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The Case for Custom Illustrations and Icons

Sep 21, 2023

Creating Custom Images to Illustrate a Brand

Let’s be honest, we’ve all judged a book by its cover before—first impressions matter, especially to your brand. The visual identity of your brand is made up of many components: colors, fonts, images, icons—these establish the overall aesthetic, as well as contribute to the brand’s personality. As this identity comes to life, a decision will need to be made if the brand warrants custom illustrations or if stock imagery can do the job. 

The Power of Custom Illustrations

Custom illustrations aren’t just pretty drawings, they convey a tone, a message, and help tell a story. They may be customized to be more relevant to the target audience and can communicate complex ideas, help capture specifics, and evoke emotions. 

Whether hand-drawn, digitally drawn, or a combination, custom iIllustrations can be used to design abstract ideas or multiple concepts in a more in-depth way, add personality to an asset or specific message, and can be specific to a certain event or campaign or even general topics while maintaining brand design.

Custom illustration by Pyper, Inc. for Lions World Vision Institute Foundation

When it comes to branding, custom illustrations offer several advantages over stock imagery:

  • Uniqueness and brand recognition. Custom illustrations can be tailored to your specific needs and should reflect your brand’s personality, core values, and promise in a way that stock images can’t or may fall short. This uniqueness may also make you stand out against competitors by creating stronger brand recognition. 
  • Consistency in branding. A consistent brand is a strong brand! This cohesiveness is yet another instance of creating or strengthening brand recognition which helps build trust between you and your customers. However, consistency isn’t only important within the illustrations themselves, it’s imperative that that consistency is reflected within the color palette, typography, brand language, and layouts.
  • Increased lead conversion. A stronger brand personality built through custom images helps consumers more quickly understand your company’s character and value. For instance, a custom infographic on your brochure can communicate how your product works through a simple visual message, creating an authentic connection which makes it more likely for visitors to engage with your calls to action. On the other hand, generic illustrations and icons can make visitors lose trust in the validity of your brand and turn visitors away, leading to lower conversion rates. If someone sees an icon on your site or an illustration on an ad that they’ve seen before, why would they trust that your company has anything unique to offer?
  • Flexibility in usage. Custom illustrations are much more adaptable and versatile. Different designs with various angles, layouts, or combinations can be made for web use versus packaging. This allows for consistency while not overusing individual drawings and creating enough variation to aid and not hinder. Reusing the same exact illustration over and over again can become repetitive and can hurt your brand due to that image no longer feeling custom but feeling stock-like.
  • Storytelling Custom illustrations allow you to tell a story that directly reflects your brand mission, products, or services. This can help create better engagement with your audience and forge a stronger emotional connection.
  • Exclusive rights. When it comes to custom illustrations, there’s no need to purchase exclusive rights, however, depending on your brand,  you may consider trademarking your illustrations for ownership purposes. You will most likely need to pay an illustrator, but you shouldn’t have to purchase the right’s license like you do with stock.

The Efficiency of Stock Imagery

While custom illustrations have many advantages and uses, stock imagery—whether illustrations, vectors, or icons—also has its uses and benefits: 

  • Cost-Efficiency. Due to stock images being stock, they are readily available and may be more cost-effective and a more practical choice for a limited budget.
  • Time-Saving. Stock imagery can be a quick solution, especially on a tight timeline.
  • Diverse Options. Stock images can be found on numerous platforms in a wide range of choices. With so many choices, there’s bound to be an image that fits the needed usage.
  • Limited Consistency. While stock lacks the complete personalization and strict consistency, there are many options to filter through to find a style that aligns closely with your brand.

A Blend of Both Worlds: Convenience of Stock with the Look of Custom

Iconography is one area that we find that these two worlds may collide. Icons are vector images or symbols that are conventional images associated with a subject or topic that is easily recognizable to the broader public. Custom iconography allows us to choose specific images that represent a topic or depict a process or item but modify them in the client’s unique, branded style.

Custom iconography for Legacy Protection Lawyers.

Icons may be used alongside photos and other images or they may be standalone. They may be used to anchor information or represent a specific subject, to highlight a specific section of content, and/or to draw attention to a single idea.

Striking the Right Balance

So, now the fork in the road….which option is better? The answer can be found in which solution fits your brand and your goals and marketing needs better. And, sometimes, the solution may be both—creating a balanced combination of both custom and stock.

Custom Illustrations for Greenspoon Co., which double as branded icons.
Custom Illustrations for Priority One, which double as branded icons.

To find a balance between the two, it’s important to define the styles and when, where, and how to use each type. For example, illustrations could be used for main design elements and icons can be used for descriptions (such as an order breakdown or core values). For the best of both worlds, if time and cost effective, recreate the icon design in the style of your brand illustrations. Better yet, work with a strategic marketing agency to help you navigate these decisions.

It’s important to note that just because stock is being used, it does not mean that that is your exclusive stock. With stock imagery there may be widely available options, but know that purchasing an image does not equal ownership of the design or creation claims. It doesn’t bode well if something is claimed as custom and someone is able to find the exact same imagery in stock.

Remember: Some brands may only need one or the other, that is okay!


Successful brand strategy is a well thought out, consistent, and effective approach. A smart marketer will consider the brand’s goals as well as the budget. Does your brand need every image custom to stand out in your field, or can it be combination or custom and stock to save the budget for other marketing necessities?   

Want to discuss further? Give us a call and let us help you build your brand!