Why Editorial Illustrations Are Looking More Alike Than Ever

Technology has made a lot of once-difficult tasks easier and opened up professions that would’ve otherwise required specific skillsets. These days, one can make a living on making many an Editorial Illustration with the help of digital tools that can create colorful and textured illustrations.

However, there is a flip side to all of this, in that many editorial illustrations have become flatter, sharper, and, in some ways, a bit more generic. It’s visible if one takes a good look at the illustrations found in big publications, like Time Magazine, or the New Yorker. Even a simple Google search will make the trend clear.


Flat design is the style that’s popular in the corporate sphere, as evidenced by the minimalist logo makeovers that swept across major brands in the 2000s, with the goal of making sure that graphical elements work well across different kinds of displays, from the tiniest Apple Watch screen to the gigantic banners and ads strewn across buildings.

WeTransfer Head of Product Andrew Allen explained that digital format like flat design as simple forms load faster and scale easier throughout different screen sizes, which handily explains the prevalence of flat design: the tendencies of technology show up on the finished illustrations.

Of course, a trained eye can still spot the stock tools used in an Editorial Illustration, like the popular Kyle Webster brushes available in Photoshop.

A taste for vector art

Of course, there is demand for the flat design aesthetic, as they wouldn’t be used so often. Many artists have embraced geometric designs, with inspiration taken from cut paper collages and the like.

Ikko Tanaka, for example, gained fame in the 1980s for his geometric designs, as it stood out amidst the scrapbook punk aesthetic that was prevalent in the decade.

Terrible pay: the economics

A sad fact of the matter is, the economy for illustrators isn’t so hot. A US-based editorial illustrator has an average annual salary of $47,000, according to data from Indeed.com.

Ben O’Brien, from Somerset, conducted a research with a sample size of 1,400 illustrators from across the globe and found that 70% believe that they can’t sustain themselves on drawings alone, with 50% admitting they’re uncomfortable negotiating rates.

According to a survey published on Format, Time Magazine paid $3,000 for a cover illustration back in 2014, which barely budged from the $2,000 (pre-inflation) that they paid artists back in the late 70s.

Not only is the pay bad, but illustrators are also constantly getting requests for pro-bono work, with British illustrator Jon Burgerman expressing his surprise on the matter on Instagram.

As a result, illustrators are forced to prioritize quantity in their assignments to make a living, which is one of the reasons why simple and efficient flat aesthetics have become so common in illustrations across the world.