
Most graphic designers use stock image databases to get photos.
What photos can I use for graphic design?
You may use your own photos or stock images. You may not use Google images or others for which you don’t have the license. Always ensure you have at least a royalty-free or a Creative Commons license before using an image, otherwise, you can get in legal trouble.
Graphic designers often rely on images to get their message across. But sometimes they fail to use them properly, which leads to poor results. And poor designs lead to low salaries for graphic designers.
Understanding the purpose of each image is the first step. What does it contribute to the overall picture of the text? Does it support the text? Or does it distract from the text?
Next, you need to find the right size for each image. A small image may look good on a large screen, but it won’t display well on mobile devices.
You need to consider the color scheme. Do you want it to match the background? Would a high-contrast color be better?
Finally, you need to make sure that the image is placed correctly. If it’s too close to the edge of the page, it’ll look messy. If it’s too far away, it won’t fit into the layout.
About your guide
Matic Broz is a multifaceted creative professional, with experience as a photographer, graphic designer, and business owner. He has a decade of experience in helping other creatives improve their craft and start their own businesses. His writing and research have been featured in notable publications such as The Guardian, PetaPixel, and USA Today. Additionally, his scientific research has been recognized with a cover feature in the prestigious MDPI-owned journal. In his leisure time, he enjoys photography, hiking, and spending time with dogs. Read more
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