How to Illustrate Your Book


1106 Design

February 20, 2024

Illustrations have the power to bring books to life in ways that words alone cannot. Illustrations can be incorporated into any work. You might see them most often in children’s books and graphic novels, but they can also be utilized in other genres. Not all books need illustrations, but all books can benefit from them when the illustrations are done properly. 


Why You Should Include Illustrations

Illustrations help capture and hold readers’ attention, provide a deeper level of connection than words alone, and add to a work’s atmosphere. Illustrations have a huge impact on tone.

Concepts that are otherwise vague or complex can be made clear to others through illustrations. Illustrations also provide an additional level of storytelling and/or instruction that transcends language and age barriers.

If you’d rather not include illustrations, consider using photographs instead, when applicable.  Photographs can suffice for many books, especially autobiographies and memoirs; however, if you would like to depict original concepts that are difficult to find in stock or bespoke photography, you’ll need to hire an illustrator.

Illustrations can capture ideas, moods, and styles that photography simply can’t, at least not easily. This is especially true for certain fiction illustrations.

When designed properly, visual elements can greatly increase the aesthetic appeal and impact of books.


How to Find and Select Illustrators

Illustrators can be found in a multitude of places. A quick internet search can turn up a wealth of options. If specific books catch your eye because of their artwork, you should read the illustration credits to learn how to contact the artist. You can also check out illustrator groups on social media, or visit sites that allow you to create listings for commissions, such as ArtsKeeper.

Before you hire an artist, you should always view their portfolio to make sure their artistic style is in line with your vision. There are many different kinds of artists. Requesting a sample commission is a good way to ensure the artist can understand and follow your instructions. 

Some Considerations to Make:

What is your budget?

Prices for illustrations vary widely. Some illustrators charge $35 per page, others charge $350 per page. If you’d like illustrations in your book, you should factor their cost into your overall publishing budget to determine their affordability.

What style are you after?

The style of the art should complement the style of your work. This will guide your search. Not all artists have the same style or abilities. The art needs to resonate with your book’s subject matter and tone.

Do you want digital or traditional art?

If you’re going to publish your book, the art will need to be in a digital format. However, if you prefer traditional art, you can commission a traditional artist and then have the illustrations digitized, such as via scanning. Digital and traditional art are vastly different practices. Artists who are well-versed in traditional art may not be able to create suitable digital art, and vice versa.

How much experience does the artist have?

In general, the more experience an artist has, the more skilled they are. This experience can come in various forms–not all experience may relate to book illustration.

Can you view samples or past commissions?

If you can’t view an artist’s work, then you shouldn’t hire them. Unless you can review samples, there’s no telling whether their style and skill are suitable. Bonus points if you can get a referral from those they worked with in the past.

Do you communicate well with one another?

Communication is an extremely important part of every aspect of book production–including illustration. If you and the illustrator can’t communicate efficiently, then you’ll be in for a long, difficult, and frustrating process. Talking with the illustrator before jumping in is a good way to ensure you’re both on the same page (pun intended).


How to Know If Your Illustrations Work

Not all art will work for your book. Similarly, art that you feel is fitting for your work may not be considered “professional” by others. Art is subjective. It’s important, above all, that you’re happy with the illustrations. That said, it’s still a good idea to run the artwork by others, especially those in your target audience, to see if they react favorably.

Before your illustrator begins, you should be able to provide your book’s trim size, the necessary resolution, the required color mode, and the file type(s) needed. When you work with a firm like 1106 Design, we oversee these technical concerns for you and provide detailed instructions the illustrator can use to create art that works for your book and will print seamlessly.


Additional Considerations

Plan Your Interior Layout First

We recommend getting your book professionally typeset before starting on the illustrations. The text treatment should be handled first so the illustrator knows exactly how much space they have to work with.

This can even save you money in the long run, since you’ll likely find that you need fewer illustrations or that you can utilize half-page illustrations rather than full-page. Text and illustrations should work together to create an artistic, creative whole rather than compete with each other for space and emphasis.

Know What Illustrations You Want

You should know ahead of time what concepts you’d like illustrated. Give the illustrator time to read your work and become familiar with its tone and style. Forming a connection is essential in creating engaging, relevant illustrations.

At least provide the excerpts that are to be illustrated, along with clear descriptions or photos for the artist to base their work on. These materials should be organized before starting the commission, as doing so will save time and frustration.

Draw Up a Contract

Contracts might be boring to draft and read, but they can save you a lot of headaches if relations between you and the illustrator sour.

It’s helpful to outline exactly what work is required (and by whom), any deadlines you have, the illustrator’s fees, the method of payment and when it should be rendered, who will own the rights to the artwork once completed, how the illustrator is credited, how disputes will be handled, and any other concerns you may have.

Some illustrators may provide their own contract for you to sign. If so, read it over carefully. Don’t sign anything blindly. Make sure you’re comfortable with their rates. If you can’t pay them, don’t hire them. Like others, artists can’t pay the bills with promises of “publicity” or “promotion.” Be prepared to pay them fairly, as you should anyone else who works on your book.

Make a Game Plan

The contract should also explain the order in which work is to be done. Once the illustrator has the proper guides from a designer, it’s best if the illustrator sketches out the ideas they were hired to illustrate, then sends them to you for approval before detailing begins.

If the initial composition isn’t ideal in your opinion, this is your chance to provide feedback and guide the illustrator on the right course before artwork is completed. If it helps, you can break up the work into three stages: Visualization, Detail, and Revisions.

In the Visualization stage, you and the illustrator can experiment to see what works and determine an appropriate direction. In the Detail stage, the concepts are fleshed out–color, shading, etc. In the Revisions stage, you review the illustrations again and determine if any final touches are needed.

Ask Permission

Maybe you come across someone’s artwork or photograph online and you think, “This is awesome! It’s perfect for my book!” That’s great! Now you should ask the source for permission. Many authors chafe at the idea of someone pirating their work yet may not know it’s illegal to scrape an image off the internet.

Not all images shared in search engines are royalty-free. Other than preventing you from creating bad blood, requesting permission will save you from dealing with copyright infringement claims. Always verify the image’s license at the source.

If you’re unsure how to locate the image’s origin, you can use a tool like TinEye, a reverse image search engine. This tool is great for sourcing images and checking usage rights. Or, you can purchase royalty-free images from sites such as and be certain that permissions have been taken care of.


Now you know the ins-and-outs of where to find illustrators and how to work with them. Of course, this article assumes that you’re interested in hiring an illustrator. Perhaps you’d like to illustrate your book and you have the skill to accomplish it. If so, you should still wait to start illustrations until after your book is typeset so you know what space you have to work with and can be sure of the proper specifications.

Whether you hire an illustrator or create your own illustrations, we’re here to help make the process as smooth as possible. From editing to typesetting, we have the services you need to make your book the best it can be. Contact us today to learn more.


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