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Guide: Brand and product illustrations on a budget

June 21, 2020

Brand and product illustrations are wildly used by the hot silicon valley startups. However creating a cohesive set of custom illustrations for your brand is not easy or cheap. The following guide, list of resources and inspiration was put together for those who need to stay on budget.

Pros and cons of using illustrations for your brand

Telling a story

Digital products are often complex. Screenshots of the UI with no context might not be enough to communicate the benefits to customers.

Illustrations are a good way to express emotions and high level concepts. The caveat is that not showing your app or website at all makes it look less real. This is especially true for new products. Going for a combination of illustrations and screenshots or photography is a common solution to this problem.

Wealthfront brand illustration
Wealthfront communicated what will their product allow you to do, not what the UI looks like

Cutting costs and staying flexible

The obvious advantage of illustrations is flexibility and the low cost of making changes down the line. Setting up a photoshoot takes couple weeks (including post processing) and will cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Meanwhile changing the composition or colors on an illustration can be done in a few hours.

Photoshoots are costly (Source: Greg Gelsinger, Unsplash)
Photoshoots are costly (Source: Greg Gelsinger, Unsplash)

Now hiring a designer to develop a visual language and system for your illustrations is not exactly cheap and fast either. If you are an indie hacker or a small startup this is probably not the way to go at the moment. Luckily there is a lot of free or relatively cheap resources you can use.

Staying unique and on-brand

If there are free resources on the web everybody is using those right? Well to some extent that's true. There are however simple tweaks which you can apply to make stock illustrations a bit more unique.

Tip: If you are selling physical products than stay away from illustrations and show your customers exactly what they are getting. You want to set the expectations right in this case.

Giving stock illustrations custom feel

Choosing the right style

First of all think about what feeling you want your brand to have. Is it a high-tech B2B service or a friendly consumer mobile app. Choose the illustrations which fit that description. If you are not sure you can use the 5 second test to test couple versions with real people ($1 per response).

Play with the colors

Most illustrations are available in a vector file format. That means that you can simply adjust the colors of different elements to fit your brand. If you want to stick to a black and white than consider placing it on a colored background (see Mailchimp for inspiration).

Example of how coloring changes  illustration
Color adds personality

Add a unique element

Another option is to add custom elements to the composition. Maybe a simple mockup of your application in the background or a shipping box (see example below). If you have basic design skills you should be able to do this. You can also use one of the design services online like Fiverr to outsource the work.

Creating custom composition with Open peeps pack and Sketch
Creating custom composition with Open peeps pack and Sketch

Best affordable illustration packs

Blush

Website: blush.design

Price: Free up to medium sized PNGs, $15/month for full access

Blush is an amazing web app that let's you create your own compositions from one 14 collections. You can also change colors and export the files directly from your browser. It was create by Pablo Stanley who previously published Open peeps illustrations for free.

Croods illustration example
Croods illustration example
Open peeps illustration example
Open peeps illustration example

Absurd design

Website: absurd.design

Price: Free for 15 PNGs (attribution required), $57/quarter for full access

The name gives it away. Absurd design illustrations do not have the typical visual style your are used to. They are however extremely well done. If you target more niche and less commercial audience this might be the way to go.

Absurd design illustration example
Absurd design illustration example

Open doodles

Website: opendoodles.com

Price: Free

Open doodles is a small library of very dynamic illustrations. These might require custom work to tell a story but it's a good start. You can use the online generator to customize the color scheme before download if you don't have access to tools like Sketch or Illustrator.

Open doodles illustration example
Open doodles illustration example

Craftwork

Website: craftwork.design

Price: Free for Smash illustrations pack, $14-$48 per pack or $99/year for unlimited access

Craftwork offers large variety of high quality illustrations packs for a flat fee of $99/year. This is great if you are working on multiple projects a year. Otherwise you can buy a single pack for as little as $14.

Call the doctor illustrations by Craftwork
Call the doctor illustrations by Craftwork
Stay at home illustrations by Craftwork
Stay at home illustrations by Craftwork

Growwwkit

Website: growwwkit.com

Price: Free for Phonies pack, $19-$26 per pack or $65 for a complete bundle

Personally one of my favorite finds. Growwwkit offers high quality illustrations that are not so commonly used. $65 for the complete bundle is a steal.

Phonies illustration example
Phonies illustration example

DrawKit

Website: drawkit.io

Price: Free

Free, hand-drawn and fully customisable. DrawKit keeps updating their collections weekly so be sure to bookmark this link or subscribe to their newsletter.

Drawkit illustration example
Drawkit illustration example

Ouch!

Website: icons8.com/ouch

Price: Free for PNGs (attribution required), $9 per illustration or $19.90/month for full access

Ouch by Icons8 includes a wide variety of styles and compositions. A bit prices for a single illustration but the monthly subscription might be worth it.

Ouch! illustration example
Ouch! illustration example

How do large brands use illustrations

Mailchimp

Hand-drawn black and white illustrations on Mailchimp's product page. A quite abstract approach that aims to portray a feeling rather than the product. Interesting approach for a product that everyone already knows but too risky for something new.

Mailchimp brand illustrations
Mailchimp brand illustrations

Miro

Miro provides team with collaborative whiteboard in the browser. Their brand visuals are bold but they fit the brand great. I wonder if they took inspiration from Joan Miró.

Miro brand illustrations
Miro brand illustrations

Headspace

I must say that the Headspace brand illustrations are getting a bit outdated visually. But in terms of emotion they still do a great job. Round shapes, mild color palette, that smiling face. I feel calm just looking at it.

Headspace brand illustrations
Headspace brand illustrations

Avocode

Avocode home page illustration is a great example of telling a story rather than showing the product. The tool itself is quite complex so they chose to replace it with something simpler that also gives them the imagine of a young, fun brand.

Avocode brand illustrations
Avocode brand illustrations

Wealthfront

Wealthfront automates your investments, savings, etc. They dedicate a large space of their homepage to an illustration that has seemingly nothing to do with the product. But again it's about the feeling. You sure imagine a worry free weekend with your family when you see it.

Wealthfront brand illustrations
Wealthfront brand illustrations

Managing illustrations with Brandy

At Brandy we are developing a brand asset manager that works with SVG files. That allows you to store, change colors, export and share illustrations with your entire team directly from your browser. If you want to be one of the first to try it out you can request early access here.

Your brand (new) asset manager

Brandy is a brand asset manager for small and medium sized companies. It's fast to maintain for designers and easy to use for everyone else.

Learn more about Brandy

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